The project – along with a pipeline plan to bring Russian oil overland from the Black Sea to a refinery on Turkey’s southern coast for export to Europe, and a host of other measures – was signed during a visit here from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
“By taking these steps, Turkey is taking its position as an energy hub to a much different level,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The solidarity with Russia on this issue is of utmost importance.”
Mr. Medvedev was also effusive: “This agreement opens a new page in our cooperation…. Our talks today showed that Turkey and Russia are strategic partners not only in words but in deeds,” he said.
Turkey expands influence
The energy deals are part of NATO-ally Turkey's broader strategy to expand its influence in the region and become an energy corridor between East and West, while also serving as an increasingly important diplomatic player seeking to help resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For Russia, the Turkey visit is part of a regional swing that saw the Russian leader in Syria earlier this week in a bid to raise Moscow’s profile in the Middle East. In Damascus, Medvedev sought to rejuvenate some of Syria’s historic ties with the former Soviet Union – even while the United States has signaled a partial thaw with Syria by appointing the first US ambassador since 2005, though the US Senate has held up his nomination and on May 3 President Obama extended economic sanctions for one year.
Medvedev followed up in Turkey, where the 20 or so agreements made on Wednesday will generate some $25 billion in investment, a figure that he said “really looks rather impressive.”
Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul said the two nations aimed to triple annual bilateral trade to $100 billion in the next half decade.
Sergei Kiriyenko, the chief of the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, said nuclear deal alone was “a very big contract” that could be worth $18 billion to $20 billion, according to Agence France-Presse. Russia would hold a controlling stake in the plant and operate it.
“Russia has never owned a nuclear power station outside its territory,” Mr. Kiriyenko said.
The nuclear power plant is to start in 2014 and take seven years to build in the coastal town of Akkuyu. It is not unlike the one Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr, which has taken more than a decade and faced repeated delays – some of them, Iran suspects, for political reasons.
The pipeline proposal, reported to be worth $3 billion, would bring Russian oil from Turkey’s Black Sea port of Samsun to a joint refinery on the Mediterranean at Ceyhan, which already links oil flows from Azerbaijan and Iraq. The deal would bypass the narrow Bosphorus at Istanbul, which is congested with tanker traffic, and would provide for both Turkey’s domestic and European markets.
Erdogan also spoke of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline project, which aims to provide Russian natural gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, though it is a rival to the European Union Nabucco pipeline, which Turkey also supports.
In the past year, Russia has become one of Turkey’s primary trading partners, at a volume worth $40 billion in 2008 and dipping – because of the global recession – to $22.9 billion in 2009. Russia already provides some 60 percent of Turkey’s natural gas.
One of the first orders of business during the Russian leader’s visit was an agreement to lift tourist visa restrictions between the two nations. More than 2 million Russians flock to Turkish resorts and beaches each year, often on package tours flying direct from Moscow and other Russian cities to Turkey’s sunny southern coast.
“It’s a historical agreement that will before anything else ease the life of millions of people,” Medvedev said.