EghtesadOnline: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Russia on Tuesday to rebuild relations with a major economic partner and the now-dominant force in the war in Syria, a reconciliation that has gained in significance since a section of Turkey’s military attempted a take-over.
On his first overseas trip since the failed putsch and subsequent crackdown, Erdogan is scheduled to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. The meeting comes nearly nine months after Russia’s leader called Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border a “stab in the back” and imposed a series of punitive sanctions. The two leaders will also hold a joint news conference, reports Bloomberg.
While the patch-up began before last month’s attempted coup in Turkey, the trip will be Erdogan’s chance “to show Turkish society that he’s not isolated,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Ankara. Erdogan is also demanding the U.S. extradite Fethullah Gulen, the preacher he blames for the military uprising, and can use the meeting with Putin to send a message to Washington, he said.
The two leaders will discuss bilateral relations and regional challenges, including counter-terrorism and the Syrian crisis, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a recent interview with the TASS newswire, according to his office. Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters last week that Russia expects to gradually lift sanctions on Turkey and hopes that the Turkish position on Syria would become “more constructive.”
Putin has turned the war in Syria strongly in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor since deploying Russian planes to support government offensives. That’s posed a major challenge for nations like Turkey that have backed rebel forces in the conflict and insist Assad must stand down as part of any settlement. Activists monitoring the war say Turkey, which borders Syria, has slowed arms shipments to rebels since the July 15 coup attempt, signaling a possible strategic rethink.
Turkey may adopt a “low-profile” stance on Syria and move “closer to the idea of a negotiated settlement where Assad is in office at the beginning of the process but is not in office at the end of it,” Unluhisarcikli said.
In an interview broadcast by Russian state television on Monday, Erdogan called Assad a “killer” who shouldn’t be supported. His spokesman Kalin told TASS that “in cooperation with Russia, we would like to facilitate a political transition in Syria as soon as possible.”
Russian sanctions following the military clash in November included a ban on charter flights taking Russian holidaymakers to Turkish beaches. That led to a 93-percent slump in Russian visitors in June compared to the same month in 2015. Turkey’s exports to Russia have also dropped, falling an annual 63 percent in June.
Turkey is interested in resuming talks over the Turkish Stream gas-pipeline project with Russia, Kalin said. Russia shelved talks in December on the planned Black Sea link that would make Turkey a linchpin in Europe’s energy supplies by 2020, with Gazprom saying the route was still possible if political relations improved.