U.S. media on Tuesday widely covered the meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, the first time they have met since ties deteriorated last November. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, however, downplayed the meeting and described it as a normal occurrence.
At a press briefing in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said that the meeting was in no way a threat to U.S. interests, even when relations with Turkey have never been this strained in a long time. "Russia and Turkey are supporting the fight against Islamic State [DAESH], and both are part of the international group trying to negotiate an end to fighting in Syria," the Wall Street Journal quoted Trudeau. "We don't view this as a zero-sum game," she said, underscoring that Turkey and Russia were both sovereign states and had a lot of common goals, such as the fight against DAESH and efforts for a political solution for Syria.
Reports in the media, however, concerned whether the meeting could lead to issues for NATO, as Turkey could seek defense cooperation with Russia. The New York Times ran the headline: "Putin and Erdoğan, Both Isolated, Reach Out to Each Other," claiming both leaders wanted to publicly "display" to the West that their ties have not left them isolated. It described both leaders as authoritarians who can shelve their anger if strategic interests are at stake. Even though Turkish-Russian relations have worsened since since last year, both countries' interests brought them together, according to the New York Times.
Tuesday's meeting with Putin was Erdoğan's first visit abroad since the July 15 coup attempt and the first visit with Putin since last year.
"Mr. Erdoğan's visit to Russia, his first venture outside his country after a failed coup last month, is draped in symbolism because Turkey's relationships with the United States and the European Union have eroded significantly," The New York Times article reported.
The Washington Post, on the other hand, stressed that Erdoğan repeatedly called Putin a "dear friend" during their joint press conference.
It also claimed Turkey is getting cozying up to Russia might be because of "Erdoğan's hope to play the Russian card to strengthen his hand in disputes" with the U.S. and the EU.
According to Ankara, the July 15 coup attempt was conducted by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) under the leadership of Fetullah Gülen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999.
Turkey has requested Gülen's extradition since the putsch attempt, and the U.S. says it is formally reviewing the extradition request. The issue has been a dispute between Ankara and Washington.
Ankara has also blamed the EU for not having shown enough solidarity with Turkey after the failed coup attempt.
Using The Associated Press story with the headline: "Putin Pledges to Ease Turkey Sanctions During Erdogan Meeting," the Wall Street Journal said Erdoğan wants to have Russia's support for the proposed Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline. The project would carry Russian gas via the Black Sea and Turkey to southeastern Europe. It added Turkey hopes to become a natural gas hub for Europe.
Turkish-Russian relations were severed last year after Turkey shot down a Russian jet after it violated Turkish airspace.
Relations between the two countries remained sour until the issue seemed largely resolved on June 29 after Erdoğan sent a letter to Putin apologizing for the incident and then they had subsequent telephone calls.
Putin gave his support to Turkey during the July 15 coup attempt and said he stood by the elected government, offering his condolences to the victims.
On July 22, Russia also lifted restrictions on flights to Turkey, which had been implemented temporarily following the coup attempt, after Turkish officials assured their Russian counterparts that additional security measures were being taken.
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