Erdogan and Putin to forge 'historic' Turkish-Russian detente

Erdogan and Putin to forge 'historic' Turkish-Russian detente
Frozen trade deals, compensation and Syria will be discussed on Tuesday as Russia and Turkey continue thawing relations.
4 min read
08 August, 2016
Vladimir Putin and Erdogan in 2015, prior to the November jet-downing incident [Anadolu]
Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to meet for the first time since the November 2015 downing of a Russian military jet in Syria by Turkish forces that sparked a diplomatic row between Ankara and Moscow.

The Turkish president will visit St Petersburg on Tuesday, which will also be his first foreign visit since the failed July 15 coup. Prior to the attempted seizure of power by a faction within Turkey's military, relations between Russia and Moscow had begun to thaw after Erdogan issued an apology to the families of the slain Russian pilots for the downing of their jet in late June last year.

"This will be a historic visit, a new beginning. In the talks with my friend Vladimir, I believe, a new page in our relations will be turned. Our countries have much to do together," Erdogan told Russian state news agency Tass.

Fickle friendships in Europe

Given that Turkey's relations with Western nations have soured further following the failed putsch, it is thought that Putin will use this opportunity to draw Turkey closer, having himself been one of the first world leaders to personally phone Erdogan after the failed putsch to affirm his support.

Following the events of July 15, Erdogan has led a far-reaching crackdown on alleged Gulenist sympathisers who are accused of being behind the putsch, with the president stating on more than one occasion that the death penalty may be considered for those who are found guilty of treason. This has driven a wedge between Turkey and Western nations who have criticised the post-coup purge.

Speaking to Le Monde on Monday, Erdogan accused the European Union of "not behaving in a sincere manner with Turkey," highlighting the fact that the visa waiver for Turkish citizens that was scheduled for June 1 had not yet kicked in.

"If our demands are not satisfied then the readmissions (of Syrian refugees) will no longer be possible," Erdogan threatened.

The Turkish president also expressed disappointment at the lack of support for his government from Western nations after the failed coup, comparing the aftermath of the event to the international outcry against the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

"I would have hoped that the leaders of the western world would have reacted in the same way and not have contented themselves with a few cliches," Erdogan told the French daily.

Reversing retribution

During the 7-month standoff between Russia and Turkey following the downing of the Russian jet, Moscow banned the sale of package holidays to the Mediterranean country and imposed an import embargo. In turn, Turkey also shelved several lucrative bilateral projects, including a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign affairs adviser, said on Friday that the meeting between the two leaders would include a discussion about reviving the gas pipeline project and a contract that would see Russia build Turkey's first nuclear power plant.

"This is the first meeting amid the long-term pause in all contacts, political, trade and economic and others, which is why it is important to hold a detailed conversation now, to see where we stand and plan the possible prospects of further cooperation," Ushakov told reporters, while emphasising that no deals would be signed during this initial meeting.

Ushakov also said that Putin will also raise the issue of compensation for the families of the fallen Russian soldiers who died in the jet incident.

On Monday, signs of the thaw became apparent after Turkish authorities unblocked access to the Russian state-funded Sputnik news agency website. The agency's website was blocked in April and had its bureau chief deported from Turkey in the same month.

Syria remains a key point of contention, with Ankara and Moscow in disagreement over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad


While both powers will seek to restore a greater level of normalcy to relations, Syria remains a key point of contention, with Ankara and Moscow in disagreement over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has been a firm ally of the embattled president throughout Syria's conflict, while Turkey has insisted that a political solution is not possible while Assad is still in power.

Neither country has shifted significantly on this issue, however tempered words have been said prior to Tuesday's meeting.

"A solution to the Syrian crisis cannot be found without Russia," Erdogan said in his interview with Tass, emphasising Moscow's crucial role in the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has confirmed that Syria will be on the agenda when Putin and Erdogan meet. 

"The Syrian crisis will be discussed in depth" Ushkov told reporters. "We hope that Turkey's position will become more constructive," he added.