The awaited handshake since Turkey downed a Russian military aircraft in November.
After months in deep freeze Russia-Turkey relations are set to return to normal after a one-day visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to St Petersburg. Meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, both leaders demonstrated they intend to look to the future. Washington and Brussels are watching closely.
Much of what was discussed the joint media briefing was expected:
Resumption of energy projects, including the Turkish Stream Pipeline and a Russian contract to construct a nuclear power plant in Turkey. The natural gas pipeline is expected to turn Turkey into an important energy hub transporting Russian gas to Europe. This is a possible boon for both countries. The Europeans have strong and mixed feelings about this prospect.
Russian tourists again may return to Turkish beaches – Turkey’s tourism industry can only rejoice in this.
Putin also said “We also intend to promote cooperation in the area of defense industry and defense production.” No details were provided, but as Turkey is a member of NATO Washington will certainly be interested in what follows.
Erdogan praised Putin for personally calling him to express his support following the failed July 15 military coup attempt. This praise should not be underestimated. Erdogan was speaking to Putin and the media, but his message was for Washington.
Both presidents agreed to disagree on how to approach and end the Syrian proxy war. However, there are clear indications both countries now may see each other as possible allies on this issue, rather than adversaries.
What does all this mean?
Both countries deem better relations in their national interests. Erdogan is a political survivor and keen to re-set Turkey’s foreign policy (which has been in a disastrous state due to the Syria crisis). Reaching out to Russia is big part of this process.
Putin and Erdogan may have agreed to find a mutually satisfactory solution to Syria. The Russians want Turkey to seal the border with Syria. Once that is done, the western-backed terrorist groups that have flooded (with their arms) into Syria will come to a stop. Erdogan’s domestic agenda after the attempted coup is now all consuming – ending the conflict in Syria is in his interest. Turkey and Russia may take the lead to end the conflict without Washington’s meddling.
Erdogan’s visit to St. Petersburg is a message to Washington and Brussels. That message reads: Turkey has options and will explore them. Erdogan is furious Washington has not been mindful of Turkey’s national security issues vis-à-vis the Kurdish issue. Turkey will remain a member of NATO for the time being, but he wants Washington to know he has leverage and will use it.
Overall, this is an important day for Russia and Turkey, but a headache for Washington and Brussels.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.