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Recently, the resort of Sochi was visited by the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan at the invitation of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. According to Putin, this meeting means the return of Russia and Turkey to "normal partnership interaction."
Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan agreed to abolish most of the anti-Turkish sanctions that Russia imposed in response to the Russian military aircraft shot down in November 2015, which violated Turkey's airspace. All the restrictive measures will be abolished, except for the ban on the import of Turkish tomatoes and the visa regime for Turkish citizens. According to Vladimir Putin, Russian producers of agricultural products took a lot of loans for the construction of greenhouses and the establishment of tomato production in Russia, which should be paid off. Anti-Turkish sanctions included a ban on the supply of Turkish agricultural products to the Russian market, including fruits, vegetables, poultry, spices and salt, as well as textiles. Russia canceled popular among tourists charter flights to Turkey, banned the activities of Turkish organizations. Russian employers were forbidden to hire workers from Turkey.
As a result of sanctions for the first 4 months of 2016, imports from Turkey to Russia decreased by half. In the first half of 2016, the supply of fresh tomatoes to Russia dropped by $ 159.1 million, tangerines – by $ 42.6 million, and oranges -- by $ 29.3 million. In 2014, Turkey exported goods to Russia (mainly agricultural products and textiles) by $ 6 billion. Because of the refusal of the services of Turkish builders, the volume of new construction in Moscow decreased: in 2015, 14 shopping centers with an area of 620,000 sq. m. were put into operation, and in 2016 only 12 objects with a total area of 476, 000 sq. m. were declared. The flow of Russian tourists to Turkish resorts decreased by 87% in the first half of 2016. Before the conflict, in 2014, 3.5 million Russian tourists visited Turkey.
During the meeting, Vladimir Putin promised that the Russian Federation would invest $ 22 billion in the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. The project of this power plant was developed by the Russian company Atomenergoproekt. According to the agreements of 2010, Russia had to build a nuclear power plant on the southern coast of Turkey. However, due to the deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations in November 2015, the project was frozen.
As for Syria, Putin and Erdogan agreed to jointly create in Syria no-fly security zones in Idlib province north of the city of Homs and in the south of the country. Flights of aviation would be banned over these zones, and in their territory no military operations should be conducted. Earlier, Russia did not support the creation of no-fly zones in Syria. Turkey defended the idea of creating in the north of Syria no-fly zones of security to infiltrate terrorists from among the Kurds and ISIS Islamists, to prevent their entry into Turkey. Since 2015, about 400 Turkish citizens have died in hands of terrorists.
Bribe to the Sultan
It seems that Vladimir Putin has tried to "buy" the credibility of Recep Erdogan. Russia defended the abolition of anti-Turkish sanctions in the extreme case (prerequisites for rapprochement between Turkey and the United States in Syria). This happened after the US warships destroyed by cruise missiles Tomahawk the military airfield Shayrat, which belonged to the Russian-sponsored president Bashar Assad. The military action was perceived in the world as a demonstration of US power and the intention of the Republicans to activate Middle East policy. After that, Turkey showed America its true interests in Syria. The Turkish side supported the military action of the Americans and the possible use of force against the regime of Bashar Assad in the future, proposed the creation of a no-fly security zone in the north of Syria. President Recep Erdogan decided to try to establish relations with the new Republican President Donald Trump, in conjunction with the US to defend their interests in Syria. The United States is more influential in the Middle East than Russia, which has closer partners than Bashar Assad and Iran.
The US is interested in reliable military-political partners in the Middle East. This role belonged to Turkey and Israel until the deterioration of relations with the administration of the former Democratic President Barack Obama. Turkey is a convenient springboard for the air strikes and other military operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The half-million Turkish army is the second in NATO by its military strength (after the US armed forces). Back in February, Donald Trump in a telephone conversation with Recep Erdogan expressed his intention to support Turkey as a "close and long-term partner." Also, President Donald Trump, unlike European officials, congratulated Recep Erdogan on the results of the constitutional referendum in Turkey.
The Kremlin is not interested in fact that Turkey became Russia's opposition to Syria and cooperated exclusively with the US in the fight against ISIS and the regime of Bashar Assad. Vladimir Putin expects that in exchange for his compromises in Sochi, Recep Erdogan would support Russia's policy in Syria. Putin tried to make Erdogan understand that the political differences between Russia and Turkey that existed before the meeting are not worth the opportunities offered by trade and economic cooperation, not burdened by sanctions. Before the sanctions, Turkey was the fifth foreign trade partner of Russia. In 2014, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to 44 billion dollars. Turkey is the second market for Gazprom’s sale of natural gas (after Germany). In 2015, Turkey bought 26.9 billion cubic meters of blue fuel from the Russian Federation. Also, both countries continue to cooperate on the implementation of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project for the export of natural gas from Russia to the EU.
Erdogan is not for sale?
Russian side should not exaggerate the results of the meeting between Putin and Erdogan in Sochi. Turkey under Erdogan pursues a "multi-vector" foreign policy, cooperates in its own interests with various centers of power for the sake of profit. Turkey would not build its foreign policy in accordance with the interests of the Kremlin. Turkey builds relations with Russia on the principle of "politics is for politics, economics is for economics". Therefore, the Turkish side took the abolition of sanctions as the desire of the Russian Federation to intensify trade and economic relations, which is quite rational. It is too early to say that Turkey will not cooperate with the US in Syria or other regions if Washington's position differs from Moscow's position on specific issues.
Recently, Russia and Turkey have begun to coordinate military actions against ISIS, together with Iran, to participate in the negotiations in Astana on the settlement of Syrian conflict. However, Moscow and Ankara have disagreements about the future Syria’s political development. Turkey supports the overthrow of the regime of President Bashar Assad and the transfer of power in Syria into the hands of the moderate Islamist opposition. Russia, in contrast, is providing military support to the troops of Bashar Assad in the fight against the Syrian opposition. The positions of Russia and Turkey on the Kurdish minority in Syria do not converge. Turkey sees the armed formations of Syrian Kurds as opponents that could be linked to the terrorist and separatist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party, Russian Federation, in its draft constitution for postwar Syria, proposes creating an autonomous entity for Kurds and other ethnic groups.
At the same time, Turkey's position coincides with the US position on the need for Bashar Assad's resignation. In addition, Donald Trump supported the agreement in Sochi on the creation of no-fly zones of security in Syria. It is possible that Recep Erdogan expects to combine cooperation with the US and Russia in Syria. However, even during his election campaign, Donald Trump expressed an interest in cooperating with Russia in the fight against ISIS. Turkey is a member of the anti-terrorist coalition led by the United States, which could join the Russian Federation. However, this does not mean that Turkey in exchange for Putin’s Sochi compromises would agree to maintain the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
Recep Erdogan tries to sit on two chairs at the same time and have the maximum benefit from cooperation with Russia and the United States. His position on Russia and the United States is approximately the same. It varies depending on the political situation. Although the Turkish military shot down the Russian Su-24, Recep Erdogan apologized to the Russian Federation in 2016 and even named Vladimir Putin a "friend" amid a cold snap of relations with the EU and the US after an unsuccessful attempt at a military coup in Turkey. Last summer, Recep Erdogan accused former US President Barack Obama of involvement in the coup d'état in Turkey. However, with the coming to power of President Donald Trump, the flow of criticism towards the US has calmed down, and Turkey hopes to establish relations with the new American leadership.
Now Recep Erdogan can use the current situation in relations with Russia as an excuse for bargaining with the US over Syria. Meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Recep Erdogan makes clear to Donald Trump that if he does not take into account Turkey's interests in Syria, he will have to go to rapprochement with Russia without taking into account American interests. Turkey is interested in receiving from the United States an unofficial agreement to neutralize the armed forces of the Syrian Kurds who are partners of the Pentagon in the fight against ISIS and in opposing the regime of Bashar Assad. Vladimir Putin, with his concessions, created conditions for Recep Erdogan for political maneuvers in relations with the United States. However, this does not mean that Sochi managed to bribe the Turkish president.