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How Europe boosts Russia-Turkey ties

The Russian-Turkish tandem has re-emerged with the two countries’ reconciliation, after seven months of glacial relations following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet on its border with Syria. That is not to say Ankara and Moscow see eye to eye on everything, but they realize that they need each other.

Turkey has to take decisive steps in order to survive and articulate its strategy for development. It is aware that the EU believes it can lure it with a “carrot” to do its bidding. Turkey has been an official candidate for full membership of the bloc since December 1999, but hopes that it will become a member have been gradually vanishing.

The EU did not even implement its promised visa liberalization policy. It only delivered on those obligations that were primarily beneficial to itself, not to Turkey. Now Ankara is losing its temper. Europe uses Turkey as a dam against immigration. This costs Ankara billions of dollars and poses high security risks.

The real reason Europe is failing to fulfil its commitments to Turkey is concern over migration. There are considerable numbers of Turks in the EU, whose member states oppose its further uncontrolled expansion.

The carrot of membership has thus far kept Turkey under relative control, but it is no longer fooled. Ankara is finding the force and courage to challenge the EU, threatening to break deals with it, including the notorious agreement to stem immigration if the EU refuses to implement visa liberalization for Turkish citizens.

Recent years have witnessed major tensions between Turkey and the West, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasingly refuses to be controlled by his Western counterparts, taking the country in the opposite direction from that expected of him.

The failed coup — which led to a full-scale crackdown on dissenters, including journalists, academics, politicians and security personnel — was a game-changer that led to heightened tensions between Turkey and the West.

After the coup attempt Turkey decisively moved toward Russia, but even beforehand there had been signs of a desire for rapprochement with Moscow. Erdogan even accused the US of involvement in organizing the coup attempt.

Since then, his criticism of the West has grown. Harsh declarations and accusations have become the norm. The recent attacks on German Chancellor Angela Merkel are a strong sign of how significantly Turkey has changed.

The current crisis with the Netherlands — which barred the Turkish foreign minister’s plane from landing, and deported Turkey’s family and social affairs minister, declaring her an “undesirable alien” — will dramatically degrade Turkish ties with the West.

For Moscow, which is under Western sanctions and has limited possibilities to import food due to an embargo on Western foodstuffs, relations with Ankara are vital.

Maria Dubovikova

During a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan said the Dutch are “Nazi remnants” and “fascists,” adding: “You can stop our foreign minister’s plane all you want, let’s see how your planes will come to Turkey from now on.” The Dutch ambassador will not be allowed to return to Turkey after his vacation.

This deterioration of ties with the EU will only help Russian-Turkish relations. The two countries have learned to cooperate on Syria and in the Astana talks, which appeared to be very helpful to the Geneva talks on Syria.

Both countries are guarantors of the diplomatic process, and co-brokers of the most successful cease-fire in Syria, which enabled the belligerent sides to talk to each other directly for the first time since the outbreak of the conflict.

Kurds remain a tough issue; they are an indispensable force in the fight against Daesh, but an absolutely undesirable player for Ankara. Russia and the US support the Kurds, which contradicts Turkish interests and desires. However, the sides are searching for compromises.

Following talks with Erdogan, President Vladimir Putin has scheduled an urgent meeting of the Russian Security Council, which unites top military and intelligence officials.

While Syria is an important element in bilateral ties, it is not the most important. Russia and Turkey traditionally have strong economic and trade interests, which have been boosted after relations were restored.

For Russia, which is under Western sanctions and has limited possibilities to import food due to an embargo on Western foodstuffs, relations with Turkey are vital.

During Erdogan’s current visit to Russia, the two sides signed significant cooperation agreements between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Economy and Science, and an agreement between Russia’s Direct Investment Fund and Turkey’s sovereign fund on the establishment of the Russia-Turkey Investment Fund.

Defense and energy cooperation, notably in constructing a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant, is also part of the Russian-Turkish cooperation, which is significant and promising, and helps the two countries get over any disagreements, including Crimea, the Kurds and others.

In contrast to the West, Russia does not meddle in Erdogan’s domestic policies and usually keeps its promises, so it is a comfortable counterpart to work with. The West’s diktats, criticisms and endless pulling of wool over Ankara’s eyes are pushing Russia and Turkey closer together.

The two countries find in each other support and understanding; their mutually profitable interests guarantee equal partnership and cooperation.

• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter: @politblogme.