Post-coup Scenario: Turkish President Erdogan To Visit Russia On August 09
07 August 2016
By Dr. Abdul Ruff
One of positive consequences of military coup engineered in Turkey on July 15
is the realignment of Russia and Turkey, former foes for decades, into a
friendly and purposeful anti-West relationship.
In a remarkable about-face, Erdogan apologized to Putin for the Su-24
shoot-down and asked the family of the killed pilot to ''excuse us.'' Two
weeks later, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that Turkey might
even entertain normalizing relations with Syria someday. After the failed coup
attempt in Turkey, international experts have been quick to declare that
Turkey will drift closer to Russia and away from its allies in NATO. Putin was
one of the first to condemn the attempt and declare support for Turkey's
elected government. Thus their bilateral relationship began to flourish.
As the bilateral relations are getting warmed up, on August 9, Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia to meet
with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the first time since November 2015.
The plane downing led to a bitter war of words between the two leaders, with
the Kremlin strongman calling it a ''stab in the back'' and accusing the
Turkish president of involvement in the illegal oil trade with the ISIS
jihadist group. But after the Kremlin claimed last month that Erdogan had
apologized to Putin over the incident, Moscow ordered the lifting of a string
of economic sanctions including an embargo on Turkish food products and the
cancellation of charter flights to the country.
Further, an official in Turkey said that Erdogan and Putin had agreed to meet
ahead of the G20 summit in China in September. Russian news agencies quoted
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, the highest ranking Turkish
official to visit Russia since the November downing of the Russian jet on the
Syrian border sparked an unprecedented crisis in relations. He said he was in
Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich in an effort to
''normalize the situation and our relations as soon as possible and at an
Bilateral relations between two Eurasian nations -Turkey and Russia – have
been fraught ever since the Turkish air force downed a Russian fighter plane
that repeatedly violated its air space in November. But the tensions between
the two countries had been escalating for months before that, due mainly to US
instigation, first over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and then over Syria.
As a result, in the span of two years, both have largely undone whatever
entente they had built over the past 15. However, Turkey woke up before it was
too late and readily apologized to Russia.
tensions between them went hand in hand for years, fueled by USA, NATO and EU.
In fact, the Russo-Turkey ties were slowly but steadily improving before the
military coup to dethrone ruling government of Erdogan and destroy his AK
Party – obviously ploy of the western powers to end Islamist rule in Europe.
But the coup meant to destabilize an elected government in Istanbul has
brought people together and simply accelerated the process of reinventing a
possible Turkey-Russia coalition in warm ties for mutual cooperation in many
domains of diplomacy, politics, security and economics.
Neither USA nor EU had anticipated the anti-climax to the plots
of coup leaders in Istanbul. President Obama may have been shocked to know
that turkey is strong enough to defend itself.
thawing of ice between the two countries began in June when Turkey's president
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter to his counterpart expressing regret over
the downing of the Russian jet, extended condolences to the family of the
Russian pilot who died in the incident using the apologetic expression ''may
they excuse us.'' Two days after this letter, Russia's President Vladimir
Putin made a phone call to Erdoğan, and said, according to the Kremlin's
website, that the letter ''opened the road for overcoming the crisis in
This exchange of cordiality resulted in Putin's lifting of the Russian ban on
travel packages to Turkey, which was welcomed by both Russian holiday-makers
and Turkish tourism industry alike; and visits made by three Turkish cabinet
members—Deputy Prime Ministers Mehmet Şimşek and Nurettin Canikli, as well as
the Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi—to Moscow last week, only a few days
after the failed coup attempt in Turkey, reveal that reconciliation will
proceed faster than expected and economic issues will be in the forefront.
After the visit, Minister Zeybekçi said that 80% of the problems that Turkey
had with Russia have been solved.
As the bilateral relations are getting warmed up, on August 9, Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia where he
will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the first time since
November 2015. For the past two weeks, a steady parade of Turkish ministers
has flown to Moscow to lay the groundwork — confirmation that the
Turkish-Russian relationship, on ice for the past eight months, is headed for
a summer thaw. But the St. Petersburg meeting between two strong presidents is
more than just another summit — it is the opening ceremony for a broader
Turkish tilt toward Moscow.
The bases for this sudden change
are manifold, but the primary impetus is Bashar al-Assad's near-restoration in
Syria. In the past, Assad had been the major obstacle to improved ties between
Russia and Turkey.
Both Russia and Turkey realized
they need each other to protect themselves against the Super power, NATO and
Turkey was seriously traumatized by the coup attempt and is trying now to
sound certain warnings to the West by floating the idea that it may move
toward strategic ties with Russia.
Russia's economic losses due to Western sanctions have somewhat weakened the
Kremlin. Turkey's economic losses due to the embargoes imposed by Moscow after
the downing of the jet and the fact that this incident seriously diminished
Turkey's hand in Syria forced Erdogan in the end to seek reconciliation. The
punitive measures had dealt a crushing blow to the Turkish tourism industry,
which is hugely reliant on Russian tourists, especially on its Mediterranean
Erdogan's domestic politics only reinforce his regional calculations for
tilting toward Russia. The aftershocks of the attempted coup against Erdogan
by a faction of the military on July 15 are steadily pushing Turkey away from
the West and toward Russia.
However, given Russia's growing conflict with the West, which Moscow believes
is trying to encircle it militarily, many doubt that Putin will want to
squander the opportunity to turn Turkey away from the West. The Turkish
president is now trying to improve Turkey's relations with Russia. This makes
Turkey Russia's ally in the endeavor to split the consolidated position of the
Turkey is angry with Europe over its ''wait and
see'' stance during and after the coup attempt. The general view is that
Europe's dislike of Erdogan prevented it from providing unequivocal support
for the democratically elected president and government of Turkey.
Europe's critical position on the massive crackdown against
alleged coup plotters and sympathizers in Turkey and its reactions to
Erdogan's support for the death penalty for the coup plotters is adding more
grist to the anti-Western mill in Turkey.
The beneficiary of coup
One of Russia's principal aims today was to weaken NATO and it would like an
important NATO member Turkey to support the Kremlin to consolidate the ties.
Russia always looked for better ties with Turkey but USA opposes that. From
the outset, as the coup unfolded, Putin reportedly offered support for Erdogan,
in contrast to Secretary of State John Kerry's initial equivocations.
Predictably, that contrast has only grown sharper over the past two weeks:
While Russia has raised no objections to Erdogan's needy purges of key
institutions to streamline administration the West has regularly criticized
his crackdowns, with Kerry even threatening Turkey's membership in NATO – the
With more strategic foresight than the USA and Europe, Russia played its cards
right as the coup attempt was underway and was the first country to
immediately condemn this attempt unequivocally.
As the one of first world leaders, Putin called Erdogan earlier this month to
express his support after the failed putsch in Turkey, and the Kremlin
confirmed at the time that the two leaders would meet in the near future.
Russia appears to be the main beneficiary of the July 15
attempted military coup in Turkey. Moscow clearly sees a strategic opportunity
for itself given the sharp increase in anti-American and anti-European
sentiments in Turkey, which are being fanned by the coup and rhetoric of
Turkish President Erdogan.
The failed coup has increased Russia's importance for quarters close to
Erdogan. Calls from pro-Erdogan circles for Turkey to seek strategic
partnerships with Russia and to develop a strategic Eurasian dimension to
replace ties with the USA, NATO and the EU are clearly being monitored closely
in Moscow with satisfaction.
That Uncle Sam is dragging its feet over Ankara's demand for Gulen's
extradition, has raised anti-American feelings among Turks to a fever pitch.
This has also increased calls for Turkey to seek strategic partnerships with
Russia and to replace ties with the United States, NATO and the European
Union. These calls are clearly being monitored closely in Moscow. Eyes will
therefore be focused on Erdogan's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in Moscow on Aug. 9.
There are indications, however, that while Moscow believes it has the upper
hand against Ankara now, and will try and secure maximum advantages for itself
as it responds to positive overtures from Turkey, it will still play hard to
get. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an early sign of this after
the failed coup attempt when he openly declared that the future of
Turkish-Russian ties would still depend on Turkey's position on Syria where
Turkey support USA.. ''Much will depend on how we will cooperate on the
settlement of the Syrian crisis,'' Lavrov said, according to TASS.
Now, Moscow and Tehran are in the midst of an operation to restore Assad's
control over Syria's second city of Aleppo. Even an obstinate leader like
Erdogan cannot ignore the hard reality that Assad is here to stay. Turkey's
reconciliation with Russia would make Turkey to work with Russia in Syria.
USA knows the terrible meaning of losing Turkey to Russia. President Barack
Obama is not without options, however. To keep Turkey from moving toward
Russia, the USA would widen its aperture beyond the Islamic State to include
Turkey's strategic interests in Syria. It would also recalibrate its
criticisms of Erdogan.
The USA, which is pitted against Erdogan-inspired Islamists, is shielding the
alleged coup mastermind, Fethullah Gulen, who could be an important tool in
the hands of all anti-Turkey forces in the West. One Turkish minister even
flatly accused the USA of orchestrating the coup. Incensed Turkish protestors
have marched on Incirlik Air Base, the key facility from which the USA flies
combat missions against the Syria and ISIS Islamic State.
The PKK is a US-designated ''terrorist organization'' that has
fought a separatist war against the Turkish state for decades. As Turkey turns
inward and anti-Western sentiment rises, Turkish military readiness needs to
on alert. Its Kurdish sister organization in Syria is the Democratic Union
Party (PYD). For the past two years, the PYD has systematically built up its
political control in northern Syria under the guise of fighting the Islamic
State. President Erdogan would rely on the key player on the ground, Russia,
to limit the PYD and PKK. Turkey has tracked the PYD's rise along its border
with alarm — especially since the group crossed west of the Euphrates, a
traditional Turkish red line, to participate in the fight to capture the
Syrian city of Manbij from the ISIS.
By sidestepping the question of Assad, Erdogan is attempting to unlock
cooperation with Russia on his other major priorities — the defeat of the
Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) and the consolidation of domestic power. Erdogan
understands that in order to stop the PKK and PYD from establishing themselves
along the Turkish border, he must deny them international support — most
notably, from their natural regional patrons, Russia and Iran. These sets up a
possible transaction in St. Petersburg next week: In return for Russia
withholding its support for the PKK and PYD, Turkey may agree to look the
other way on Assad.
From US perspective Russia and Turkey are autocracies while USA and Europe,
where minorities are ill treated, are true democracies. From Ankara's
perspective, PKK and PYD pose a more ominous threat than the Islamic State —
even after the Istanbul airport attack of June 28.
There are indeed achievements made during the talks in Moscow: charter flights
will be resumed between Turkey and Russia, sanctions on food exports from
Turkey to Russia will be gradually lifted, the Joint Russian-Turkish
Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation will be
reactivated, negotiations will resume on an intergovernmental agreement on
trade in services and investment and a mid-term intergovernmental programme of
trade, economic, research, technical and cultural cooperation for the period
between 2016 and 2019, visa restrictions will be lifted, and a joint
Russian-Turkish fund will be established to finance investment projects in
Russia and Turkey have affirmed their
intention to reinstate dialogue on the proposed Turkish Stream pipeline
project. In other words, business will be back to normal very soon between
Turkey and Russia.
Trade figures, investment projects
and tourist numbers may soon get back to normal. However, it is too early to
declare the normalization of ties complete, as obstacles remain in the
political realm with the two sides yet to solve their differences over the
issue of civil war in Syria.
It appears that the
future for the ''strategic partnership'' with Russia that some in Turkey are
hoping for now, purely out of anger for the West, would soon develop into
With a reconciliation process between the two countries starting in June and
gaining significant momentum through the visits of a number of Turkish cabinet
members to Moscow last week and an upcoming meeting between the two countries'
presidents, there are sufficient grounds to expect this soccer game to herald
the normalization of relations between Ankara and Moscow.
Moscow continues to back the Assad regime and its allies; while from Ankara's
point of view there can be no solution in Syria unless Assad leaves. These two
positions appear to be firmly irreconcilable; however given the emerging
political will to that end on both sides, a certain degree of common ground
can be achieved in St. Petersburg.
In the meantime, Ankara is pinning the blame for the downing of the Russian
jet fighter on a maverick pilot who allegedly was part of the coup plot, thus
providing another indication of how fast things are moving in Turkish-Russian
The countries' already poor relations reached a boiling point when Turkey shot
down a Su-24 Russian fighter jet last November. The situation in Syria has
changed dramatically since that episode, however. The Russian-Iranian
offensive in support of Assad has checkmated Turkey, shutting Ankara out of
If the Erdoğan-Putin meeting on August
9 goes well, we might also see the two leaders attending the game together.
Turkey and Russia made serious progress in restoring their economic ties, and
despite all the difficulties and differences, the meeting in St. Petersburg
can produce some form of a common ground over Syria as well. The question for
Ankara would be then whether the détente with Russia could be replicated in
other problematic areas of foreign policy too.
relations should be improved and deepened. I believe that the most important
file to be taken up during Erdogan's visit to Moscow, for example, will be the
On the evening
of August 31, the newly built stadium in Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean
coast will host a soccer match between the national teams of Turkey and