Putin, Erdogan Mend Ties as Post-Coup Turkey Turns to Russia
by Olga Tanas
Turkey and Russia will seek to speed up the repair of frayed relations when Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Vladimir Putin for talks in St. Petersburg next month in the wake of the failed military coup against the Turkish president.
Russia “isn’t just our close and friendly neighbor, but also a strategic partner,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, who announced the Aug. 9 visit, said at talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich on Tuesday. “Today, we are here to normalize the situation and our relations as soon as possible and at an accelerated pace since they were disrupted on November 24,” he said, referring to the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish fighter jets near the Syrian border.
The attempt to overthrow Erdogan has turbo-charged efforts to restore ties between Turkey and Russia that were already under way after the crisis over the warplane. The rapprochement may even lead to a political realignment in the region. Erdogan has drawn strong criticism from the U.S. and other NATO allies for a sweeping crackdown on tens of thousands of alleged opponents following the failed coup, while Turkey has heaped praise on Russia for its support since the crisis erupted on July 15.
Simsek emphasized Turkey’s gratitude to Russia at the talks with Dvorkovich on restoring economic ties, saying: “You supported democracy, supported the government. Thank you very much.”
Russia and Turkey may form an alliance of “two developing economies with an ideology of sovereign values as a union of the deceived against the West,” Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in e-mailed comments.
Violations of rights and freedoms by the Erdogan government after the failed coup mean “moving away automatically from the West, which hasn’t yet decided how much to tolerate in order not to alienate” Turkey, Baunov said. Russia isn’t concerned about such abuses and can show it’s ready to be friends, he said.
Turkey received “unconditional support” from Russia over the coup attempt, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview to Haberturk TV on Monday. He also said anti-U.S. sentiment is rising in the country after the failed revolt.
Putin ordered the Russian government last month to begin lifting sanctions imposed on Turkey after Erdogan sent a letter offering “sympathy and profound condolences” to the family of the pilot who died when Turkey shot down his plane during the November mission to bomb Islamic State and other militants in Syria.
Putin had accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” for downing the jet and railed against the “ruling gang” in Ankara, as Russia retaliated with a ban on charter flights that harmed tourism and sanctions on imports of some Turkish fruits and vegetables. In December, Russia directly accused Erdogan’s family of being involved in illegal oil trading with Islamic State, a charge Turkey rejected.
Turkey said the warplane was shot down after crossing into its territory and ignoring warnings. Russia insisted its aircraft never left Syrian airspace. Putin turned the war in Syria in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor after ordering Russian airstrikes against militants, while Turkey wants Assad to stand down as part of any settlement.
The ban on charter flights contributed to Turkey’s record drop in foreign-tourist arrivals in May. There was a 92 percent decline in Russian visitors as the number of overall arrivals fell by 35 percent compared with a year earlier. It was Turkey’s 10th consecutive monthly fall in arrivals, the longest streak of year-on-year declines in statistics that span a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Tourism accounts for 6.2 percent of Turkey’s economic output, according to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, and 8 percent of employment.
Trade between Russia and Turkey fell by 57.2 percent in the first five months of 2016 compared with a year earlier, to $6.1 billion, according to Russian Federal Customs Service data.
Trade volumes with Turkey will rise, though they won’t rebound to previous levels quickly, Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told reporters in Moscow after talks with his Turkish counterpart Nihat Zeybekci on Tuesday. The Turkish food embargo should be lifted gradually and it may take some time, he said.
Turkey confirmed interest in resuming the Turkish Stream gas-pipeline project, Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive officer of Gazprom PJSC, told reporters after taking part in talks between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Zeybekci. A decision on an agreement will be made after Putin and Erdogan meet, he said.
Russia shelved talks in December on the planned Black Sea link that would make Turkey a linchpin in Europe’s energy supplies by 2020, with Gazprom saying the route was still possible if political relations improved.