Erdogan and Putin rekindle friendship
Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a great deal in common. Source: Wikimedia
Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet over the Syria-Turkey frontier last November prompted rapid retaliation from the Kremlin and a heated exchange of remarks between eerily similar heads of state Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But now Putin appears to have accepted Erdogan’s expressions of sorrow and the strongmen will meet in St Petersburg Monday (Tuesday) for their first summit since the incident, in the hope of reviving the relationship. The Kremlin’s response to the botched July 15 coup clearly pleased Erdogan with Putin one of the first foreign leaders to phone Erdogan offering support and refusing to criticise the subsequent purge.
Ankara has said the pilots of the Turkish fighters that shot down the Russian plane on November 24 were arrested for alleged involvement in the coup, raising the prospect that Erdogan could link the incident to the coup plotters.
“This is an alliance of convenience, not a strategic relationship. It is more of a transactional relationship driven by converging interests and challenging circumstances,” said Fadi Hakura of the Chatham House think tank in London. “I would compare it to someone having a viral infection who immediately takes paracetamol to lower the temperature, which rapidly declines but precipitously starts fighting back up again,” Hakura explained. “What we have seen with Turkey in this rapid change, rapid swings in its relationship with Russia from breakdown to reconciliation, indicates that the relationship is still not healthy, despite appearances.”
“The Russian response stood in stark contrast to those of Turkey’s western allies,” said Jeffrey Mankoff of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
The Ottoman and Russian empires fought three centuries of war as they grappled for control of the Black Sea and West Asia. Before Turkey’s mistake in November, the pair managed to prevent disputes on Syria and Ukraine harming cooperation on issues like the TurkStream gas pipeline to Europe and a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Turkey.
Putin and Erdogan, combative leaders in their early 60s credited with restoring confidence to their nations in the wake of financial crises but widely criticised for clamping down on human rights, had a close relationship. Erdogan has said he felt let down by the west after the coup and there was clearly now the prospect of deeper Russian ties.
“While Turkish-Russian ties are subject to their own uncertainties, this deterioration of relations with western powers could accelerate a Turkish-Russian rapprochement,” said a European Council on Foreign Relations report.
Ankara will want to end Russian sanctions which took a heavy toll on its agriculture and construction sectors. Russia said trade between the two sides fell 43 per cent to US$6.1 billion from January to May.
The Turkish tourist sector was worst hit, with Russian arrivals down 93 per cent year on year in June. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said he expected Russian tourists to “quickly” return to the pre-November levels.
Meanwhile, the TurkStream pipeline, which was supposed to be delivering 31.5 billion cubic metres of gas a year, and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant should now be discussed again. Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said Erdogan’s visit so soon after the coup showed the importance Turkey attached to the relationship.