Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia had won Turkey's backing for Moscow to build a key section of a new gas pipeline seen as a rival of an EU-backed project in Turkish waters.

Putin's comments came after talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that were the latest example of the expanding strategic relationship between Moscow and Ankara.

"We have agreed that by November 10 the Turkish government will carry out an audit and will give us the permission for the construction" of the South Stream pipeline, Putin said.

"The Turkish prime minister has confirmed this intention today," he added.

Russia wants to build a section of the South Stream pipeline through Turkey's portion of the Black Sea to create a new route for Russian gas to Europe that will by-pass Ukraine.

But Turkey is also a key player in the rival EU-backed Nabucco pipeline which aims to carry gas from the Caspian Sea region to Europe and is seen as a way of reducing European reliance on Russian gas.

Turkey in August agreed to allow Moscow to start surveys in its territorial waters in the Black Sea for South Stream.

Putin said the ecological surveys had already been completed while the seismological and geological surveys were 85-90 percent complete.

"The energy sphere has a very important significance. In this, we share a very developed cooperation," Erdogan told Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in earlier talks at his country residence outside Moscow.

"Not only in the sphere of natural gas but in crude products there exist a whole series of opportunities," he added.

NATO member Turkey, which has long pursued EU membership, has sought to downplay rivalry between the two competing pipelines.

It was unclear whether gas supplies were sufficient to fill two pipelines and Moscow has been keen to complete South Stream ahead of its rival, with plans to go online with the pipeline's section in Turkish waters as early as 2013.

South Stream is being jointly developed by Russian gas giant Gazprom and Italy's Eni.

Turkey in turn is seeking Russian support for a planned Turkish oil pipeline to be built from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Russia will play an active role in the project and the two sides are in talks over Moscow taking a stake, Russian deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told reporters on the sidelines of the meetings.

Putin said he had floated the signing of a tripartite agreement between Italy, Russia and Turkey on the pipeline and added that Erdogan had agreed.

Turkey in November scrapped a 2008 tender won by a Russian-led consortium to build the country's first nuclear power plant. But the two sides Wednesday signed a joint statement on a building a nuclear facility.

The two countries have also joined efforts to broker peace between ex-Soviet states Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are still technically at war over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Shared concerns over stability in the Caucasus were tested as Russia fought a brief war with Georgia in August 2008, but Moscow has since played a role in the recent rapprochement between Turkey and its ally Armenia.

But Putin said the issue of Karabakh -- which is complicating the ratification of a deal re-establishing diplomatic ties -- should not be linked to Turkish-Armenian relations.

"I do not think it is right to put them in one package," he said.

Russia is Turkey's main gas supplier, accounting for about 60 percent of the country's gas imports.

Source: AFP Global Edition


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