Ankara, October 14, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Manolis Kostidis
It was November 2015 when Turkish F-16 fighters shoot down a Russian Su-25 in an area near the border with Syria and the developments that followed had brought the Russian-Turkish relations to the nadir.
No one at the time could have imagined that Recep Tayip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin could make such quick steps since their reaproachment in July 2015, not only in restoring their relations but to create a climate of strategic alliance for energy and security in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.
In Energy and Defence issues, as well as Syria, Putin and Erdogan seem to have decided to walk side by side, raising questions about the future steps of Turkey and its cooperation with the US on developments in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.
This was affirmed by the visit of the Russian President in Istanbul on the occasion of the International Conference on Energy.
“It is my absolute conviction that the normalization of the Russian-Turkish relations will continue in a fast pace”, Erdogan said after his meeting with the Russian President and spoke of a “relationship involving the defence industry, politics, economy, trade, tourism and culture”.
Turkish Stream – The Russian-Turkish answer to the obstacles of the US for the South Stream
Moscow and Ankara agreed and signed the agreement for the construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline.
The particular pipeline will start from Russia through the Black Sea and reach Turkey in Eastern Thrace, in order to then pass through Greece to transport gas to Europe.
The Turkish Stream is the answer of Russia to the barriers placed by the EU and the US to the construction of South Stream, which again through the Black Sea would have reached Bulgaria. When this project was canceled Moscow knocked on the door of Ankara.
The construction project is expected to cost USD 18 billion and the biggest part will be financed by Russia.
“This agreement, just like all the rest, is not simple. It shows that Turkey is gaining significant ground against threats from Syria and the issue of Mosul”, says political analyst Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı, of the newspaper Sabah.
Putin gives the green light for the construction of the nuclear plant in Turkey
Within this climate, Russia agreed to proceed with the construction project of the first Turkish nuclear plant in Akkuyu region, which had been frozen after the shooting down of the russian warplane. Now Moscow will undertake its construction with the aim to have it ready by 2020. The entire investment will exceed EUR 23 billion.
In parallel, Turkey has agreed to begin exporting fruit and vegetables to Russia; a decision which gives a deep breath to Putin, as due to the EU sanctions Moscow Russia can not buy such products from Europe, resulting in fruit and vegetable prices having tripled causing great political cost to the Russian President.
Russian arms in the Turkish arsenal?
At a strategic level, heads were turned at the announcement of the Turkish government that it will request an offer from Russia for the purchase of long-range anti-aircraft systems. Two years ago Turkey had decided to buy such systems from China but after intense pressure from the US the decision was canceled. The announcement of the impending bid from Moscow is considered as a message to NATO and the United States that Turkey for the first time in its history could include in its arsenal Russian weapons systems such as the S-400. That is considered the reason for the presence of the Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces to the meeting between Putin and Erdogan.
The main issue of the disagreement between the two countries, which brought the great tension in their relations, was Syria. Moscow has made it clear that it support the country’s president Bashar al-Assad. While Ankara was helping and sending weapons to the opposition. Vladimir Putin and his staff had reached the point to accuse Turkey of helping the jihadists of the Islamic State in Syria!
But since then it seems that much has changed and all these have been forgotten. The Turkish government has stopped talking about the immediate withdrawal of Assad. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking to foreign correspondents, had admitted that “Turkey can not ignore the fact that Assad will be part of the solution in Syria”.
Already, Ankara has reportedly assured Moscow that it will not support any group in Syria. This has come in addition to the apology issued by Erdogan to Putin. Since then, the russian air defence systems installed in Syria have ceased locking the Turkish warplanes and the Turkish air force and can now support the ground forces that have invaded into Syrian territory in the framework of the operation “Shield of Euphrates”. Ankara says the operation is against the jihadists but the Kurds speak of operations against the forces of the Kurdish PYD, which Turkey has labeled a “terrorist organization”.
Information from Ankara says that the main objective of the Russian president is the capture of Aleppo by the Syrian army and it seems that Ankara will not do anything to stop these plans.
“We examined the cooperation that we can do, particularly on the issue of humanitarian aid mission in Aleppo. We discussed what we can do so that people in this region to have peace as soon as possible”, said the Turkish President and stressed that “the foreign ministries, military leadership and the leadership of the intelligence services of both countries will work together”.
It is no coincidence that on Saturday was announced the calling of a meeting on the issue of Syria among four countries in Lausanne. Russia, Turkey, USA and Saudi Arabia. It seems that Moscow and Ankara will have a common position on this issue, as paradoxical as that may sound. The Russian president stressed that “Russia and Turkey are in favor of a political solution in Syria as soon as possible, and what is important is the safety of the transportation of humanitarian aid”.
“The restoration of relations with Russia has brought the possibility of Turkey’s military operation inside Syria. Ankara has lately came to the point of attracting interest again. But in foreign policy your capabilities must be consistent with your policy. It is like we are burning the bridges with the West. In the US we are in a completely opposite point for the Syrian Kurds (PYD). Indeed, the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated she would give weapons to them and this shows the wear that exists in our relations. Relations with EU countries already was problematic. They are becoming even worse with the situation of emergency arrests etc. The balances are shifting”, says the seasoned political analyst of the newspaper POSTA, Oral Çalışlar.
This alliance may in the future affect the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is no coincidence that in the Conference on Energy had been invited the president of the Turkish Cypriots Mustafa Akinci, who had a handshake with Putin and he was standing almost beside him in the common photograph of the leaders, without any protest from the Russian side.
Mosul and the conflict of Turkey with the US
“Whatever the Iraqi prime minister says we will participate in the operation of Mosul”, said Recep Tayip Erdogan, unleashing a personal attack at Haider al-Abadi after the statement of Baghdad, which considers the presence of Turkish forces in Iraq illegal.
“He insults me. He isn’t even my counterpart. You do not even have the same level of Office as me. You do not even have the same value and the same quality as me. Your yelling and shouting at me from Iraq has no importance for us. You should know that we will do what we want. Who is this? The prime minister of Iraq… the prime minister of Iraq! First of all, learn your position and your limits”, he said.
The statements of the Turkish President show that he does not heed, so far, the US warnings that in the operation of Mosul, which has huge oil deposits, will participate those set by the government in Baghdad.
Erdogan however, insists and just 15 days ago had accused the signatories of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which left Kirkuk and Mosul outside the Turkish borders. The question posed by experienced diplomats is whether in the talks Putin and Erdogan discussed the issue of cooperation for the recapture of Mosul which is controlled by ISIS.