Russia and Turkey have put tensions over Syria behind them to agree a gas pipeline deal which would open a new route for Russian energy to western Europe.
The TurkStream agreement between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday would, if implemented, redraw the energy map of Europe by allowing Russia to bypass some of its gas around Ukraine.
It would also strengthen ties between Moscow and Ankara at a time of growing mistrust between Turkey and the west in the wake of the coup attempt that plunged the country into turmoil three months ago and killed 270 people.
Monday’s agreement committed the pair to construction of two lines of pipes beneath Turkish waters on the bed of the Black Sea, with a combined capacity of 30bn cubic metres of gas. One would serve the Turkish market and the other the rest of Europe.
TurkStream, to be operated by Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas monopoly, was proposed by Mr Putin two years ago as a replacement for the abandoned South Stream pipeline which had involved co-operation between Russia and several EU countries.
Talks faltered after the crisis triggered by the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 war plane by Turkish forces over the Syrian border in November 2015. But relations have thawed rapidly since June when Mr Erdogan voiced regret for the downing of the Russian jet.
The rapprochement continued on Monday, with Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan overlooking their differences on Syria to agree closer military and intelligence co-operation.
Ankara’s relations with the US and European nations, in contrast, remain strained by what Mr Erdogan perceived as slow and halfhearted backing after the attempt to overthrow him in July.
Since then, Turkey has railed against Washington’s refusal to immediately extradite Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic cleric accused of masterminding the coup plot, a claim he strongly denies. It has also been riled by western warnings about the scale of the post-putsch crackdown that has seen more than 100,000 people sacked or dismissed from their jobs.
The meeting in Istanbul was the third time in three months that Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin have met, stoking fears in the west that Moscow is exploiting tensions between Turkey, a Nato member with hopes of EU accession, and its traditional allies.
Ayse Sozen Usluer, head of foreign relations at the Turkish presidency, dismissed such fears. “Neither Turkey’s alliance with the West nor its relationship with Nato is up for debate,” she said. “Nor is Turkey’s EU membership bid . . . I don’t see any possibility of a new axis of alliance.” She added, however: “But this doesn’t mean that Turkey will not diversify it’s foreign policy choices.”
Despite their detente, Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan remain deeply at odds over Syria. Though Turkey has softened its previous demand for the immediate departure of President Bashar al-Assad, it remains a key supporter of rebel forces that are battling the Syrian armed forces and their allies, while Russia is one of the Syrian president’s staunchest allies.
Mr Putin said on Monday that Turkey and Russia had agreed on the importance of delivering aid to the embattled Syrian city of Alepp, insisting that they had found a “common position” that everything possible must be done to allow humanitarian supplies as long as their safety could be ensured.
But with Russia accused by the US of bombing a UN aid convoy last month, it remained unclear what this would mean in practice.
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