Putin says Turkey and Russia should cooperate in Caucasus, Central Asia
BY SUZAN FRASER; Associated Press Writer

Associated Press Worldstream
September 1, 2004 Wednesday

ANKARA, Turkey -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview
broadcast Wednesday that Turkey and Russia should avoid competing for
influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia and increase cooperation,
especially regarding the soaring trade between the two countries.

Putin was speaking before a two-day visit to Turkey that starts
Thursday - a first by a Russian leader since the Soviet collapse.

Bilateral trade, currently standing at US$6.8 billion ([euro]5.6
billion), has increased sixfold since 1992, Putin said in an interview
broadcast on CNN-Turk television. The interview was conducted in the
Russian resort of Sochi on Monday.

Turkey and Russia have been rivals for centuries, competing for
influence in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. That
competition increased after the fall of the Soviet Union and the
independence of Turkic states in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

But recently rivalries have subsided and the two countries have been
concentrating on trade.

Turkey and Russia "are moving toward cooperation and welfare...
Russian and Turkey are neighbors. We have common interests," Putin
said in the interview. His remarks were broadcast dubbed in Turkish.
A Russian transcript was not immediately available.

"I certainly believe that today and in the future, we can cooperate
and reach wider targets," he said, referring to past Turkish-Russian
projects, including a 446-kilometer (278-mile) natural gas pipeline
that runs beneath the Black Sea to Turkey.

"I believe that if we want to solve the problems along regional
interests, we have to especially avoid competition," Putin told
CNN-Turk television.

"Both Russia and Turkey are two states that wish, more than anyone
else, for stability in the region and for the situation to return to
normal. We know the problems there better than anyone else," he said.

Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected
to discuss trade but also contentious issues such as the Caucasus,
where Turkey is allied with Azerbaijan and Russia is friendly with
Azerbaijan's rival, Armenia.

The conflict in Chechnya - also in the Caucasus - is on the agenda
too. Turks sympathize with their fellow Muslims in Chechnya, and
many Turks trace their ancestry to the Caucasus. Russia has called
on Turkey to crack down on Turkish charities that it claims have
provided support to Chechen rebels.

Russia provides some 60 percent of Turkey's natural gas imports,
and Putin said his country was also considering selling oil to Turkey
and exporting fuel to other countries via Turkey.

Turkey is expected to stress during Putin's visit that the narrow
Bosporus Strait dividing Istanbul cannot handle further Russian oil
exports. The Turks are expected to press for other ways of exporting
Russian oil, such as pipelines through Turkey.

Putin will be accompanied by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin,
attended a regional security summit in Istanbul in 1999.