Friday

23rd Aug 2019

Ankara and Kremlin in charm offensive

  • Erdogan is seeking to mend ties with Russia (Photo: Kremlin)

Relations between Turkey and Russia are thawing after a state visit on Tuesday (9 August) by Turkey's president to St. Petersburg.

"Turkey-Russia ties have entered into a very different and positive phase," said Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

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Putin, for his part, said the restoration of bilateral ties "would benefit both Turkey and Russia."

The move marks a turning point in an often fraught relationship, and a possible step away from Turkey's increasingly strained Nato allies, the United States and Europe.

Last November, Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 jet fighter near the Syrian border, killing both pilots. Russia responded with trade sanctions and suspended charter flights and package tour sales to Turkey.

The trade measures saw Turkey's exports to Russia drop by over 60 percent, some €664 million, in the first six months of this year, according to Turkey's Daily Sabah.

The Russian ban reportedly causing around €757 million in losses in the Turkish tourism sector over the same period.

The official visit to the Russian city is an effort to smooth over tensions, part of a broader Turkish policy, pre-dating the 15 July coup, to mend relations in the neighbourhood.

Erdogan also sent the Kremlin a letter where he expressed his regret for downing the jet. The half-apology appearing to have helped convince Russia to mend ties.

Tuesday's encounter with Putin marks Erdogan's first official state visit following last month's failed military coup to overthrow Turkey's government.

Yet, the two nations still remain at odds over the fate of Syria. Russia backs Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, enemy of Erdogan.

Anti-americanism in Turkey

The two share a disdain for the United States; Erdogan, in part, blames the Americans for harbouring his enemy Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey says Gulen — a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1991 — masterminded the coup.

Turkey's government continues its purging his supporters throughout the country, despite denials from 75-year old Gulen of involvement in the coup.

Gulen has accused Erdogan of using the coup to further tighten his grip on power.

Around 16,000 people have been arrested and tens of thousands detained or fired from their jobs.

Turkey wants him extradited from the United States.

On Tuesday, Turkey's justice minister Bekir Bozdag said in an interview with state-run Anadolu Agency that anti-Americanism in Turkey risks turning into hatred.

"It is in the hands of the United States to stop this anti-American feeling leading to hatred," he said.

The European Union, for its part, has not been spared from Turkey's criticisms, Ankara threatening to scrap the migrant swap deal signed off in March unless short-term visa restrictions on Turkish nationals are lifted.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, issued the threat earlier this month in an interview with Germany's daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"If visa liberalisation does not follow, we will be forced to back away from the deal on taking back [refugees] and the agreement of 18 March," he had said.

The EU is determined to keep the deal, but is refusing to budge on Turkey's demands.

In an interview with Tagesspiegel on Monday, EU commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the deal with Turkey stood.

"I do not feel blackmailed by Turkey. We negotiated an agreement and I expect Turkey to fulfil the jointly agreed conditions. Pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept]. (…) If Turkey wants to obtain visa liberalisation by October, it will have to fulfil all the outstanding benchmarks," he said.

Opinion

A marriage of convenience

The West has nothing to fear from the convenient meeting of the minds between Erdogan and Putin. Both countries are strictly following their strategic national interests, which sometimes clash heavily - as can be seen in Syria.

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Russia state-controlled Gazprom plans to build Nord Stream II gas pipeline on its own after partners pull out.

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Calling time on European-Turkish strategic relations

With an Erdogan-Putin summit on Tuesday, joined by Iran on Wednesday, it is time for Europe to face facts - Turkey's ties with the West are no longer strategic. When Europe goes hither, Turkey deliberately goes thither.

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