Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin have pledged to deepen economic ties between their countries as Moscow seeks to soften the blow of western sanctions imposed for its invasion of Ukraine.
Receiving the Turkish president in his residence in Sochi on Friday, Putin said government delegations had discussed “all the most important areas” of co-operation. Erdoğan praised productive meetings addressing politics, economics and trade, which he said would open “a very different page” in the countries’ relations.
While both leaders nodded to tensions between them, including the conflict in Syria, the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine has provided reasons for rapprochement. Western sanctions have largely cut the Russian economy out of the global financial system and left it struggling to replace banned imported goods or find markets for its energy exports.
Turkey is suffering from a gaping trade imbalance caused by soaring global energy prices — themselves caused in large part by how Russia’s invasion has disrupted markets. Ankara is on the hunt for foreign capital to plug the gap.
The US and other western allies have been worried about Erdoğan’s ambivalent stance on the war in Ukraine. The US deputy Treasury secretary met Turkish officials and Istanbul bankers in June to warn them not to become a conduit for Russian sanctions evasion.
The Sochi meeting comes as Ukrainian intelligence services recently shared with Nato countries a document they say they intercepted from Moscow that contained proposals for Turkish-Russian co-operation, according to a Ukrainian intelligence official and a western diplomat. The latter said he believed the document was genuine.
The proposals include ways to help Russia evade sanctions with the help of Turkish banks and co-operation in other areas including energy and industry, the people said. The Washington Post was the first to report that Russia was seeking Turkey’s help to circumvent western sanctions. It is unclear whether Turkey, a Nato member, will accept those proposals.
Putin and Erdoğan have previously suggested that the countries could use their own currencies in commercial exchanges. Such a move would allow Russia to avoid the US-denominated global oil market while enabling Turkey to limit the damage to its dwindling foreign currency reserves by paying for energy in Turkish lira.
Erdoğan has attempted to carve out a role as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia. Ankara has supplied Kyiv with armed drones and was instrumental in securing a UN deal to lift a Russian naval blockade and allow Ukraine to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports.
But Turkey has also refused to join the west’s sanctions against Moscow, has threatened to veto Sweden and Finland’s Nato membership and has allowed vessels carrying wheat and corn from Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine to deliver their cargoes to Turkish ports.