The deepening Turkey Russian relations…

by Saima Zaman

175

The echoes of 2003 can still be heard, when Turkey refused to back the US led invasion of Iraq. Since then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president started building closer ties with Russia. Although Turkey is a NATO member, its growing defence cooperation with Moscow includes $2bn deal to buy state of the art S-400 surface to air missile systems. At the same time, military collaboration with the US has been scaled back. The two countries came to blows in November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian military jet for alleged airspace violations. Moscow retaliated by imposing economic sanctions. Putin personally commiserated with Erdoğan after the 2016 coup attempt, assuring him of Moscow’s full support. That was an important moment for two instinctive autocrats who fear the popular verdict of the street. Since then, bilateral cooperation on nuclear power, energy pipelines from Russia to Turkey and Europe, tourism, investment, arms sales and military to military ties have reached unprecedented levels. During a visit of Turkish President to Russia earlier this year, Erdogan pledged to introduce exemptions for Russian businessmen willing to invest funds in Turkey. In response Russian President assured that Moscow and Ankara may embark on joint high tech military equipment projects. The two leaders also discussed the completion of a pipeline that will carry Russian gas to Turkey, the planned construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, and how to coordinate their next moves in Syria. Once Again the leaders of Russia and Turkey have held discussions about a possible expansion of defence industry cooperation. The two leaders hold frequent meetings and have forged close ties focused on energy and defence cooperation despite the differences over Syria. In another move that could further strain ties with NATO ally the United States, Turkey took delivery of a second batch of Russian S-400 air defence equipment. Washington has not yet acted on the threat, but it did begin last month to remove Turkey from its programme of manufacturing F-35 jets, which Turkey also planned to buy. In response, Erdogan said Turkey would turn elsewhere for jets to meet its needs. Turkey is a partner in the programme manufacturing some elements of the aircraft and designated as one of several maintenance sites for its engines. Some 937 separate parts for the F-35 are manufactured in Turkey, about 400 of which are made exclusively there. The US is already taking steps to source these parts elsewhere. The rapid reconciliation between the two countries stems from the fact that they are in dire need of each other economically and politically. From the Russian perspective, it can be said that the loss of Turkey would mean a sharp reduction in Russia’s sphere of influence, especially in the face of the growing threat from NATO. If Russia wants to preserve its great power status, it needs to collaborate with Turkey in regional affairs. Thus, Russia aims to form a new balance of power in the region by pulling Turkey away from the West. From the Turkish perspective, Ankara’s proximity to Moscow strengthens its political leverage against the U.S and European countries, with which Turkey does not enjoy good relations at the moment. The close ties between Russia and Turkey is reflected in the growing number of Russian tourists choosing to sun themselves on the beaches of Antalya every summer. In 2017, 4.7 million Russians visited Turkey, the largest contingent of foreign visitors. However, the EU and the US still remain important markets for Turkish companies and the country as it seeks to replicate the growth figures of Erdogan’s earlier years in power. Trade between Turkey and Russia increased 37 percent year-on-year, reaching $13.3 billion. In May 2017, Turkey and Russia signed a joint declaration to remove all trade restrictions between the two countries, fully restoring economic relations. The strengthening relations between Russia and Turkey are influencing the region and they will continue to influence in the future which totally depends on the state of relations between two in days to come.

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