Turkish President Erdogan, fresh from his referendum victory and now Turkey’s uncrowned Sultan, has just confirmed that he intends to go to Moscow on 3rd May 2017, where he will meet with Russia’s President Putin.
This will be President Erdogan’s first foreign trip since he gained constitutional powers as Turkey’s new executive President.
News of Erdogan’s trip comes shortly after news has circulated that a deal for Turkey to buy S-400 anti aircraft missiles from Russia is about to agreed, a fact which as my colleague Adam Garrie says, appears to be a further sign that Turkey is for the moment pivoting towards Moscow.
President Putin must be weary of his endless dealings with Erdogan, with whom over the last year he has had more meetings and conversations that we know about than with any other world leader (Putin may have had even more conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However if so then these are being kept secret).
In recent weeks the Russians have been given a further lesson that placing any trust in President Erdogan’s word is a fool’s idea.
Firstly President Erdogan appears to have tacitly supported Al-Qaeda’s recent offensives in Damascus and Hama province, in blatant contravention of the Syrian ceasefire deal he previously agreed with the Russians.
Secondly, and even more flagrantly, following the US missile strike on Syria, President Erdogan went against all the recent commitments he had made to the Russians about Syria by again demanding a US ‘no-fly zone’ and US intervention in Syria to create ‘safe havens‘ there.
The Russians have no illusions about Erdogan. This was confirmed in reported comments made by a retired Russian diplomat to Al-Monitor
A senior retired Russian diplomat speaking to Al-Monitor not for attribution said: “It looks like Turkey backed the wrong horse yet again. It sided with Russia and Iran when it looked liked the balance had shifted to their favor, and switched back to support the [United] States after the strikes. But now that it looks like the strikes don’t mean a radical change in the American strategy, Ankara finds itself in an awkward situation in respect to its position in the Astana peace process.”
While the remarks echo opinions of many experts and decision-makers in Moscow, Russia still needs Turkish cooperation to settle Syria’s issues. However, the Kremlin won’t forget President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent political hop-scotching as Moscow and Ankara move forward.
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These comments sum up the reality of Russia’s dealing with Erdogan. Though they must be weary of him and his endless double-dealing, they know that for the moment they have to work with him, since they need him to sort out the Syrian crisis.
Beyond that the Russians doubtless have their eye on the greater prize, which is Turkey itself.
Though I am sure the Russians do not expect to detach Turkey from NATO or from its alliance with the US (which has become stronger since Donald Trump became President) good relations with Turkey – Russia’s neighbour across the Black Sea, and a great civilisation and great nation sitting astride Europe and the Middle East – are hugely good thing in themselves. If dealing with Erdogan is what it takes to achieve them, the Russians will do it.