Turkey takes initiative to mend fences with Moscow

Published 29.06.2016 03:03

Now the scene is set for a dramatic improvement in Turkish-Russian relations as Europe faces serious setbacks with Britain pulling out of the European Union and a new migrant crisis looming in the air

The signals that relations between Turkey and the Russian Federation would improve had been in the air for some time. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced the need to mend fences with Ankara, the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reciprocated with similar positive replies and the fact that after all these the Russian ambassador attended an iftar dinner hosted by the Turkish head of state recently, have been clear indicators that a rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow was in the making.

Added to all this, the news that Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu had talks with his Kazakh and Kyrgyz counterparts in the last few days shows there was some kind of mediation that paved the way for President Erdoğan sending a letter to Putin voicing his deep regret over the downing of a Russian jet fighter that had violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.

The Russians took this letter that included the statement "excuse us," which the Kremlin initially claimed was an apology, and a promise that Turkey would accept their demand to pay compensation for the jet fighter that was shot down.

The Turkish side on the other hand said Erdoğan deeply regretted the downing of the plane saying Turkey had not specifically targeted the plane because it was Russian and conveyed his deep regret and sorrow to the family of the pilot who was killed in the incident. Erdoğan also said he agreed with Russia to take steps to set the record straight.

So according to diplomatic language, the Russians seem to accept that Turkey has officially apologized to Russia over the incident while Turkey says it has explained to the Russians what happened and told its public that what was said in the letter amounts to the conveyance of regrets and sorrow but no apology. All sides seem to be saving face.

What really matters is that the sides have taken up the unpleasant task of facing the realities and have decided to undertake all the tricky formalities that will set us on the course of normalizing relations between Turkey and Russia.

The fact that Erdoğan and Putin will have a telephone conversation on Wednesday is of great importance. It shows that Moscow has accepted that Erdoğan's letter has met its requirements and that it is ready to take a step forward. The statements by Erdoğan and Putin in the days to come will help to further push ties in the right direction as the normalization process gains momentum.

Moscow is aware that Turkey is not only a strategic country but a regional power and a key NATO ally. The fact that the upcoming NATO summit in early July in Warsaw will concentrate on Russia and Ukraine comes at a time when there is growing anti-Russian sentiment not only in the NATO corridors but also among the Central European states. Russia is aware of the role Turkey has played in NATO in the past and its potentials. So Moscow would not want to open a new front at a time when it fears more pressures will start mounting from NATO.

Besides all this Russia is also aware of the setbacks that its own economy has suffered due to the rift with Turkey and is in need of correcting this situation and Turkey remains a potential friend in need. On the other hand it is no secret that the Russian sanctions have hurt Turkey's booming economic relations with Russia in various fields led by tourism, exports and contracts.

Now the scene is set for a dramatic improvement in Turkish-Russian relations as Europe faces serious setbacks with Britain pulling out of the European Union and a new migrant crisis looming in the air.

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