The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed Russian President Valdimir Putin to Ankara for what has been described by Putin as a “working meeting”.
Erdogan began by praising the increased growing economic and political ties between the two countries, during what is beyond doubt, a period of historically good relations between states that fought multiple wars over the centuries and whose relations fell to a 21st century low as recently as 2015.
Since 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russia fighter jet, killing one pilot, relations have rapidly improved, much to the surprise of observers in both Russia and Turkey.
Turkey and Russia continue to engage in multiple cooperative economic efforts including the so-called Turk Stream gas pipeline from Russia into southern Europe.
Since Turkey quietly dropped its support for the so-called Syrian opposition in August of this year, the Astana Peace talks have proceeded even more smoothly. Without speaking directly, Syria now has agreed to agreements drafted by Turkey along with Syria’s partners Russia and Iran.
During their short statements to journalists, Erdogan and Putin both expressed their complete confidence in the Astana process. Vladimir Putin praised Erdogan’s constructive role in securing the process and Erdogan prised the positive results of recent Astana talks. This effectively is coded language for Turkey fully abandoning its formal opposition to the government in Syria.
Turkey in realising the pragmatic realities of the conflict being won by Syria in addition to Turkey’s economic relationship taking precedent over more obtuse ‘neo-Ottoman’ ambitions, clearly played a role in Turkey’s confirmed geo-strategic and geo-political pivot. Furthermore, in the process, Turkey has also grown closer to Iran, both because of the apparently good working relations at Astana and also because of a mutual Russian partner, in addition to a similar view on the Qatar crisis. Crucially Turkey, Iran, Russia, Syria and Iraq are each integral parts of China’s One Belt–One Road, an initiative that will necessarily bind the countries closer together, in spite of many generally exaggerated differences (except in respect of Syria and Turkey, although this too is slowly changing).
While Erdogan described Putin as a “dear friend” and praised the leaders’ frequent telephone calls and warm relations, Putin was more keen to emphasise the businesslike nature of the meeting. Erdogan stated that both Russia and Turkey support the territorial integrity of Iraq against Kurdish secessionists, however Putin merely referred to a previous statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing Russia’s support for Iraq’s unity. This is generally a refection of Russia having a less ideological approach to the Kurdish issue than Turkey, which views Kurdish independence anywhere in the region as a direct security threat. Ultimately, both countries have a similar position, but Turkey may likely militarily intervene in northern Iraq while Russia will certainly not. Already, Turkish and Iraqi troops are conducting joint drills on the Turkish side of the border as a result of the Kurds conducting an unconstitutional secessionists referendum. Putin clearly distanced himself from the more militant aspect of Turkey’s policy on this issue, as was widely expected.
Erdogan did not mention his earlier remarks offering a prisoner exchange with the United States. Today, Erdogan made a statement addressed to the United States, offering the release of the prisoner Andrew Brunson in exchange for the exiled Turkish cleric, Erdogan rival and terrorist (according to Turkey), Fethullah Gulen. Brunson, a US citizen, had run a Christian church in the Gulenist hotbed of Izmir and is currently in prison in Turkey on terrorism charges. The US has not yet commented on the offer, but Washington’s refusal to turn over Gulen to Ankara has been one of many increased points of tension between the former allies.
The most crucial statement of the Erdogan-Putin press conference, however, was when Erdogan referred to Eurasia as “our region”. In this sense Turkey has formally left the west in a political sense, even while retaining an increasingly uncomfortable membership in NATO. Turkey is now part of Eurasia and Russia played a large part in bringing Turkey back home.
Now watch the full press conference with Presidents Erdogan and Putin from Ankara.