New dynamism in Russia-Turkey relations?
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Until a few days ago there were no hopes that Turkey and Russia would see eye to eye for years as many critics wrote obituary to Russo-Turkish relations thanks to which the NATO got a shot in its terror arms. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the shooting of Russian plane angering the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued sanctions against Turkey following the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force on Nov. 24. The document, signed on Nov. 28, envisages restrictions on the import of certain types of products from Turkey. Russia suspended the visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens, Russian employers will not be allowed to hire Turkish nationals, and charter flights will be banned.
The collapse in relations between Turkey and Russia, as well as between Erdogan and Putin has been dramatic. Not only did Putin branded Erdogan’s forces accomplices of terror after they shot down a Russian military jet due to repeated airspace violations on Russia’s behalf, Erdogan fired insults back. Both leaders accused one another of trading oil with Islamists and Russia introduced trade and travel sanctions on Turkey.
Russo-Turkish relations have always been stained. From the late 16th to the early 20th centuries, relations between the Ottoman and Russian empires were often strained, as the two powers were engaged in a number of Russo-Turkish wars. However, in the 1920s, as a result of the Bolshevik Soviet assistance to Turkish revolutionaries during the Turkish War of Independence, the governments of Moscow and Ankara developed warm relations. In 1932 the Turkish Republic took its first foreign loans from the Soviet Union, and the first 5-year economic and industrial development plan of Turkey (1934–1938) was largely modeled after the 5-year plans of the Soviet Union, which seemed to perform well during the Great Depression; despite setbacks such as the Soviet famine of 1932–33, which was largely hidden from the outside world. The good relations between Moscow and Ankara lasted until Joseph Stalin demanded Soviet bases on the Turkish Straits after the Montreux Convention in 1936, most notably at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and placed itself within the Western alliance against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, when relations between the two countries were at their lowest level.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between Turkey and Russia quickly improved and the two countries eventually started to rank among each other’s largest trade partners. Russia became Turkey’s largest provider of energy, while many Turkish companies began to operate in Russia. In this period, Turkey became the top foreign destination for Russian tourists. However, the warm bilateral relations of the past two decades have been severely strained after the November 2015 jet shoot down incident, when a Turkish F-16 combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 during an airspace dispute close to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish President Erdogan eventually apologized on Nov. 24, 2015 for downing a Russian jet in November and triggered a seven-month-long crisis in bilateral relations. However, majority of Russians do not think their government should hurry to accept Erdogan’s apology. The results of the opinion poll indicate how the negative coverage in the Russian media concerning Turkey, has affected the Russian people.
A process of normalization of relations was launched following the apology: Putin and Erdogan had their first telephone conversation since the November incident, the parties agreed to meet in person in the near future, and restrictions on travel to Turkey for Russian tourists were lifted.
Late in the evening of July 15, a military coup was attempted in Turkey. The attempt to seize power was organized by a group of officers from the country’s military police and air force. According to the latest reports, the death toll in Turkey has climbed to 265 and about 1,440 more were injured as a result of the coup attempt.
The military coup in Turkey is considered by many as a colossal blow has been dealt to the authority and influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party. After the failed military coup in Turkey views are divided on the significance of the failure to overthrow the Turkish government by members of the country’s armed forces for Russia-Turkey relations.
It has been 36 years since the last military coup in Turkey, which took place in 1980. Now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has provoked another putsch, having plunged the country into chaos and undermined its prestige on the international arena.
Why did the military decide to revolt against the Turkish leadership?
There could be many reasons. Turkey has many anti-Islamic elements that want to destabilize Turkey in the hope that USA and Europe would support their cause. Erdogan has in effect provoked a resumption of a civil war in Turkish Kurdistan. In the opinion of many Turkish politicians and Kurds themselves, it was his actions that triggered a flare-up in hostilities and wiped out years of efforts to establish a peace dialogue.
There is a serious ideological conflict between the army, which has been traditionally considered a guarantor of the secular nature of the Turkish state, and the elected Islamist authorities. For a long time it seemed that Erdogan, who is pursuing a policy of Islamization, had the upper hand, after suppressing the resistance of the generals for more powers and, having “purged” the officer corps through a series of large-scale court trials for their anti-Turkey activities. Society is split, as was testified by the mass protests in 2013.
As relations with the EU are ruined, Turkey has practically no chances of joining the EU in the foreseeable future, whereas it is this goal that the country’s leadership has been proclaiming for several decades. The Kurdish issue has caused serious tensions with the United States, while the downed Russian bomber has provoked an unprecedented crisis in relations with Moscow, which only recently was considered to be Turkey’s key partner.
It would appear that all these circumstances have prompted the Turkish president’s opponents into decisive action. Erdogan is pushing for realignment with Russia and Israel. The military plotters may have come to the conclusion that time has come to act. The military coup was untimely as Turkey has already mended ties with Russia and Israel. It was also suggested that the coup had deep-lying causes and reflected the pressing issues of Turkish society.
Russian and Turkish presidents share authoritarianism attitudes. May be, the concentration of all power in the hands of the Turkish president increases the risk of ill-judged decisions, and the Russian authorities will be taking this into account.
While the international community condemned the attempt to seize power in Turkey, Moscow was more restrained in its reaction, with no outright condemnation of the coup bid. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged Ankara to restore the constitutional order as soon as possible. “What happened shows that there are strong and deep divisions inside Turkish society and the armed forces, which were manifested in these events,” he said. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov expressed concern at the developments in Turkey, saying that Russia was keen to see the events unfolding in Turkey end “in a legitimate way as soon as possible” and hoped that the country would “return to the path of stability, predictability, and law and order.”
The developments in Turkey will not have a negative effect on relations with Moscow.“The attempted coup failed. The plotters have been arrested. Democracy has triumphed. The country’s leadership will start to pursue a more independent policy aimed at strengthening security in the country. The downside will be a drop in the number of Russian tourists and a delay in the lifting of Russia’s economic sanctions
Two flights of Turkish Airlines from Antalya resort town landed in Moscow, according to online data of Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. A flight from Istanbul airport to Moscow also landed this morning. These are the first flights from Turkey that landed in Moscow after the coup attempt. Russia has currently restricted flights to Turkey. However, Russian and Turkish air carriers may continue performing flights from Turkey, the Russian aviation authority said earlier. Russian flag carrier Airport will start delivering Russians trapped in Istanbul and Antalya today. SU2134 Moscow – Istanbul flight will take passengers in Istanbul and return back to Moscow on July 18, Aeroflot spokesperson told TASS earlier. SU2142 flight will depart from Moscow to Antalya on July 18.
Russia was neutral in Israeli attack on Turkish aidship bound for Gaza strip to breach the Zionist terror blockades, leaving many Turkish and an American dead. Putin refused to condemn the Israeli military attack on sea because of the fact that most of illegal settlers n the illegal colonies inside Palestine are of Russian origin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy consultant Alexander Dugin visited Ankara after being invited to a meeting held by the nongovernmental organization Eurasian Union of Local Governments a day before the coup. Dugin said that a new era is about to dawn in relations between Russia and Turkey that might even surpass the previous state of ties. At the meeting, which former Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies and ministers Dugin said he expected fundamental changes for the better. The timing of the recent attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport was meaningful, as it happened right after Turkey and Russia started to mend their relations. He praised President Erdoğan, saying that “his courageous initiative had a significant role in the normalization.” Dugin affirmed that Erdoğan offering his condolences to the killed Russian pilot’s family minimized Russia’s concerns. “The most important thing was to normalize relations,” Dugin said. “Both Erdoğan and Putin understood this fact while the relations were strained.”
Dugin said he foresees a significant change in the policies of both Russia and Turkey. He said that the USA is advocating the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the region, which contradicts Russia’s strategies and beliefs. “If Russia and Turkey can reach consensus on Syria, I believe we can also resolve the issues regarding a Kurdish state in the region,” Dugin said. Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation led by Ministry Deputy Secretary Ali Kemal Aydın also held a meeting separately with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov, talking about the normalization of relations along with gradual revitalization of Turkish-Russian cooperation in economy and trade.
The developments in Turkey will give an impetus to normalizing relations with Moscow. The negative public opinion in Russia surrounding Turkey will gradually become history if relations stay good. Many experts opine the bilateral ties are likely to grow further. The failed coup has the potential to uplift the Russo-Turkish relations to a higher level than ever before.
Putin and Erdogan are reportedly seeking to deepening the ties on all domains.