Turkish President Erdogan is currently in Moscow for talks with President Putin. The meetings will likely be as tense as they are important.
In his opening statement prior to the private talks Vladimir Putin said:
Russia and Turkey have substantial potential for a steady development of neighbourly ties. We will not only be able to make up for the missed opportunities, but will also reach a new level of relations, at least that’s what the Russian side is ready to do.
Here are the five important goals that ought to be striven for
Russia and Turkey are important trading partners. This is the case due to the geographical proximity of the two countries, but also because both countries produce very different products. Russian scientific expertise and technology, energy, raw materials and industrial goods are complimented by Turkey’s rich agricultural products. Russian tourists are also essential for one of Turkey’s leading service industry sectors.
If the importance of continuing and increasing trade in both goods and services between the two states is emphasised early on, it will set a constructive tone for the rest of the meeting.
This is where both countries are at their most divergent.
In spite of supposed cooperation, both countries have very different ideas about Syria’s future. Turkey is now aggressively and illegally attacking and occupying Syrian land. The two pronged strategy of Erdogan is two weaken Kurdish forces in Syria as well as to weaken the position of the Syrian government. Although, Turkey has quietly abandoned its desire for illegal regime change in Damascus, the recent cooperative efforts between the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish led SDF, have allowed Turkey to partly resurrect their stance against the forces of President Assad.
By contrast, Russia is legally involved in helping Syria to fight Salifist terrorism, including the terrorist group FSA which is Turkey’s go-to proxy group in Syria. Russia enjoys good relations not only with Damascus but also with Kurdish forces.
The weight of not only international law but morality is on Russia’s side. By contrast, Turkish aggression in Syria has now surpassed that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, arguably even that of the United States.
Unless an agreement can be made for Erdogan to cease his Euphrates Shield operation, the Turkish code for the neo-Ottoman invasion of Syria, relations between Moscow and Ankara may be strained.
3. The Balkans
Erdogan’s ambition to create a sphere of power and influence over former Ottoman territories is well known. With violence in the Balkans being an increasingly real threat, Putin must warm Erdogan off from any thoughts of aiding radicalised Albanian ultra-nationalists who are on the verge of igniting conflict in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro.
The temptation for Erdgoan to try and fan the flames of a post-Ottoman Islamic majority peoples in the Balkans may prove irresistible to the Turkish leader. Russia must be very firm on this.
4. The Israeli Example
President Putin recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As he typically does, Netanyahu totally distorted the issue of Iran, claiming that Iran is funding Shi’a terrorists groups throughout the Middle East.
The reality is that the ultra-majority of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world are Wahhabist Sunni extremists funded by the Gulf states. Netanyahu also spoke of Persian antagonism of the ancient Hebrews.
President Putin told Neyanyahu that the realities of the modern world are different than those of the 5th century BC.
Erdogan like Neyanyahu, tends to form his political rhetoric and to a large extent, also his policies on the basis of ancient history.
Putin ought to give Erdogan the same dose of reality he gave to Neyanyahu. Both men could use it.
Turkey has a great deal of knowledge when it comes to Middle East terrorism and not only because they sponsor much of it. Turkish authorities have recently arrested a Russian woman in Turkey who is thought to be connected to the terrorist assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Ankara, Sergey Karlov in December of 2016.
It is crucial for both states to cooperate not only on this tragic case, but more widely in the war against terrorism.
Erdogan’s own domestic terrorist problems are growing and Russian intelligence has all ready proved to be useful to Erdogan, as it was Moscow who tipped him off about last summer’s failed coup attempt, allowing him to flee to temporary safety.
Erdogan is a regional menace and indeed a menace to many Turks who are horrified by his Islamist, Ottoman, dictatorial, extra-constitutional style of rule.
But he remains the leader of a deeply important power. He must be dealt with and it seems Putin is the only world leader with the patience to deal with such an individual.