By Tutku Senen, Sibel Ugurlu, Gulsen Cagatay and Fatih Dogan
ANKARA (AA) : President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey and Russia are determined to boost ties to levels beyond what they were before last November’s jet crisis.
He revived a target of $100 million for trade between the Black Sea neighbors — a leap from the $38 billion trade volume in 2008 that fell to $23.3 billion last year.
His Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said the priority was to “turn back to before the crisis era” but warned restoring ties “needs time”.
In a news conference with Putin in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, Erdogan said: “Both sides are immensely determined and have the necessary will to move our relations back to previous levels again and even beyond them.
“I am of the opinion that the public of both countries expected this from us. That’s why, at the end of the meetings today, we have taken decisions to move Turkey-Russia relations to the levels they must be in political, financial, cultural and humanitarian fields.”
The Turkish president also revealed that Turkey and Russia had agreed on establishing a joint investment fund and boosting cooperation in the defense sector. The Turkish-Russian High-Level Cooperation Council would also be revived as well as other previous arrangements such as visa-free travel and bilateral trade arrangements.
“We are also leaning towards establishing a Turkey-Russia-Azerbaijan trilateral summit mechanism to discuss regional issues, Erdogan added. “God willing, with the help of these steps, we will make the Ankara-Moscow axis into an axis of trust and friendship again.”
Putin described the meeting — the first between the leaders since the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish Air Force over the Turkey-Syria border last November — as “concrete and constructive”.
He added that Russia would revive cooperation with Turkey and lift sanctions against Turkish firms incrementally to restore trade ties to previous levels.
– Sanctions, Syria, energy
“We decided to prepare a government-level commercial, economic, cultural and industrial cooperation program to cover the 2016 to 2019 period,” Putin told journalists. “I hope this program is approved soon.”
On Syria, he acknowledged that the two countries held different views but said they shared the same goal.
“It’s obvious that we have divergences on the solution of the Syrian crisis,” he said. “We agreed to find a resolution together with foreign ministries and intelligence services… We will try to find a suitable solution in this common approach.”
On energy issues that are vitally important to both states, Erdogan said the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline would now be completed “as fast as possible”.
Announced by Putin in December 2014, the pipeline will carry Russian gas via the Black Sea and Turkey to southeastern Europe. The project was shelved following the jet crisis.
Erdogan announced that the Akkuyu nuclear power plant project in Mersin province, southern Turkey, would be granted strategic investment status. In a 2010 agreement Russia said it would help construct and operate Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is expected to produce around 35 billion kilowatt-hours per year and cost around $25 billion.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev said a boycott of Turkish food imports could be removed by the end of the year, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
A breakthrough in the crisis between the countries came in June when Erdogan and Putin reestablished contact. On June 30, Russia lifted a ban on tourist flights to Turkey following a phone conversation between the pair.
Turkish and Russian foreign ministers met in the Russian city of Sochi on July 1 and Putin was one of the first to give his support to Turkey following the July 15 coup attempt.