Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 15 2010

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart,
Vladimir Putin, attend a joint press conference on Wednesday.

Turkey and Russia have come closer to building a strategic partnership
by agreeing to deepen cooperation in the area of energy and work on
a plan to lift visa requirements for their citizens.

The two countries also have ambitious plans to boost their trade volume
to $100 billion in the coming years. "Our relations are developing
and becoming more diversified in the political, military, economic
and cultural spheres. What is exciting for me is that both sides have
a positive will," to further boost ties, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan said at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart,
Vladimir Putin, late on Wednesday.

Erdogan, who had talks with Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
during his one-day visit to Moscow, announced that the two countries
will start work on abolishing visa requirements for their nationals.

"The prime minister [Putin] has just given us the good news that
efforts to mutually abolish the visa requirements will go forward
as planned," Erdogan said, adding that the Turkish side hoped that
a final deal would be concluded during an upcoming visit by Medvedev
in May or June.

Erdogan said later in Ä°stanbul that the two countries would also
hold a strategic cooperation council meeting during Medvedev's visit,
a cooperation platform similar to the ones Turkey launched with
neighboring Syria and Iraq last year.

Both Putin and Erdogan pledged to increase the use of national
currencies in bilateral trade, which the leaders want to boost to
$100 billion within the next five years. Erdogan said the aim is
achievable in the next four years.

In another key achievement of Erdogan's short visit, Energy Minister
Taner Yıldız and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin signed
a memorandum on building nuclear power plants in Turkey in a sign
that Russian firms would be given a second chance to build Ankara's
first plant.

Turkey canceled a previous tender to build a nuclear power station,
after a court earlier ruled the tender, won by Russian Inter RAO and
Atomstroiexport and Turkey's Park Teknik, invalid due to problems
with the pricing of electricity from the plant.

Putin and Erdogan also had talks on energy projects. Putin said the
governments of Italy, Turkey and Russia should consider signing a
deal to support the proposed Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, an oil link
between Turkey's Black Sea coast and the Mediterranean.

The Russian prime minister also said Russia has won Turkish support for
all its major oil, gas and nuclear projects, while carefully avoiding
its usual harsh criticism of the rival trans-Turkish EU-backed Nabucco
gas pipeline. He said Ankara had pledged to fully clear the Russian gas
pipeline project South Stream before November 2010, when construction
is due to begin.

"We have an agreement that before Nov. 10, 2010 ... the Turkish
government will make all the necessary judgments and issue a
construction permit. In the course of today's talks Mr. Erdogan
confirmed these intentions," Putin said. "I very much hope this work
will be finished as planned," he said, adding that the work on South
Stream was going according to plan with environmental, geological
and seismic studies near completion.

Putin also said the project, which apart from Russia's gas
export monopoly Gazprom involves Italy's ENI, may benefit from an
inter-governmental agreement between Russia, Turkey and Italy.

Turkey aspires to become a key transit hub for Europe, but is facing
a tough balancing game between rival projects supported by Moscow and
the European Union. It insists South Stream and Nabucco are not rivals.

Putin added that cooperation with Turkey should also involve asset
swaps between major firms and added Russian firms were ready to take
part in the privatization of Turkey's state assets.

Russia: No link between Armenia ties, Karabakh Putin also told Erdogan
that Turkey should not link the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region
of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians who are now in control
of the area, to its bilateral relations with Armenia. "Both the
Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the Turkish-Armenian problem are very
complicated by nature. I do not think it is right to tie them into
one package," Putin said. "It is unwise from both a tactical and a
strategic point of view to package these problems together," he added.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Putin at a
press conference with his Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian. "To
try and artificially link those two issues is, in my opinion, not
correct," Lavrov told reporters in Yerevan. "We are interested in
this relationship normalizing. The sooner that happens, the better
for the whole region."

Turkey and Armenia agreed in October last year to establish diplomatic
ties and reopen their land border, closed by Ankara in 1993. But the
accords need parliamentary ratification, a step Turkey says depends
on Armenia making concessions in the festering conflict with Turkish
ally Azerbaijan over the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"I don't want to have the impression, and I think the international
community also does not, that Turkey is specially blocking the
ratification of the protocols," Nalbandian said. "What's a reasonable
timeframe? It's not dragging it out or creating artificial barriers."