Putin, Erdogan launch Turkey's 1st nuclear reactor

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan centre left, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, centre right, applaud during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Turkey and Russia have put aside their traditional rivalries and differences on regional issues, to forge closer ties. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The leaders of Russia and Turkey are scheduled to launch the start of the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power plant as ties between the countries deepen

ANKARA, Turkey — The leaders of Russia and Turkey on Tuesday launched the start of construction for Turkey's first nuclear power plant, as ties between the two nations deepen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on his first foreign visit since being re-elected on March 18, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remotely gave the go-ahead for the construction of the Russian-built nuclear plant on the Mediterranean coast at Akkuyu.

Putin hailed the project as a symbol of growing cooperation between Russia and Turkey.

"We face the ambitious goal of launching the first reactor in 2023 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey," Putin said during Tuesday's ceremony. "We agreed with my dear friend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to do everything necessary to achieve that goal."

Erdogan said the power plant would meet 10 percent of Turkey's energy needs after all reactors become operational.

"Thus we will have made our energy basket — still largely reliant on petroleum, natural gas and coal — more robust," he added.

The Akkuyu plant is being built by Russia's nuclear energy agency, Rosatom. The project is estimated to cost $20 billion.

Turkey and Russia have put aside their traditional rivalries and differences on regional issues to forge closer ties. Putin and Erdogan have met several times in the past year and regularly speak on the phone.

Their ever-warming ties comes as Russia is running into widespread diplomatic fallout from the poisoned spy scandal in British and Turkey's relations with its Western allies have worsened over human rights issues and its military operations against Kurdish militia in Syria.

Turkey is also set to purchase Russia's long-range S-400 missile defense system — a deal that is raising eyebrows among some of Turkey's NATO allies.

On Wednesday, Putin, Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are expected to hold a summit in the Turkish capital of Ankara to discuss Syria's future. The three countries are sponsoring a series of efforts in a bid to end the seven-year war.

Their cooperation comes despite having positions on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict. Moscow and Tehran have sided with Syrian President Bashar Assad while Turkey has been supporting his opposition foes.

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