Putin wants Turkish cooperation in as many areas as possible
A summit meeting held in Sochi between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin early this month ended in a slightly different format. Deviating from previous practice, the leaders avoided meeting the media and instead released a written communique after the summit. They may have wished to avoid tough questions from the media.
The summit had a heavy agenda. Russia was eager to start its own grain exports. The other agenda items included Turkey’s declared intention to carry out a military operation in Syria, the financial problems facing the construction by Russia of a nuclear power plant in Turkey, efforts to stabilize the situation in Libya, the de-dollarization of payments between Turkey and Russia, and other issues of lesser importance.
Next year’s national elections in Turkey were another important issue on the agenda; present but invisible.
Turkey’s domestic media was particularly interested in the potential military operation in Syria. This question seems to have been extensively debated during the summit, as suggested by the length of the section in the communique on this subject. It stated: “The leaders underlined the importance of furthering the political process for the purpose of achieving a lasting peace in the country. They emphasized the importance of the preservation of the political unity and the territorial integrity of Syria and reconfirmed their determination to act in solidarity and coordination against all terrorist groups in Syria.”
The key phrase in this text is “all terrorist groups,” because Turkey does not consider some fighters to be part of a terrorist organization. Ankara even uses some of them as tools of proxy war.
In light of their differing approaches, one may wonder whether Turkey and Russia are on the same page on this crucial issue. They may have solved several problems to the satisfaction of both sides, but their differences over Ankara’s promised military operation in Syria remain unresolved.
Putin brought to Erdogan’s attention the sensitivity of the military operation and encouraged him to solve this problem in cooperation with the Syrian government within the framework of the Adana Agreement of 1998, but Erdogan is apparently nowhere close to such an arrangement. He still insists that the belt that has been established along the Turkish-Syrian border should be broadened to 30 km to 40 km and that it has to go all the way to the Iraqi border.
Their differences over Ankara’s promised military operation in Syria remain unresolved.
If Turkey’s expectation to control the activities of the Kurdish fighters is not checked, both Turkey and Russia will probably go their own way and assume responsibility for the consequences of their attitude.
In addition to Russia, there is a US military presence in the area around Tal Rifaat in the north of Aleppo governorate. Therefore, a military operation in Syria would also irk Washington, so the question remains pending. If, in light of these parameters, a military operation is eventually carried out, we may presume that it will be more for demonstrative effect.
Another agenda item at the Sochi summit was the unclear financial problems in connection with the Turkish company IC Ictas, which undertook the construction of some components of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. The director of the Russian mother company Rosatom last month laid the foundations for the fourth and final reactor at the power station. Only a week after this ceremony, Rosatom canceled the engineering, supply and construction chapters of the joint venture, saying that the subcontractor was not able to fulfill its commitments. The canceled parts of the joint venture are worth $8 billion. Why this was done before the Sochi summit remains unanswered.
This outcome reveals that Turkish companies have ceased to be the main contractor of the construction works. Erdogan’s initial plan was to let the Turkish companies acquire various aspects of nuclear technology. It now appears that this will not be achieved. Erdogan visited the site last week and received a detailed briefing on the situation. He now may need to discuss this question with Putin once again.
Erdogan and Putin aim to increase the bilateral trade volume between their countries to an ambitious $100 billion per year. The present figures hover around $6 billion to $7 billion in Turkish exports and $30 billion in Russian exports, with a major part of this being natural gas. The use of the Turkish lira and Russian ruble — instead of US dollars — was raised at the Sochi summit, but where will Turkey find the equivalent of about $20 billion?
On the presidential plane back home, Erdogan informed members of the pro-government media that Putin had invited him to participate in the September meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This may be an attempt to pull Turkey toward closer cooperation with Russia in as many areas as possible.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.