Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s much anticipated meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems to have gone extremely well.
Tables at the post-summit dinner meeting were festooned with commemorative plates that showed a beaming Putin and Erdogan shaking hands:
Russians have placed plates which are illustrating Erdogan and Putin to the tables during the Turkey-Russia summit pic.twitter.com/QqX7DGWuwQ
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 9, 2016
On a more substantive note, the BBC reports Putin announcing that trade sanctions against Turkey, imposed after the downing of a Russian warplane along the Syrian border in November, would be phased out “step-by-step.”
“The priority is to get back to the pre-crisis level of co-operation,” said Putin. One of the most important and immediate Russian gestures will be a resumption of tourism, a major source of Turkish income.
Also, two major joint energy projects will apparently go back into development — the TurkStream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear plant. Still to come, according to the BBC report, is Russia lifting its ban on Turkish fruits and vegetables, which is much desired by Turkey.
As predicted by many observers, Erdogan expressed gratitude for Putin’s early support after the thwarted coup last month — saying the phone call from Putin “meant a lot psychologically” — and for promising “the Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored.”
Putin responded by declaring, “We are against all coup attempts.”
“I would like to remind you of our principal attitude. We are against all attempts that are against the constitution. I hope under your management the Turkish people will overcome this problem,” Putin said, as reported by Turkey’s Andalou news agency.
Putin declared that restoring bilateral ties would “benefit both Turkey and Russia,” while Erdogan said those ties “have entered into a very different and positive phase.”
Daily Sabah reports Putin acknowledging that Erdogan’s visit comes during “a very difficult situation regarding domestic politics” but took it as a sign that “we all want to restart dialogue and restore relations between Russia and Turkey. He cited energy resources as “the most crucial point in our economic ties.”
The Washington Post notes that Putin and Erdogan carefully “avoided topics in the first round of talks that could undercut the high-level outreach,” particularly the thorny issue of the Syrian rebellion, which finds Russia supporting a regime Turkey despises.
The lingering question from analysts is whether Turkey is seriously considering a “pivot” away from NATO and the European Union, into a new alignment with Moscow.
While some still believe that degree of realignment unlikely, the Washington Post quotes Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy saying, “Turkish foreign policy now stands at a crossroads,” and “for the first time in recent memory, there is serious discussion of Turkey’s NATO membership.”
Cagaptay pointed out that Turkey’s military has long been the most interested in strong NATO ties, and the military has been seriously damaged by Erdogan’s post-coup purges.
Also adding to speculation that Erdogan might desire a historic pivot to Russia is the personal compatibility of the Turkish and Russian presidents, which was highlighted by their summit meeting. Both are authoritarians with limited patience for Western hectoring about human rights, and both are canny enough to appreciate that Turkey can exercise more leverage over the West by appearing receptive to Russian overtures, potentially depriving the U.S. and Europe of a vital gateway to the Middle East and unleashing an even greater refugee tide into Europe.