During the first few days of 2016 Russia – Turkey relations reached their lowest point, following the downing by turkish fighter jets of a Russian jet in 2015 near the Syrian border. At that point nobody could imagine that the relations between the two countries could in the space of just twelve months become close again.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discuss developments on Syria almost every week and all information indicates that they have agreed on key issues for their cooperation.
Moscow has secured Bashar al-Assad’s stay in power, has recaptured Aleppo and has the main say in the region’s future. Ankara on the other hand has backed down on key points of its foreign policy. Erdogan has persistently called for overthrowing the Syrian President who he has characterised a”dictator”. Now Turkey consents to Syrian unity and to the legitimate Syrian government. What Erdogan has secured is the exchange of information with the Russian secret services, and the partial invasion of the al-Bab district by Turkish forces using the presence of the Islamic State as a pretext.
It’s true, the Turkish forces do clash with jihadists, but it is well known in Ankara that another reason that caused the invasion was to prevent the creation of a single Kurdish region in northern Syria.
Trump – Erdogan relations
During 2017 better relations between the Russian President and his Turkish counterpart are expected since Turkey is still waiting to see what the intentions of the newly elected US president Donald Trump are.
However, Turkey – Russia relations concerning Syria, the information exchange and even the possible purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems are all issues that are not well received in the US.
Within a week, Erdogan has created a new episode with the US accusing the international coalition led by Washington that it supports the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations such as the Kurdish YPG.
The Americans do not consider the YPG a terrorist organisation on the contrary they support the Kurds who until recently were the only ones fighting against the jihadists in Syria, the battles for the city of Kobani are the best example of this.
Barack Obama’s policy was not to the liking of the Turkish President who feared the creation of a Kurdish state in the southern border.
The initial mild US reaction to the attempted coup of July 15 has caused suspicion in the Turkish government and this might be the main reason for the tightening of relations with Moscow.
According to political analyst Abdülkadir Selvi, “the impression was created within government circles in Turkey that the coup attempt of July 15 was a NATO coup. President Erdogan is now calling for army recruiting. That is why relations with the EU are worse and there are problems with the US. These are the reasons for improving relations with Russia. The US stance on extraditing Fethullah Gulen, Who is the leader of the attempted coup attempt is obvious. US expectations are now greater. Ankara is preparing for the age of Trump. They place importance on the Trump doctrine which states that “instead of trying to change the status of a country we should focus our attention in the fight against terrorism”. They are looking for ways to approach Trump. For a fresh start in relations.” says the political analyst for turkish newspaper Hürriyet which has good relations with members of the Turkish government.
Will Turkey turn its back to the West?
However there is no denying the distancing of Turkey from the West and the attempt to come closer to Moscow and Tehran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated many times that “Turkey has a plan B or C, in case the EU does not move forward with accession negotiations.”
According to Russian academic Vladimir Avatkov president of the Centre for Public Diplomacy of Russia “Turkey does not only want to be a regional power but it has a desire to become a global power, however it has no natural resources. Turkey is a country that chose a path to the West. But it is now distancing itself. The decline of US and European support to Ankara weakens Turkey’s national security” says the Russian academic.
He argues that “while Turkey is trying to redefine its position on the global scene, regional developments and the Turkey’s shaky foreign policy pose serious risks. This redefinition is also causing concern in Moscow” he states.
Up until three years ago Turkey was considered to be an example for the Muslim world and many diplomats presented it as the example of Islam coexisting with democracy. Former Turkish president Abdullah Gul, stressed that “the star of Turkey is not shining like the old days”.
Hürriyet columnist Taha Akyol states that “a Turkey which will have close relations with Russia, but will be tied to the Western alliance is better than today’s Turkey which even Moscow considers unstable. Today in Europe there is the rise of the extreme right which goes against Turkey. Ankara must improve its impression of democracy as well as its judicial system in order to get support from Social-Democratic and Centre-right circles. We need this to fight terrorism. We had this support in the past and our economy was in good shape then. Today the president of Tunisia, the Islamist Mohamed Ghannouchi receives this support, after agreeing for a new Constitution.”
The imprisonment of many Turkish citizens raises questions
The purge against 120,000 Turkish citizens, the 130,000 layoffs in the public sector, the imprisonment of 41,000 people and the seizure of hundreds of companies on allegations of relations with the Islamic Gulenist movement are causing concern to foreign investors. Any cooperation with Turkish businessmen can collapse at any time from just a simple complaint indicating relations with the terrorist organisation FETÖ. The Turkish government states the organisation has planned the coup attempt.
The 34 terrorist attacks in 2016 have caused the collapse of tourism in the country by 45%. In 2017 almost all cruise lines have canceled their trips to Turkey and participation in international conferences is minimal.
The devaluation of the Turkish lira against the dollar by 17% is cause for concern in 2017 and no one can predict the future of the Turkish economy. Erdogan says the Turkish economy “will not come to a halt” but individuals’ loans are in foreign currency exceeding $250 billion meaning that even a slight devaluation brings great turmoil to Turkey’s economy.
Erdogan is closer to his Presidential goals
The change of the Constitution in Turkey will be a milestone in Turkish politics for 2017 which Erdogan might conquer as he has secured cooperation with the MHP nationalists. The new constitution is expected to be approved next March through a referendum and thereafter Erdogan will increase his powers to Putin’s standards. At the same time he would have secured and will remain in the leadership until 2029 instead of 2023./ΙΒΝΑ