This morning, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to launch a new gas pipeline and discuss the conflict in both Libya and Syria.
Putin arrived in Turkey late yesterday evening after a surprise visit to Syria - his first to Damascus since the outbreak of the conflict - amid escalating tension in the Middle East against the background of the assassination of the Quds Force commander, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Iraq.
The visit includes a symbolic opening of the Turkstream line, which transports Russian gas to Turkey and southern Europe via the Black Sea. The Turkstream and Nordstream pipelines that pass under the Baltic Sea allow Russia to increase its gas supplies to Europe bypassing Ukraine.
According to Agence France-Presse, the two countries still stand on two different sides of the conflict in Syria, and they may be on a collision course in Libya. The Turkstream project, which has been temporarily suspended during a period of chill in Russian-Turkish relations, includes two parallel pipelines spanning more than 900 km.
The connection between Moscow and Ankara is growing closer, and Western observers are eyeing the bilateral partnership with suspicion as ties tighten between Russia, a conventional threat to the NATO alliance, and Turkey, a member country of NATO. With increasing confidence, the two powers are exerting influence in the region, so it is no wonder that there is more to the agenda of the Istanbul summit than merely natural gas trading.
According to a Turkish diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, the two presidents will also discuss the situation in Libya. Turkey has deployed troops to intervene in the country's civil war, siding with the Government of Al-Wefaq led by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Turkey's stake in Libya, however, is at odds with Russian interests. Moscow supports the opposing Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, who has launched an offensive for control of the capital, Tripoli.
Earlier, in Damascus, Russian President held talks in Syria with the country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin spokesman said, with the region nervously awaiting the next possible step in the U.S.-Iran showdown.
Putin’s trip — which was not announced in advance — marked his first visit since 2017 to Syria, Moscow’s main Middle East ally.
The meeting comes amid a crisis atmosphere in the region after a U.S. airstrike last week killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Tehran has vowed to strike back.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not specify that Iran came up in the conversation between Putin and Assad. But he noted the Russian forces in Syria, which were dispatched in 2015 to give Assad critical help to turn the tide in the country’s civil war.