(SOURCE) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to again be embracing his old friend Russian President Vladimir Putin as he continues to consolidate power after last month’s failed military uprising.
Efforts to reset the Turkish-Russian relationship after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over eight months ago have been underway since before July’s attempted coup. Erdogan reportedly wrote a letter to Putin in late June with the apology Moscow had been demanding since November.
“I once again express my sympathy and profound condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who was killed, and I apologize to them,” Erdogan wrote, according to the Kremlin.
But the stakes of reviving the relationship may now be significantly higher, as anti-American sentiment peaks within Turkey and Erdogan draws condemnation from the West for his decidedly undemocratic crackdown on those suspected of plotting or sympathizing with the coup.
Putin, too, has much to gain from strengthening his relationship with Erdogan at such a politically sensitive moment — specifically, the opportunity to undermine the unity of both the European Union and NATO and absorb Turkey into Russia’s sphere of influence.
That may be why Russia was one of the first countries to issue an official condemnation of the coup on July 15 — a gesture that Turkey noticed and evidently appreciated.
“We thank the Russian authorities, particularly President Putin. We have received unconditional support from Russia, unlike other countries,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
“Russia may go for a long-term game-changing move and lure Turkey away from the West as part of a broader geopolitical reconfiguration,” Middle East expert Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, wrote on Thursday.
“Unlike Western capitals, Moscow has not bothered much with rule-of-law considerations. A trend toward a more authoritarian leadership in Turkey, one with fewer checks and balances than in any Western democracy, is not something to worry Russian President Vladimir Putin much. On the contrary, it helps him demonstrate that the Russian style of muscular governance is useful to Turkey, at a time when the EU and the United States keep reminding Ankara of their own brand of liberal democracy.”
As such, “an opportunistic convergence of minds might therefore emerge between the two leaders, with each having his own reasons,” when they meet next week in St. Petersburg, Pierini said.
The clearest wrinkle in this potentially game-changing rapport between Russia and Turkey is their support for opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. Russia intervened in the conflict on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad in late September, whereas Turkey has been arming various Syrian opposition groups since 2011 and formally severed ties with the Assad regime in March 2012.
But as The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov wrote Thursday, even Erdogan’s determination to overthrow the Assad regime — which has reportedly been steadily waning — is likely to take a backseat as he restructures the Turkish military and focuses on purging his own country of suspected traitors.