Talks of Russian and Turkish Presidents give new positive impetus to relations normalization
16 August 2016. PenzaNews. International experts continue to discuss the results of the talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, August 9th.
The meeting of the two leaders was the first one since relations between the governments ruptured last year after the Russian Su-24 was downed by the Turkish Air Force, and marked a new stage in Russian-Turkish relations.
“Naturally, this meeting is very important for the future of Russian-Turkish relations. We had a meaningful and, I would like to emphasize, constructive conversation on the entire range of bilateral issues and the international agenda,” Vladimir Putin said at a news conference following the talks with his visiting Turkish counterpart.
According to him, the parties intend to pay special attention to building up investment, commodity flows and the implementation of promising projects.
“I would like to note in this context that the energy industry has long occupied a key place in trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Turkey. We discussed major joint projects in this field, the continuation of which will require concrete political decisions. Incidentally, Turkey has already made decisions on a number of large projects that we discussed earlier. I am referring to such projects as the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline system,” Russian leader said.
In turn, Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed confidence that Russian-Turkish relations can counter all kinds of crises.
“As you know, these were the first talks after the incident, and this is our first face-to-face meeting in a long time. In addition, my visit to Russia is the first I have made since the attempted coup on 15 July in Turkey. We are determined to restore our relations to the pre-crisis level and beyond. We have the political will to do so. I think that our respective societies expect us to do just that,” Turkish President said.
Commenting the results of the talks, Necdet Pamir, Senior Energy Expert in Bilkent University, stressed that the two leaders have not signed any agreements but just set the general framework during their meeting.
“The parties tried to freeze the crisis that commenced with the downing of the Russian jet in November 2015. The political issues like the Syrian case were left untouched since a rapprochement on those matters do not seem to be easily achieved. They focused on trade and tourism topics. The ‘sweeteners’ here were nuclear plant to be constructed in Turkey that Rosatom had been awarded and a controversial for the EU subsea gas pipeline, Turkish Stream. The 20 billion dollar worth Akkuyu Nuclear Plant will economically be beneficial for Russia in the long term while personally I believe that it would be detrimental for Turkey thinking the operational risks and the still un-resolved issue of waste disposal,” the analyst told PenzaNews.
According to him, Russia is expected to lift the ban it had put in place on the operations of Turkish companies, and allow the tourist flights from Russia to Turkish resorts which would in return vitalize the Turkish economy that suffered from a sharp drop in the number of Russian tourists.
“The main reason bringing the two leaders together however was political rather than being economical. Erdogan feels more and more ‘lonely’ and frustrated after a coup attempt against him and the EU being indifferent and thinking that the US may even be behind such coup. Putin already is struggling against the ongoing EU and US sanctions after the Crimea issue and his strongly divergent and challenging foreign policy interest with those two actors in the Middle East, and East Europe. Russian and Turkish leaders wanted to show the EU and US that they are not alone and they have other options,” Necdet Pamir said and added that increasing trade volumes would be the most important dimension in case of restoration of ties.
However, political rapprochement in regional and global foreign policy matters seems almost impossible given the interests of the two leaders, he believes.
“Normalization of the relations in the short term may mean an increasing cooperation against IS however given the strongly divergent political mind-sets of Putin and Erdogan, this cooperation has very small chance to turn into a long term ‘alliance’,” the analyst explained and stressed that Turkey and Russia need to cooperate in economic and political matters to bring stability and welfare to the region.
Bashdar Ismaeel, political analyst, expert on the Middle East, shared the view that improvement of ties is linked directly with the failed military coup in Turkey.
“Erdogan, AKP and Turkey were rocked and have been vociferous in their disappointment of EU response. The Turkish Foreign Minister even made a thinly veiled threat to leave NATO owing to the lack of support since the coup and EU threats to end Turkish EU membership bid if Turkey reintroduces death penalty. The US on the other hand has refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan accuses of spear-heading the coup,” the expert reminded.
According to him, Turkey has also suffered greatly from an economic perspective because of Russian sanctions.
“Restoration of economic ties and tourism is an obvious benefit. Turkey gets a natural leverage against NATO and the West with warm ties with Russia. It is showing Western powers that Turkey does not need them that they need Turkey and that Turkish foreign policy is dynamic enough to deal with changing socio-political picture in the Middle East,” Bashdar Ismaeel said.
In his opinion, Russia also benefits from economic activity and a warmer Turkey that may help to boost Russian strategic influence in the Middle East as well as dilute Western leverage in the region.
“Economic ties will improve and certainly a Turkey-Russian warming of ties adds an interesting angle to an already complicated Middle Eastern picture. However, we should not expect that 9 months of fierce rhetoric and rock bottom ties will heal overnight either. A high-level of animosity does not just evaporate. Neither will their entrenched positions on Syria. Turkey is unlikely to forgo its support of Syrian rebels and Russia is obviously a huge backer of Assad regime. But it may increase the chance of some compromise over the issue,” the analyst said.
Meanwhile, Orkhan Gafarli, expert at Ankara Policy Center, also suggested that there will not be rapid improvement of Russian-Turkish relations.
“During the talks, the Presidents of Turkey and Russia mostly discussed economic and trade issues, as well as the tourism sector problems. As demonstrated by the meeting between the two leaders, the emphasis today is made on the continuation of such projects as Turkish Stream, NPP Akkuyu, the possibility of lifting Russian ban on the supply of Turkish agricultural products, the launch of charter flights and cancellation of the visa regime for Turkish citizens,” the expert said.
From his point of view, however, the countries mistrust each other in political matters.
“But, in spite of the divergence of views on a number of foreign policy issues, they share the opinion that it is necessary to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria. This important point connects the interests of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the region. The events of the next few months will show if the leaders managed to reach agreement at the meeting in St. Petersburg,” Orkhan Gafarli added.
In turn, Gal Luft, Co-director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, stressed that in the realm of energy security the meeting heralds renewed interest in Turkish Stream.
“The project stalled as a result of the crisis between Moscow and Ankara but with the improvement in the relations it may regain steam. Implementation of the project will not be easy as it competes against at least two major mega-projects of gas delivery Gazprom is currently pondering but if finally built the pipeline will make Turkey a key conduit of Russian energy into the European market, increasing the mutual dependency between the two countries. For the US and the EU the project is anathema not only because it flies in the face of those seeking to liberate Europe from Gazprom's grip but also because it will erode the strategic importance of Ukraine as the main transit country for European gas. The project would also hurt the US gas industry which has been counting on Europe as the main buyer of American gas,” the expert said and added that in the end much will depend on the price negotiations between Turkey and Russia.
Moreover, according to him, another winner of the recent meeting is the Turkish food industry.
“Before the crisis Turkey was an important supplier of food to Russia. This role was transferred to Georgia and other neighbors of Russia to the detriment of Turkish farmers and food producers. Those can now sense some relief as Russian food imports from Turkey are likely to resume,” Gal Luft said.
However, in his opinion, Turkey and Russia have different views on many foreign policy events.
“While there are many reasons for the two countries to gain from the thawing of the Turkish-Russian relations there are still too many points of departure: Syria, Kurdistan, the future of the Turkic minorities in post-Soviet territories and the future of Nagorno Karabach to name a few. What we witnessed in St. Petersburg is not the beginning of a love affair but rather a restoration of a marriage of convenience between two countries trying to break out of their isolation in what seems to be an increasingly complex strategic environment,” the American analyst explained.
According to Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, the talks were extremely important since they were held after months of confrontation almost in every aspect of the relationship.
“Of particular interest is the statement on the creation of tripartite format of relations between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, which offers great opportunities for the development of regional economic and political ties between them,” the expert said.
From his point of view, in the case of normalization of the relations, the countries will be able to implement their plans on economic and trade cooperation.
“Whatever the critics say, over the years of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the turnover rate rose greatly from less than 5 billion dollars in early 2000s to nearly33–35 billion dollars for the period up to 2014. Turkey was one of the major trade partners of Russia and took the sixth place among foreign trade partners, including the fifth one on export and 13th on imports. Turkey’s share in Russia’s foreign trade amounted to about 4% by the end of 2015. The joint investment projects cost billions of dollars. Now we can expect revival of old, and the most significant projects and plans that will undoubtedly create favorable background for the development of political cooperation,” Ilgar Velizade said.
In his view, strengthening of cooperation between Turkey and Russia will have a positive impact on the foreign policy climate in Central Asia.
“In the coming months, we should expect some relaxation of tension in regional policy – in conflict zones such as the Caucasus and Syria. Perhaps, Ankara will establish closer ties with SCO and the EAEC, which will be an additional will background for the improvement of Turkish-Russian relations. Apparently, the complete restoration of relations is expected before the end of this year, with the prospect to reach a new level in the next year,” the analyst concluded.