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Energy tops agenda as Black Sea summit convenes in Istanbul

The leaders of 12 countries on Monday wrapped up a summit of Black Sea region countries pledging to increase cooperation in trade, energy and transport ties. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among those already in the city for the 15th anniversary meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization. Other members of the BSEC are Turkey, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldavia, Greece, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Albania and Romania. In a statement issued after the summit, the leaders agreed that they wanted the BSEC to take on a larger role in regional issues and for greater cooperation between members “especially on issues such as energy, trade and transport.” The leaders also pledged to increase cooperation on security issues.

Security was tight near Istanbul's historic Ciragan and Dolmabahce palaces where the leaders were meeting, with airspace around the palaces closed to civil aviation and coast guard boats patrolling the Bosporous Straights that divides Istanbul. Trade and especially energy policy were the main topic at the summit. There has been tension between Russia and Turkey in recent years as Turkey has attempted to become an important link in supplying oil and gas from the Caspian region to Europe. Russia, however, has plans to build direct pipelines to eastern Europe that bypass Turkey and which would be, at least on paper, extremely competitive price-wise compared to energy coming via Turkey. Putin met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the summit but in briefings afterwards neither mentioned the energy dispute. (