TURKISH – RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: IS IT TOO SOON TO CALL THE NEW ERA?
Turkey and Russia, after the jet crisis, agreed on taking firm steps forward to make progress on some topics. On August 10th, Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. After concluding the first leg of the summit, the leaders held a press conference to announce ‘Both Turkey and Russia are aiming to return to the level of relations that existed before November 2015’.These new developments have been announced as ‘The New Era of Turkish-Russian Relations’ on media outlets. But, have these countries really entered a new era regarding their rooted relations?The best possible way to answer this question is to reminisce before November 2015 Turkish-Russian relations. Before shooting down Russian Su-24 jet, there were two countries that had the same desire to stabilize the trade capacity at maximum level by having secure alliance on trade, energy, and tourism. On the other hand, Turkish-Russian disagreements on the topics such as Ukrainian Crisis and Syrian Civil War were well-known facts. A Turkey, partnered with Western allies, Russia was fully aware that their interests are not the same. Nevertheless, both countries avoided to express their political disagreements to the world and never let these disagreements to harm their bilateral relations. In fact, aside from their political identity, Erdoğan-Putin friendship was also known.The second leg of the summit was about Syria which was held behind closed doors. Keep in mind that Syrian civil war is a complex, military issue to reach a clear agreement so that the leaders have not made a proper explanation yet. Therefore it is too soon to label today’s Turkish-Russian relations as the new era regarding the summary of before November 2015 relations.Security and Energy Policy expert, Hasan Selim Özertem has shared his views with Diplomatic Observer. He believes that it is too soon to expect a different or a new period and emphasizes the intension of both leaders which is to go back to the dynamics before November 24th 2015. Özertem adds that “In pursuance of a new era, First Turkey and Russia have to achieve to go back to the said dynamics and then take further steps from there. In order to do so, following Syrian headlines and the alliance on defense industry have the utmost importance. In addition, now that President Erdoğan took a step to improve Turkish relations with Russia, how will this affect Turkey’s relation with West? This question is yet to be answered. NTV correspondent Deniz Kilislioğlu asked this question to President Erdoğan which he avoided to answer directly. From his answer, it can be seen that HLCC mechanism and the current volume of trade between Turkey and Russia should be the highlights of the summit.On co-operation in defense industry and Syria, Özertem continues “Defense industry is a pretty wide area. As you know, there was a missile agreement with China but it had been cancelled. Because of this issue, Turkey was highly criticized by NATO members. Having a high tech defense industry alliance could be seen as a new era. Up to this point economic relations had been comprehensive and complex. But examining these relations, Turkey and Russia didn’t have a mutual cooperation that can be defined as a strong alliance as they were based on just contractors, energy, and agriculture. Mersin Akkuyu nuclear power plant project can be described as the only exception but it was before the downing incident. Therefore, defense industry is strategically important. Syria is whole another issue, a very delicate one. The meeting was held behind closed doors and we didn’t get a proper explanation about it. However, reaching an agreement on Syria will be one of the significant developments of the next period.”Syria Issue Is the Thorniest Problem To SolveWe asked if it is accurate to call this past progress between Turkey and Russia a new era to Pavel Koshkin, the editor in chief of Russia Direct. According to Koshkin regarding the meetings of the Turkish and Russian leaders, it is a new chapter to a certain extent. “The steps that are being taken in order to improve relations came after a severe deterioration and this breakdown and a setback in their cooperation.”Koshkin does not think that this new period has not started with Erdoğan’s visit to Russia. The new period has started with the moment when President Erdoğan decided to express his regrets for the downing of Russian jet near the Syrian-Turkish border.Pavel Koshkin’s answer to the question ‘What does Russia expect from Turkey?’ is ‘Russia hopes that Turkey will become a reliable, pragmatic and more predictable partner.’‘The Syrian question will remain the thorniest problem, even though Moscow and Ankara made an attempt to come up with compromise. But it remains to be seen if they can succeed. However, the priority of the countries is energy projects Turkish Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. Fighting with terrorism is another important field they could and should corporate. But, again, it remains to be seen if they succeed.How Much Has Anti-Western Rhetoric Brought Turkey And Russia Closer?With Syrian crisis, trust issues between Turkey and the West has become a serious subject. After the coup attempt on July 15th, not receiving the expectative support from its Western allies and having ‘strategic partner’ the US not extraditing Fethullah Gülen-common public enemy- have rekindled the anger against West. A significant majority of Turkish people support their President Erdoğan’s and Prime Minister Yıldırım’s beliefs and attitude on recent events as well as the steps they are taking to improve Turkish-Russian relations. Defining the the current anti-Western campaign in Turkey as a phenomenon which should necessarily be managed” Özertem says “It is clear that the recent “upper-mind” rhetoric openly targets the West. Being against the West is on a higher level in Russia. Especially the expansion of NATO and sanctions against Russia after the Ukrainian Crisis, hostility against the West has come to its highest levels since Soviet Union. We will see in the future whether or not this hostility will bring Turkey and Russia together. For this reason, I believe Syria and defense industry alliance are the two deterministic element in medium and the long term. For now, Turkey and Russia are trying to have a pragmatic relation and Turkey is enlarging its maneuvering area against West”.Ali Faruk IMRE