In remarks made during an interview with Russia’s TASS wire service and state television Rossiya 24 prior to his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, Erdogan on Monday said: “I must tell this clearly, the most important step, and primary actor in bringing peace to Syria is the Russian Federation.
"I think that we, Russia and Turkey, should resolve this [Syria] issue by taking a step together."
He added that if need be, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S too could be included in the process. In a reference to the Bashar al-Assad regime, he said: “Of course, we are not up for backing the killer who committed the state terrorism. Let the Syrian nation elect the one or ones who will rule them.”
About the opposition’s hopes for excluding Bashar al-Assad from the solution to the crisis, Erdogan said: “In this regard, Iran can be included in this issue; we all desire to end the blood and deaths as soon as possible.”
- ‘New page’ in bilateral ties
About his scheduled meeting with Putin, Erdogan said both sides will discuss a number of sensitive issues, including the downing of a Russian jet last November, which he described as an “unfortunate incident.”
He noted that “eight months have passed since then. During this time we continued to contact each other. As you know, we had a project in the economy, worth about $100 million. A number of huge projects have been suspended in between, such as the Akkuyu [nuclear power plant agreement, which was signed in 2010 between Russia and Turkey].
“Now, I believe, we have a chance to reconsider everything, to open a new page in Turkey and Russia relations. I believe we have a lot to do as two important actors in all areas, including cultural, trade, political, military, economy [sectors]. I have no doubts in this matter,” he said.
He later described his upcoming visit to Russia as a “rebirth”, saying: “I consider this visit as rebirth, a new beginning of relations between the two countries and an opening of a new page.”
About punishment for the Turkish pilot who killed a Russian pilot in Syria when a Russian jet was downed for violating Turkish airspace, the president said: “The pilot in question has been in jail since then. There is a judicial process underway, I especially want to express this, too."
- Joint projects
Erdogan noted the loss of time and long delay in Turkey's first nuclear power plant project, which is being built with Russia.
In 2010, Turkey signed agreements with Russia for the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in Turkey.
The project was planned to end in around seven years. However, even though the due date is approaching, the project could not be started properly, Erdogan said.
Turkey’s first nuclear power plant Akkuyu in the province of Mersin on the southern Mediterranean coast was due to be carried out by Russia with a budget of $25 billion. It remains under construction and is expected to have a capacity of 4,800 megawatts.
“Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Project is the most important contract signed by us with Russia,” he said.
“Due to the latest issues, we are losing time, continually. We wish to discuss it and finish the project, soon.”
- Turkish Stream pipeline
Erdogan said the two sides should also take steps to move forward the Turkish Stream pipeline project.
Turkey imported around 12.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, so far. “We are now the biggest buyer of Russian gas and there are steps to be taken jointly, in this regard,” Erdogan said.
Announced by Putin in December 2014 during a visit to Ankara, the Turkish Stream pipeline project plans to carry Russian gas via the Black Sea and Turkey to southeastern Europe.
The project was shelved following the November crisis. Now with the normalization of relations between the countries underway, the project is expected to once more be an important topic during bilateral talks.
On July 29, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said talks with Turkey had resumed on the Turkish Stream natural gas project.
"We should take more steps for diversification of Turkish products to Russia,” he added.
Erdogan will go to Russia with a delegation that will include Turkish businessmen. “They are the most powerful investor firms in Turkey,” he said, adding that he hoped both sides would start a fresh process.
- Turkey invites Russian tourists
Erdogan said there were no problems in Turkey’s tourist areas and dismissed fears based on security concerns.
"All security measures have been taken," the president said.
He said no single tourist was killed even during the July 15 coup attempt, pointing out that all those who lost their lives that night were Turkish nationals who stood against tanks, helicopters and warplanes.
"We are ready to host our Russian friends in Turkey," Erdogan said.