Russia offers Turkey asset swaps, aid in Armenian relations

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia and Turkey could swap their energy assets and suggested Moscow help Turkey improve its ties with ex-Soviet Armenia.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia and Turkey could swap their energy assets and suggested Moscow help Turkey improve its ties with ex-Soviet Armenia.

"Russia has been a reliable supplier of energy resources to Turkey," Putin told a news conference following talks with his visiting Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, which focused on the two countries' joint oil, gas and electricity projects.

Putin said Russian companies wish to take part in the privatization program being carried out by the Turkish government. Russia's Stroytransgaz engineering construction company was earlier reported to be in talks on a stake in Istanbul's gas distribution company.

Putin said Wednesday's talks were dominated by the South Stream and Blue Stream natural gas pipelines as well as the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline, describing the former two as "most important for Russia and Turkey, as well as the whole continent."

Turkey gave preliminary approval in August 2009 for Russia to use its sector of the Black Sea for the South Stream pipeline to pump Russian and Central Asian gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

Russia agreed to join a consortium to build the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The two states also agreed to expand the existing Blue Stream gas pipeline for possible shipments via Turkey to Cyprus and Israel.

The agreements support Turkey's drive to become a regional hub for gas and oil transits while helping Moscow diversify supply routes and potentially maintain its monopoly on natural gas shipments from Asia to Europe.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, in charge of the energy and fuel sector, said ahead of the talks on Wednesday that Russia plans "a proactive role" in the oil consortium, adding its share in the project is being discussed at the moment.

Putin said Russia also seeks to build conventional and nuclear power plants in Turkey.

The two countries signed a joint statement on Wednesday regarding plans to build a nuclear power plant on Turkish soil.

Erdogan said his country was completing preparations for the signing of a formal agreement on the construction of a nuclear power plant on its territory. Putin said Russia had "significant advantages over other competitors" in the deal.

Speaking about Turkey's ties with Armenia, Putin said their improvement should not be linked to the settlement of its fellow Muslim ally Azerbaijan's dispute with Armenia over the Nagorny Karabakh region.

Turkey and Armenia agreed to restore diplomatic ties and improve bilateral relations last October, but some politicians in Ankara said the historic agreements can only be ratified after the Karabakh issue is resolved.

Ankara also demands Yerevan drop its campaign to have the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 internationally recognized as genocide.

"Since Nagorny Karabakh and Turkish-Armenian relations are complex issues, I do not think they should be addressed in one package," Putin told the news conference, adding that this would delay the solutions.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in the dispute even before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has been driving efforts to reach a settlement in the conflict over the ethnic-Armenian region in Azerbaijan, which has been de facto independent since the 1990s.

Putin pledged further efforts to resolve both problems in a bid to improve the situation in the South Caucasus region.

Russia, which traditionally backed Armenia in its disputes with Azerbaijan and Turkey, has recently stepped up economic ties with the latter two nations. Russia is home to millions of ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians.

Speaking at the news conference, Erdogan said Turkey and Russia are preparing to switch to national currencies in mutual payments to avoid reserve currency fluctuations.

Erdogan also said the two states could annul travel visas by spring, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is due to visit Turkey.

Russians, many of who spend their vacations at Turkish resorts, currently enjoy simplified visa regulations, and can buy visas at airports upon arrival.

MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) 


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