August 7, 2022
Last Friday President Erdoğan flew to Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi where he was welcomed by President Putin as a “dear friend”. [i] Two weeks ago, in joint remarks to the press following the Astana format summit in Tehran on July 19, 2022, he had addressed both President Raisi and President Putin as “dear brother”.
In remarks to the press before the meeting, President Putin drew attention to growing bilateral trade which has doubled in the first few months of 2022. He highlighted the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and TurkStream, the latter unlike all other directions of Russia’s hydrocarbon supplies to Europe, is operating well, smoothly, and without failure, adding “oil, gas, coal, and other goods for Türkiye’s consumption are supplied in large quantities, without failure.” He thanked his guest for his involvement in the grain deal.
President Erdoğan highlighted the importance of the Sochi meeting and said, “Today the world fixed all eyes on Sochi: What will they do in Sochi, what will they address in Sochi, what will they discuss? And, perhaps the best answers to these questions will be given after our meeting.”
In an indirect reference to PKK/YPG in Syria, he added, “In Türkiye’s point of view, I want to note that Russia plays a special role on the world stage. I believe that we need to focus even more on fighting terrorism, and I hope that this will mitigate the situation in the region. Our solidarity in this regard is of great importance…”
The Joint Press Statement issued after the talks says, “Ongoing regional and global challenges notwithstanding, the two Leaders reaffirmed their common will to further Türkiye-Russia relations based on mutual respect, recognition of reciprocal interests, and in accordance with their international undertakings.” [ii]
Within the framework of this understanding, the two presidents agreed to increase the bilateral trade volume on a balanced basis, meet one another’s expectations on the economy and energy, to take concrete steps to boost collaboration in the transport, agriculture, industry, finance, tourism, and construction sectors.
On Syria, the Joint Press Statement said, “In the meeting, where recent developments in Syria were also discussed, the Leaders underlined the importance they attribute to the furtherance of the political process. Stressing the significance they attach to the preservation of Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity, the Leaders reaffirmed their determination to act in coordination and solidarity in the fight against all terrorist organizations.”
On the way back home President Erdoğan spoke to the accompanying members of the pro-government press. He told them that Turkish-Russian relations have always overcome challenges through dialogue and cooperation and that the common understanding he has forged with President Putin is the safeguard of bilateral relations.
On PKK/YPG, Mr. Erdoğan said that President Putin has a fair position on the problem and will always stand by Türkiye in combatting terrorism, but he is also suggesting that it would be better if Ankara were to resolve the problem with Damascus. He added that Turkish and Syrian intelligence services are already working together but what is important is to achieve results. “This is why Russia must support Türkiye and we agree on that,” he said.
It is understood from President Erdoğan’s remarks that Türkiye has agreed to pay for Russian gas in rubles. Moreover, there would be some new arrangements for credit card payments of Russian tourists, a major source of Türkiye’s tourism revenues.
Mr. Erdoğan also told the accompanying press that President Putin asked him to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to be held in Uzbekistan in mid-September and barring unforeseen developments he would attend the meeting.
In response to a question, President Erdoğan said that France and Germany are being used by Greek propaganda. He underlined Türkiye’s importance to European security and stability as shown by the role Ankara played in achieving the grain deal. And in response to another question regarding the resignation of Greece’s intelligence chief, he simply said this is an internal issue.
To sum up:
- Ankara sees the grain deal as a landmark development that would facilitate its independent foreign policy, enabling it to continue with its balancing act between the East and the West.
- In all likelihood, President Erdoğan will attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan where he would certainly find a more receptive audience than in Brussels.
- It remains to be seen how this balancing act would serve Ankara’s interests in the long run since the divide between authoritarianism and democracy is deepening.
- President Putin remains determined to continue its cooperation with Ankara which he sees as a long-term investment in challenging Western unity.
- The commitment to take concrete steps to boost collaboration in the transport, agriculture, industry, finance, tourism, and construction sectors is a reflection of this policy at a time of huge economic challenges for Türkiye.
- As shown by the reference to the determination of Russia and Türkiye “to act in coordination and solidarity in the fight against all terrorist organizations,” President Putin has once again discouraged his guest from military operations in Syria. So, if Ankara were to undertake an operation “suddenly one night”, this would be limited in scope and essentially target the domestic audience.
- It is high time for Ankara to resume diplomatic relations with Damascus.