Putin, Erdogan vow to repair ties as West watches nervously (w/video)
MOSCOW — Against a backdrop of rising tensions between Turkey and the West, Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey pledged on Tuesday to repair relations after nine months of open antagonism.
Although their meeting in St. Petersburg on Tuesday produced little beyond vows of friendship and cooperation, the symbolism of the two former antagonists coming together for a friendly talk was enough to raise alarms in Western capitals. Besides being a member of the NATO alliance, Turkey is vital to Europe’s efforts to stanch the flow of migrants from Syria and Afghanistan.
The governments in Washington and Ankara, long at odds over the United States’ support of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, have had a series of problems lately. Anti-Americanism has been on the rise in Turkey, amid accusations that the United States played a role in the failed coup in Turkey and widespread resentment of the White House’s criticism of the resulting crackdown.
Turkish officials have been further infuriated by President Barack Obama’s reluctance to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan has accused of leading the coup attempt.
For Putin, who has made little secret of his ambitions to weaken NATO and crack European unity, the opportunity to forge a new and closer relationship with a humbled Erdogan was probably deeply satisfying, and a vindication of his decision to intervene militarily in Syria.
No one predicted a radical shift in relations, at least not immediately. Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, and the two leaders had been at each other’s throats since November, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that it said had violated its airspace on the Syrian border, with one pilot killed by ground fire after ejecting.
Efforts to restore ties then accelerated after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey, after which Putin was the first leader to call to offer support. “It was very important from a mental perspective, this kind of psychological support,” Erdogan said at the news conference.
Any future agreements between the two countries could have significant repercussions for the Middle East and Europe. Erdogan most likely hopes to use the leverage of improved relations with Russia to force a better deal with Europe over the migrant crisis.
Closer ties with Russia also carry the potential to create tensions within NATO that Putin would be happy to exploit. Ultimately, Moscow would like to draw Turkey into its orbit and into the security and trade organizations it is promoting in Asia, although such a shift is not expected anytime soon.