Putin Visits to Former Russian Foe Turkey 12/05/2004

By STEVE GUTTERMAN, Associated Press Writer

ANKARA, Turkey - Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) headed to Turkey on Sunday for the first official visit by a Russian leader, looking to boost a growing economic relationship that is turning a longtime foe into a newfound trading partner.

Putin was to have dinner in Ankara with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer ahead of official talks Monday. His two-day stay, which will include a business forum, is expected to produce six cooperation agreements on issues including defense, finance and energy, in addition to a friendship and partnership declaration.

Putin's visit marks a milestone in relations between two countries whose meetings in past centuries often came on the battlefield.

The Ottoman Empire and Czarist Russia vied for regional supremacy; Turkey was NATO (news - web sites)'s easternmost Cold War outpost; and the two have fought for influence in Turkic states that gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse. Religion has also been a source of friction between predominantly Orthodox Christian Russia and Islamic Turkey.

Three centuries ago, Czar Peter the Great opened Russia to the West partly in a quest for know-how that might help him wage war against Turkey. Today, Putin's Russia bickers with Turkey over access to the West through its Bosporus straits, which Turkey said is packed dangerously with tankers carrying Russian oil.

Despite their persistent problems, "Russia and Turkey are moving toward cooperation and the flourishing it will bring with it," Putin said before the trip, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Bilateral trade increased by 60 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2004, reaching $4.6 billion, according to Russia's trade ministry, and may exceed $10 billion for the year.

A pipeline carries Russian natural gas beneath the Black Sea to Turkey, a major consumer, while Turkish companies are active in Russia's booming retail, construction and brewing industries.

Turkey's Mediterranean resorts are popular among Russians, fostering familiarity. Putin said his own vacations there helped change his outlook, according to ITAR-Tass.

But other links cloud their relations. Many Turks trace their ancestry to Chechnya (news - web sites) or elsewhere in the Caucasus, and sympathize with fellow Muslims in the war-ravaged region — where Putin has pursued a tough policy.

In Istanbul on Sunday, some of the 2,000 people protesting the U.S. war in Iraq (news - web sites) carried a banner that read "Murderer Putin! Get out of Turkey!" A Caucasus group also protested his visit and Chechnya policies, before placing a black wreath in front of the Russian Consulate.

Russia has urged Turkey to crack down on charities it claims channel money and weapons to Chechen rebels. In an apparent gesture to Putin, Turkish authorities apprehended nine suspected Chechen militants and three pro-Chechen Turks last week, and the Anatolia news agency reported Sunday that police had linked them to al-Qaida.

 Archived Articles
" Putin Visits to Former Russian Foe Turkey » - 12/05/2004
" Decision on Turkey membership only after talks: EU parliament chief » - 12/04/2004

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