Turkey normalizes relations with Russia, sends stark message to Western allies

Turkey normalizes relations with Russia, sends stark message to Western allies
By Vadim Dumesh and Ben Aris August 9, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on August 9 in St Petersburg – the first official meeting between the two men following the deep rift in relations following the Turkish downing of a Russian bomber on the Syrian border last November and the first trip abroad for the Turkish president since the attempted coup on July 15. 

As the West is wary of Erdogan cracking down harder then ever on any signs of opposition after surviving a military coup attempt, Putin, on the contrary, seems to be ready to completely turn the relations with Turkey around.

For Erdogan, apart from repairing ties with a major economic partner, his Russian trip visit is a clear message to the West that Turkey still has alternative allies to Nato and Europe.

In a fairly blatant piece of blackmail as Erdogan was sitting down to a cup of tea with Putin, the Turkish Minister for EU affairs Omer Celik was demanding that Europe set a date for visa-free travel for Turks to the European Union, the issue that is at the top of the Turkish wish list in its relations with Europe. 

Celik said on local television that Turkey will unilaterally cease to fulfill its part of the agreement with the EU on the migration problem if the EU authorities did not name a date for the abolition of visas for the Turks travelling to Europe. According to him, the EU demand for Turkey to amend the anti-terrorism legislation will lead to an increase in the threat to the security of the EU itself. In March, Turkey entered into an agreement with the EU on curbing the flow of refugees to Europe in exchange for certain steps from the EU, including granting Turks the right to visa-free entry. In turn, Brussels imposed a 72-point agreement on Ankara, some of which woud require new laws. 

Erdogan's visit to Russia was a sincere attempt to rub a salve on the raw relatons that followed when the Turkish military in November brought down a Russian bomber that allegedly crossed into Turkish airspace while on a mission in Syria. What followed was a harsh reaction from Russia that froze a number of major projects, banned charter flights to Turkey and imposed a number of other painful economic sanctions such as a ban on tourists.

With the Turkish president apologising for the incident and the pilots responsible, previously praised as heroes, being shunned as rebels and saboteurs involved in the failed July coup, the Su-24 affair is now behind the countries.

But with the conflict in Syria and Russian involvement in it being far from over, the military agenda is still central to the meeting of two presidents. According to Interfax, the two-hour meeting between Erdogan and Putin was accompanied by teams of top security service and military men from both sides.

The agenda of talks between Turkey and Russia will consist of anti-terrorist activities and the recovery of the trade and economic relations, Putin said in opening comments, in which he also condemned the coup attempt and reiterated Russia's “principal position against any unconstitutional processes”, perhaps alluding to the Ukrainian events of 2014 when the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by pro-EU protestors.

“Your call immediately after the coup attempt had supported me personally, my colleagues, and our people,” Erdogan replied, painting a picture quite hard to imagine.

The Turkish president confirmed that many issues on the development of mutual economic relations were on agenda, before the session went behind closed doors.

Following the closed-door session, Erdogan said that the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project would be "successfully implemented", which will supply Russian gas to Turkey and other European countries, Interfax reported.

"Turkish Stream will be implemented. We will take together with our departments concerned steps to ensure the supply of Russian gas to Europe through this pipeline," the Turkish leader said at a joint press conference with Putin.