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Turkey PM Erdogan in Russia for gas talks

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan
Russia and Turkey have a big incentive to improve ties

Turkey's growing strategic importance as a gas transporter is the focus of talks in Russia between the countries' leaders.

Turkish PM Recep Tayip Erdogan met Russia's president and PM in Moscow, with energy high on the agenda.

The Turkish government recently agreed to support Russian plans for a major new gas pipeline - South Stream - across the Black Sea into Europe.

Meanwhile, the EU wants Turkey to join a rival pipeline project, Nabucco.

"The energy sphere has a very important significance," Mr Erdogan said on meeting President Dmitry Medvedev.

"Not only in the sphere of natural gas, but in crude products there exists a whole series of opportunities... I see this meeting as a huge opportunity," he added.

Mr Medvedev hailed the countries' "serious and major" co-operation.

"The Russian-Turkish relationship is improving. It is really a strategic partnership," he said.

Leverage

This visit by Mr Erdogan and senior members of his government to Moscow is a clear signal Turkey wants to build its relationship with Russia, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in the Russian capital.

Trade is already flourishing and is set to reach about $40bn (£25bn) this coming year.

The energy relationship is also developing fast.

Turkey is highly dependent on Russian gas, but now also wants to become a major energy corridor - transporting Russian gas through its territory to the Middle East.

It has also allowed Moscow to carry out preliminary work off its Black Sea coast, along the route of the planned South Stream pipeline.

Russia says construction of this pipeline should begin this year.

But it is causing concern in the European Union, which wants to diversify its energy supplies and break free of its growing dependence on Russian gas, says our Moscow correspondent.

Brussels's backing for the Nabucco project, to transport gas from the Caspian Sea region through Turkey, gives Turkey a great deal of leverage, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul.

Although it has few energy resources of its own, it wants to compensate for that vulnerability by exploiting its unique geopolitical position, to become an energy hub, he says.

PROJECTED ROUTES OF NORD STREAM, NABUCCO AND SOUTH STREAM PIPELINES



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