Russia is, of course, our strategic partner. How many hours will it take you to get to Washington? How long will it take you to go to Moscow? – Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, asked me almost two years ago during a single event. – We have joint strategic investments – from pipelines to nuclear reactors. We have common interests in the defense industry, increasing bilateral trade and tourism, and so on. This is what Turkish political analyst Ragin Soylu wrote today, October 5, on the pages of the Arab Information and analytical portal Middle East Eye (MEE, a rental publication headquartered in London).
At the time, it was the apogee of relations between Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin: “They liked frequent phone calls to strategize for both countries. At one point, they reached a high level of mutual trust”.
But then, according to the author, the two leaders began to distance themselves more and more from each other.
“Over the decades, Russia and Turkey have had a tendency to ‘agree and disagree’ on many issues. But the developing relationship between Erdogan and Putin has been exceptional, especially given that between them in 2015 (after the Turkish F-16 jet attack on the Russian Su-24 bomber in the Syrian sky. – Red.) there’s been a serious chill in the relationship,” Soylu said.
“Erdogan was disappointed in the West and was looking for a more independent foreign policy after the 2016 coup attempt, which he was sure the West supported. Erdogan shared interests with Putin, such as the Syrian crisis, when both countries used their armed forces to limit the U.S. presence in support of the Syrian Kurds. Moscow worked to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime by gradually taking control of the territory, and the U.S. was an obstacle. For Ankara, the U.S.-supported Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP) was an existential threat on its border, and it was clear that the Syrian opposition was no longer able to win the civil war. A new strategy was required to contain the crisis with (Syrian) refugees while preventing the emergence of a ‘Kurdish state’ along Turkey’s entire northern border with Syria,” the expert continues.
In his opinion, Erdogan “enjoyed his friendship” with Putin because he felt that, unlike the American presidents, the Russian leader had kept his promises, including the deal on the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. However, closer to our days, the former trust began to fade away as Russia and Turkey were drawn into contradictions around several regional problems. Among them, Soya points to Syrian Idlib, Libya, and, most recently, Nagorno Karabakh.
He argues that “the first fractures in bilateral relations began in January when Putin failed to deliver the promised ceasefire in Libya. Angry Erdogan went on to blame Russia for its patronage of Libyan Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces, “deploying Wagner PMC’s mercenaries in the North African country.
But relations between Putin and Erdogan really went into decline after the escalation of the Syrian crisis in February.
Russia continued to exacerbate the situation in Idlib… As the fighting developed, Erdogan called Putin to no avail. While Erdogan insisted on stopping the offensive, Putin argued that the Syrian military was conducting a counter-terrorist operation because Ankara had failed to expel terrorist elements from Idlib,” Soylu wrote.
Erdogan, a political observer said, threatened with a military response to return the lost territory.
“Phone calls were tense. Neither side retreated. The Russian delegation, which visited Ankara in the following days, even asked the Turkish authorities to withdraw from Africa (Syria’s northwestern region. – Ed.), effectively jeopardizing the control Turkey had established on Syria’s northern border. The conflict in February and March eventually led to the deaths of more than 59 Turkish soldiers. In one case, Turkish officials said dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack by the Russian Komsomol,” Soylu said.
Now Erdogan and Putin “hardly speak to each other,” and “Russian diplomats and their Turkish colleagues rarely reach an understanding, let alone an agreement on any issue.
“But Erdogan’s adventure in Syria and Libya gave the Turkish military skills they never had. The use of drones and mercenary fighters, backed by Turkey’s military capabilities, changed the balance in Idlib and on the battlefields in Libya. Ankara seems more confident in its foreign operations as Erdogan becomes increasingly concerned about Putin’s actions against Turkish interests. This is why Turkey is more openly and directly involved in the current clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh. This time Erdogan did not back down when Baku asked for help. Ankara seems more confident in its foreign operations,” the expert states.
According to him, “Erdogan finally saw a Russian bear in Putin and now he is moving accordingly, disturbing Moscow – because he believes that Russia no longer cares about the interests of Turkey”.