Turkey-Russia rapprochement: Regional solutions to regional crises

Published 09.08.2016 18:21
Updated 09.08.2016 18:32

The last time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was during the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Nov. 15 last year. He was one of the first world leaders to announce Russia's support for the democratically elected government of Turkey after the July 15 military coup attempt, while the West, including our NATO allies, was largely silent.

Turkey, in its bilateral ties, needs to prioritize countries that unreservedly are on its side when it comes to its democratic system and national security while joining its fight against terrorism. It is natural to doubt the reliability of allies and alliances that fail to stand by Turkey in its hour of need. This cannot be considered as a realignment of foreign policy, it is a necessity in terms of national security.

Diplomatic ties between Russia and Turkey go back half a millennium. While there have been times of tumult, bilateral relations are based on a sound foundation. Speaking before Tuesday's meeting, Putin said Russia would always stand against unconstitutional military interventions. He also said he was sure with Erdoğan at the head, the Turkish people will surmount all such calamities, once again demonstrating his support for the elected government.

The meeting allowed both leaders to discuss ample opportunities of commercial cooperation from tourism and trade to energy and construction. The two leaders were also able to deliberate on issues from regional crises to regional balance of power.

The burgeoning bilateral ties were suspended when Turkey shot down a Russian jet that violated its national airspace on Nov. 24, 2015. Tuesday's rapprochement between two important actors is an important step to establishing regional stability and cooperation in tackling problems in the near abroad.

Turkey has serious reservations over Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war. However, this does not preclude cooperation in other spheres.

Turkey and Russia could well sit down and negotiate in creating a mutually acceptable diplomatic environment in the coming days. Such an accord could only be described as normalization, not as a paradigm shift, because Syria is not the only diplomatic factor that influences relations between the two countries. From energy to Azerbaijan, Circassia, Armenia and the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, there are innumerable issues of import to both countries. Turkey and Russia, as two regional countries with deep knowledge and most at stake, do not have the luxury of remaining disengaged.

The normalization process that began just before the coup attempt will the strengthened by Tuesday's face-to-face meeting between the two presidents and allow the resumption of the already extensive diplomatic and commercial ties to thrive even further. There is no reason why bilateral trade should not immediately return back to $33 billion, which it was before the jet crisis, and even reach the $100 billion objective set out last year.

Commercial interests tell only a small part of the benefits the two countries will reap from normalization. The constantly changing strategic balances in the region compel the two countries to cooperate.

In light of Tuesday's meeting in St. Petersburg, it is good to witness both Turkish and Russian media letting bygones be bygones and support the reconciliation between the two countries that used to see each other as partners. Tuesday's meeting also proves that the six-month jet crisis was just a break from the normal cordial relations and that there is actually no deep-seated animosity between the two peoples.

Every year Turkey hosts up to 3.5 million Russian tourists, who are the best public relations agents Turkey could hope to hire. In this context, Russians probably know Turkey better than vice versa.

The Aug. 9 meeting between Erdoğan and Putin should be seen as the initial sign of deep cooperation on Syria and other regional problems, energy, trade and industry between Turkey and Russia and consequently, should be welcomed by all those concerned.

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