Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Erdogan in the Kremlin | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It was difficult for some to accept President Recep Tayyib Erdogan shaking his opponent President Vladimir Putin’s hand and Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia. Ankara’s signing of a deal to normalise relations with Israel has led to much criticism. The matter is only difficult for those who do not differentiate between religion and politics. Interests prevail over principles.

There is no doubt that the Turkish president saw the need for his country to reconcile with Russia and other countries after their relationship deteriorated and the situation became serious. Separatist Turkish Kurds have started to threaten the safety of Turkey and its unity, there are an increasing number of Syrian refugees at its border and ISIS has succeeded in gaining access to the heart of Ankara and Istanbul. In addition to this, an attempted coup rocked the pillars of the country recently.

Economically, the Turkish economy benefits from Russian tourism and since four million Russian tourists that usually visit every year have boycotted Turkey, Turkish tourism has been hit. In addition to this, 1.5 million Iranian tourists have boycotted the country and the value of the Turkish lira has fallen.

These are some of the motives for the Turkish government’s reconciliation with Moscow, and it is not true that the reconciliation was a result of the coup attempt. Nor is this a hasty reaction from Ankara. Rather, it is part of arrangements that began when the new Prime Minister announced that the government intends to end its differences with all countries, including Greece, Russia, Israel and Iran. Also, what was said about Ankara being forced to reconcile with Moscow for fear of a possible Russian attack does not make sense as Turkey is a member of NATO which promises to undertake joint defence against aggression carried out by a member state.

The strategic considerations of the Turkish state which aspires to become a passageway for Russian gas to Europe cannot be disregarded. This matter was on the agenda of the talks between the two presidents in Moscow and they agreed on half of the project; one passageway.

However, I do not believe that Russian pipelines will be extended to Europe at the moment because this would break the western embargo on Russian gas which forbids its transportation through Ukrainian land. In the event that tensions between the Russians and the Americans increased, Turkey’s interests with the west are much more important than its interests with Russia.

The only reasonable explanation for Erdogan’s rapprochement with his opponents is that he wants to strengthen his negotiating position and reduce the risk of international and regional conflicts in his country. There is no doubt that he is hoping for a peaceful solution in Syria that will be implemented later on, most likely after the US presidential election as it is unlikely that the current US president will change his position.

Returning to the problem of reconciling Turkey’s contradictory stances such as fighting Russia in Syria and signing cooperation agreements with the Kremlin, this is the nature of politics. Erdogan wants to reduce the distance with the Russians, and if he does not succeed with them in Syria, he will at least have served Turkey in other areas. This applies to the restoration of communications and normalisation of relations with Israel, and the strengthening of relations with Iran. Erdogan is serving his country’s interests.

Those who fail to understand recent developments have conjured up an idealistic idea of Turkey that is outside the rules of diplomatic work and the interests of states. Turkey, as a major regional country, has interests and concerns, and Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russia, Iran and Israel shows political courage despite his commitment to his image and his popularity with the Turkish and Arab peoples.

Our countries must do what Erdogan dared to do because it is normal to have relations with one’s opponents and sign agreements with them when necessities and interests dictate this, especially given the changes that are taking place.

Finally, will Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia and Iran affect the future of a solution in Syria? No, because the situation on the ground is no longer under their control.