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Turkey, Russia Report Progress On Pipeline Deals

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow
(RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Moscow has made considerable progress in securing permission to build a section of a key strategic pipeline in Turkish waters.

Putin made his comments following a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is wrapping up a two-day visit to Moscow.

"We have an agreement that by November 10, 2010, after receiving our data, the Turkish government will make its own assessment and give us permission to begin construction,” Putin said. “During our talks today, the prime minister reaffirmed this intention of the Turkish government."

Moscow is seeking to build part of the South Stream pipeline, which would create a new route for Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe that bypasses Ukraine, through Turkish waters in the Black Sea.

In August, Turkey granted Russia's state-run natural-gas monopoly Gazprom the right to explore its Black Sea territorial waters.

In televised remarks at the start of his meeting with Erdogan, Putin praised the deepening Russo-Turkish partnership.

"We have large joint projects in the areas of energy, telecommunications, and industry. Our task now is to diversify our relations," Putin said.

Earlier in the day, Erdogan met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and invited him to visit Turkey in May or June.

South Stream Vs. Nabucco

Russia's proposed South Stream pipeline is a direct competitor to the European Union-backed Nabucco project, a Western effort to decrease Europe's energy dependence on Moscow by transporting gas from the Caspian Sea area to Europe via Turkey -- bypassing Russia.

Turkey is also a key player in Nabucco and says the two projects should complement each other. It is unclear, however, whether there is enough gas to fill both pipelines.

Funded by Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni, the proposed South Stream pipeline would transport Russian gas under the Black Sea to the EU via Bulgaria. Russia introduced it in 2007 as an alternative route that bypasses Ukraine and Belarus, whose chronic price disputes with Moscow have periodically disrupted Europe's energy supplies.

South Stream is slated to go online in 2015.

For its part, Turkey is seeking Moscow's support in building its own pipeline from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as saying that Moscow will "actively" participate in that project and that talks are underway to discuss the specific terms. Putin said he has proposed a tripartite agreement between Turkey, Russia, and Italy to build the pipeline.

Putin praised Turkey as a trading partner, despite a drop-off during last year's economic downturn.

"Unfortunately, the global financial crisis has affected our economic relations,” Putin said. “Our trade had reached nearly $35 billion but then it unfortunately dropped by 40 percent. Nevertheless, Turkey remains one of Russia's biggest trade partners, surpassing the United States and Britain."

Nuclear Plans

The two sides also discussed nuclear energy. Sechin and Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz signed a joint statement on building a nuclear power plant in Turkey. In November, Turkey scrapped a 2008 tender won by a Russian-led consortium to build the country's first nuclear power plant.

The longstanding conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that is legally part of Azerbaijan but occupied and controlled by Armenia, also came up in the talks. Ankara has long wanted Russia to pressure Armenia to reach a settlement with Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey.

The issue has complicated the recent normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, which Russia helped broker.

Putin said, however, that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should not be linked to Turkish-Armenian relations, saying, "I do not think it is right to put them in one package."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Yerevan today for talks with Armenian officials.