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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Turkish intelligence chiefs and Russian specialist discuss Russian-Turkish rapprochement

Ex-Turkish intelligence chiefs point to centrality of Kurdish issue for Turkey in its relations with both the US and Russia, but are generally positive about the prospects of Russian-Turkish relations.

Former Head of Turkish Military Intelligence Service, Ismail Hakki Pekin, and the Former Chief of Intelligence of the Turkish Navy, Soner Polat, shared outstanding views about the ongoing Turkish military operation in Syria and reviewed Russian Turkish relations on that matter.

Vladimir Avatkov, an associate professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, also contributed.

How will the Turkish Euphrates Shield military operation in Syria affect Turkish Russian relations; and what does it mean for Russia in term of its position in Syria?

Retired Lieutenant General Ismail Hakki Pekin: Turkey’s Euphrates Shield military operation of Turkey protects both the unity of Syria and Turkey’s border. As has been stressed by the Turkish side, Turkey – just like the Syrian regime and Russia – supports a united Syria. Thus Turkey has a parallel policy in Syria to Russia’s.

If we consider the fact that the operation (NB: Euphrates Shield) aims to thwart PKK/PYD (ie. Kurdish) aims to create an autonomous area for itself, we can state that the Turkish military operation is consistent with the policies of Russia.

The recent operation of Turkey will develop closer relations between Russia and Turkey. This operation is also strengthening the hand of Russia in Syria.

While the Turkish army is eliminating the threats along its border, they are also decreasing the number of enemies of the Syrian regime. Even though there are different aspects and controversial points to the conflict when it is considered from different sides, it would be fair to say that the Syrian regime has gained an ally.

In other words, Russian and Turkish policies are broadly matching.

Retired Rear Admiral Soner Polat (Former Chief of Intelligence in the Turkish Navy and a Former Head of Foreign Intelligence Department in the Turkish General Staff):

The Turkish operation will have a positive though indirect impact on Russian – Turkish relations, since the operations [Euphrates Shield) is very likely to lead to the further disruption of the US – Turkish relationship, which is pretty problematic anyway.  There is no chance whatsoever of an agreement between Turkey and the US on Syria policies, particularly on the PYD/YPG issue.

How comprehensively can NATO ally Turkey cooperate with Russia?

Ismail Hakki Pekin (Former NATO strategy development army officer):

Turkey can cooperate with Russia. If NATO countries continue to follow a strategy of disregarding  Turkey’s interests, putting its position at risk, there wouldn’t be anything more natural than for Turkey to forge stronger cooperation with Russia.

If the aim of the West is to divide Syria and it is against the Turkish interests, Russia can be an important partner, and that partnership has the potential to bring the two countries together in a joint military operation in Syria.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that it is not NATO that is involved in the conflict against ISIS, but the coalition forces lead by the U.S.

Soner Polat (graduate of NATO Defence College in Rome and a Former Rear Admiral, worked at the NATO Intelligence Section in the Turkish General Stuff)

The issue standing in the way of joint Turkish – Russian joint action in Syria is not NATO but the policies of the Turkish government.

The main stumbling block is Turkey’s attitude towards the Syrian regime. Due to Turkey’s Sunni-oriented policies, Turkey looks on the Syrian regime unfavourably, particularly with regard to Mr. Assad.  Turkey enjoys friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are also very strongly opposed to Mr. Assad.

In my opinion it is Turkish national sensitivities, not Turkey’s membership of NATO, which is the main stumbling block in the way of further cooperation and coordination between Russia and Turkey.

Vladimir Avatkov (an associate professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation)

Turkish–Russian cooperation in Syria is necessary and can be very beneficial for both countries. Turkish policies are drifting closer to Russia.  As long as there is mutual understanding and respect from both sides in terms of their interests in the region, cooperation is possible even though Turkey is a member of NATO.

Where are Russian and Turkish relations heading?

The main cause of conflict between the US and Turkey is the US’s direct support for the PYD/YPG Kurdish forces. It has been acknowledged that the (Syrian Kurdish) PYD/YPG is connected to the (Turkish Kurdish) PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, Brussels, and Washington.

US support for the PYD/YPG is the main cause of conflict between the US and Turkey.

Soner Polat: Russia is playing a very dangerous game with the PYD/YPG, acting against both Turkish and Syrian interests. This is the most critical issue standing in the way of a working agreement between Turkey and Russia. In due course Syria too is likely to oppose Russia on this issue.

Ismail Hakki Pekin Disagreement with the US on this matter might lead Turkey to forge closer relations with Russia. The Turkish government has shown how sensitively they react to this issue.   So long as Russia follows a different line a Turkish – Russian rapprochement in Syria is inevitable.

Turkey is moving closer to the East, though it may be too early for this to come to a conclusion. After the G20 meeting in China signs of Turkey moving away from the West can be observed.

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