Russia has become a decisive actor in the region, with which Turkey can negotiate on various issues after the two countries fully normalized their ties following the downed Russian jet crisis in 2015, experts said.
Speaking at a panel organized by Insight Turkey in Ankara, a quarterly journal in circulation since 1999, Ufuk Ulutaş, foreign policy coordinator at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), said Moscow has been a significant element in the region recently.
"The Syrian crisis has made it possible for Russia to become a decisive actor in the Middle East," Ulutaş said, adding that "for Turkey, Russia is an ally with which it can negotiate."
Also addressing the panel, Yury Barmin, a Russian Middle East analyst, said "during the Obama Administration there was a vacuum created in the region and Russia saw this dynamic as an opportunity." Barmin argued that Russia has successfully filled in the vacuum for the past couple of years. "Russian Middle East politics, especially in Syria, have been very successful in the last years," he added.
The Russian expert stressed that Moscow now needs to find ways to expand influence in the region and learn how to solve issues diplomatically rather than with hard power. "One of the problems that Russia needs to solve is to learn how to be a diplomatic broker without using hard power. However, Russia is making advances in this regard lately," he said.
The two countries have showed concrete signs of cooperation on the ground in Syria for the past one-and-a-half-years. First, Turkey and Russia mediated the Aleppo evacuation process. Then, Turkey and Russia initiated the Astana process, which achieved to create a dialogue channel between the Assad regime and the opposition.
In recent months, the two countries, along with Iran, organized the Syrian Natio
nal Dialogue Congress in Russia's Sochi in an effort to find a permanent solution for the Syrian crisis.
The experts agreed that Turkey and Russia can build on their normalized ties over the course of the recent period to collaborate on regional matters. Underlining that "Putin's response to the July 15 coup attempt was very important in terms of Turkey-Russia relations," Emre Erşen, an academic at Marmara University, said, "Russia's support on Operation Euphrates Shield was very important for Turkey."
Drawing attention to the downed Russian jet crisis in November 2015, when bilateral relations hit rock bottom that led to reciprocal ultimatums and sanctions, Erşen said the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, "showed that both states have learned their lessons from the jet crisis."
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