Russia’s president is in Istanbul to discuss the Syrian crisis – months after the countries’ relations were shaken by the interception of a Damascus-bound Russian plane by Turkish forces.
Ahead of the meeting, Turkey’s premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed out that “Russia is holding the key…Russia’s attitude is crucial,” speaking about the tackling of the Syrian conflict.
Istanbul also indicates that the meeting isn’t aimed at attempting at convincing Moscow to back the rebels.
“Russia must be made part of the engagement process … It’s more important and possible to convince Russia to persuade the Assad regime to compromise, rather than to persuade Russia to support the opposition,” a source close to the leadership said, according to reports.
President Putin is also expected to express his concerns about Ankara’s request for NATO to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems on the Turkish border with Syria. Earlier, Moscow pointed out that the measure would destabilize the already shaky situation in the region.
Initially, the upcoming Russia-Turkey meeting was scheduled for October 14-15. However, shortly before the planned meeting, Turkey intercepted a Russian Syria-bound plane which, according to the Turkish officials, contained Russia-made weapons. Moscow and Damascus denied the claim, and the talks were postponed.
Another focus point of the coming talks will be energy issues. Turkey is in fact the second-largest purchaser of Russian gas, with 60 per cent of its supplies coming from Russia. Plus, the flourishing tourist industry in the country saw 4 million Russian tourists arriving in Turkey last year alone.
Thus, the countries are set to sign several agreements related to commercial, economic, and scientific cooperation between Moscow and Istanbul for 2012-2015.
The president’s visit comes amid speculations about Putin’s health. Days earlier, Japanese PM Yoshihiko Noda said his visit to Moscow had been put off because “President Putin’s health condition is bad.” The Kremlin, however, denied that the president was in poor health.