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Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to meet Friday in the southern Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, A second face-to-face conversation in a complex context in less than three weeks aligns and competing interests.

Aides to the leaders described the Sochi talks as a continuation of their July 19 discussions in Iran – which included Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – covering everything from drones to food deliveries to Energy to all aspects of Syria.

Mr Erdogan has become an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is exploring ways to break the economic and political isolation created by the West’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and a long-frustrated EU applicant, proved to be instrumental in a deal between the two warring nations to urgently restart Ukraine’s grain shipments through the Black Sea.

The deal is currently being tested, with the first ship leaving the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday for Lebanon and three more due to leave Ukrainian ports on Friday, where grain cargoes are desperately needed to help address a growing global food shortage.

Mr Erdogan is carefully preserving the ability to talk to NATO foe Russia and Western members of the alliance. Turkey has been refusing to join Western sanctions on Russia, angering its NATO allies, but Mr Erdogan has also taken a key move to soften his initial opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance as bulwarks against Russian aggression.

Russia is an important energy supplier to Turkey, providing a quarter of the country’s crude oil imports and nearly half of its natural gas purchases last year. Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom is building a nuclear power plant in the Mediterranean that is expected to meet 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs when completed in 2026.

Turkey is becoming an important transshipment point for goods destined for Russia, as many Western freight companies no longer handle shipments to Russia, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported on Thursday. The country remains a popular destination for Russian tourists, with 1.4 million visitors this year, according to Interfax.

However, stark differences remain between the two leaders. Their country has backed opposing sides in the civil war in Turkey’s neighbour Syria. The Kremlin has given blood and treasure to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, has backed opposition rebels and threatened a new military offensive in northern Syria. They are also on opposite sides of the bitter border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Their relationship with weapons is also complicated. In recent years, Turkey has disregarded the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missiles by NATO partners. And now, with war-related Western sanctions on technology such as missiles and drone guidance systems, Russia is urgently seeking supplies, a topic that Friday’s talks promised to address.

“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries has always been on the agenda, and the fact that our interactions in this sensitive area are developing shows that, in general, our entire spectrum of mutual relations is at a very high level,” Deutscher said. Mitri, Russian Presidential Press Secretary S. Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, Interfax news agency reported.

Safek Timur Contribution report.

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