Erdogan thanks Putin for his help on Turkish nuclear plant

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have held talks by telephone, their offices said, before the two countries marked the inauguration of Turkey’s first nuclear power reactor.

The Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey’s southern Mersin province has been built by Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom.

Erdogan thanked Putin on Thursday during their call for his help on the power plant, the Turkish leader’s office said. They also discussed the Black Sea grain initiative and the situation in Ukraine, it said.

Putin said they agreed to deepen economic, trade and agricultural cooperation. He said the two countries were working on an initiative by Erdogan to send flour made from Russian grain to countries that needed it.

Both presidents took part virtually in a ceremony marking the loading of nuclear fuel into the first power unit at Akkuyu.

The $20bn, 4,800-megawatt project to build four reactors in the Mediterranean town of Akkuyu will allow Turkey to join the small club of nations with civil nuclear energy.

“We plan to complete the physical launch [of the plant] next year … in order to be able to produce electricity on a steady basis from 2025, as we agreed,” said Andrei Likhachev, head of Rosatom.

Turkey hopes the plant, described by Likhachev as the “largest nuclear construction site on the planet”, will reduce its dependence on imported hydrocarbons for energy.

Sanction ‘problems’

Construction of the Akkuyu plant was complicated by sanctions the West imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Yes, we have certain logistical problems,” Akkuyu plant director Sergei Butskikh told reporters on the eve of the launch.

“The transportation routes are getting longer. Not all of the shipping companies are able to work with us. So here yes, we feel the sanctions,” he added.

“But this has not affected the quality of the plant’s construction.”

Erdogan has been one of the few world leaders to maintain good relations with Putin by refusing to sign up for Western sanctions on Russia and trying to mediate an end to the war.

Erdogan joined Thursday’s ceremony by video link rather than travelling to the site due to a health issue that forced him to cancel campaign rallies this week. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the president was now feeling better.

Turkey faces landmark presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.