Renaissance of Russian – Turkish relations:

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Friends as never before – Possible military bloc

BY JAVID MAMMADZADE

AZERI OBSERVER CONTRIBUTOR

Turkey and Russia restored relations after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin expressing apologies and deep condolences to the killed pilot’s family. The leaders of Turkey and Russia met in a face-to-face meeting in August 9. This was a first meeting since a dramatic collapse of relations back in late 2015, and the two seemed to have a lot to talk about.

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane over the Syrian border on November 24, bringing the regional rivals to the brink of war and sparking a political crisis.

During the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations, Erdogan has survived a military coup attempt, while Putin successfully restored Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control over much of Syria. So, both presidents had a lot to discuss.

Definitely, one of the key topics was the chaos of Syria, as both sides have own interests here. More likely, Russia wants to ensure that Turkey won’t participate in NATO’s Black Sea activities, while Turkey wants boundaries in northern Syria.

The second topic of discussion was dedicated to fulfillment of vacuum in bilateral relations. Both political and economic cooperation were discussed and coordinated. Turkey and Russia may revitalize the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Some clarity on construction and financing the pipeline was very welcome for both sides during the meeting. Tourism sector was another hot topic taken into account. During the attempted coup d’etat, Russia issued a warning to evacuate its tourists, and now Erdogan asked for lifting the formal warning on traveling to Turkey. Russian tourists have always been very significant for Turkey and their return to Turkish resorts will be highly valued. This envisages visa abolition. Moreover, in order to improve trade ties, Erdogan and Putin agreed on speeding up the restoration of Turkish food imports.

This photo taken on September 5, 2013 shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) welcoming Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg. Ankara’s downing of a Russian war plane over the Syrian border last November 2015 prompted rapid retaliation from Moscow and a bitter war of words between presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan from which there appeared no going back. But just half a year on Russia has accepted Ankara’s expressions of regret over the incident and Erdogan met Putin in Saint Petersburg on August 8, 2016 for their first summit since the crisis erupted, in the hope of reviving the relationship. / AFP / ERIC FEFERBERG – LEHTIKUVA

Thirdly, the discussion more likely proceeded on strategic issues and formation of a military block with Russia. Also, there is a base to suggest that Turkey will abandon NATO. At the first sight, this idea may seem improbable, however there are some points signaling this.

The EU and NATO members warned Turkey over the possible problems in the relations with the country. European Union officials warned that talks on Turkey’s bid to join the bloc would end if the country restores the death penalty. NATO also joined the warning. According to EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, Turkey is in no position to become a European Union member any time soon and all negotiations for it to join will stop immediately if it reintroduces the death penalty. Also, Ankara has tough ties at the moment with the Unites States due to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen’s extradition issue. As a response to the EU, Turkish Minister for Justice, Bekir Bozdag, stated that the issue of whether or not Turkey should bring back capital punishment after a failed coup should be considered from a legal standpoint and not in terms of the EU’s aspirations. So, EU and NATO condemned the possible restoration of death penalty, while the Kremlin viewed it at the internal issue of Turkey. Moreover, Russia was among the first to condemn the military regime change and Putin phoned Erdogan to back “order” in Turkey.

In general, becoming an ally to Russia is more likely to happen. In case of extradition, the US will lose its main leverage in Turkey. The death penalty will be brought back after Gulen’s extradition and he will immediately be executed. Thus, it is pointless to wait for Gulen’s “arrival”. Αs Gulen will not be extradited to Turkey, the process of becoming closest allies with Russia will flow faster.

On the other hand, due to restoration of the death penalty, Turkey’s candidacy for the EU membership can be rejected. Basically, the death penalty in Turkey was not implemented since 1984, partly abolished in 2002 and fully eliminated in 2004 and still since that its EU membership was not approved (Note: Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership following the Helsinki European Council of December 1999). In other words, Turkey will never become an EU member state and Erdogan understands that. This even plays into his hands. Erdogan is an antagonist of Ataturk’s republican model and supports the former Ottoman style of rule. In other words, he is establishing Sultanate of XXI century and the regimes both in Turkey and Russia become more similar and closer, so do the relations.

In case the military bloc between Turkey and Russia is formed, the former will provide the Russian air navy with access to its military airbase Incirlik. The newly formed alliance will make an effort to destroy rebels and ISIS in Syria and Bashar Al Assad will stay in power, especially when the change of the policy towards Assad has already been announced by the Turkish government. Therefore, in the near future we must expect the meeting between Erdogan and Assad initiated by Putin. This will be a sign of reconciliation. But the liberated from ISIS Syrian lands (Southern boundaries of the Former Ottoman Empire) will be controlled by Turkey. Instead, Turkey will agree to weaken its positions in the South Caucasus, especially in Azerbaijan (the Southern border of the former USSR) and the region will fully fall under the traditional influence of the Kremlin.

Furthermore, the possibility of Turkey joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) cannot be ignored and even remains high. The EAEU would like to see Turkey as its member and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, has already stressed the importance of Turkey to join the EAEU at the meeting with former Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu. Turkey’s membership means substantial expansion of the trade opportunities to the shores of Mediterranean Sea. Also, Turkey will gain an access to a market of the Central Asian countries, what it actually is willingly doing. For example, the Turkish investors have already taken a first step to access the EAEU market through Kyrgyzstan, with an intention to build a textile factory in Kyrgyzstan and export products to the EAEU states’ market using Duty Free Manner.

Besides the economic opportunities, there is a sociological point. Turkish membership might positively effect on other states’ will to join the EAEU. For example, it can be suggested, that due to the common Turkic origin, the membership of Turkey may alter the position of states such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

As mentioned above, the possibility for Turkey to join the EU not being promising and the continuing tensions with the US owing to Gulen’s issue, will most likely lead Turkey to join the EAEU. This will definitely impact Turkey’s relations with Western countries. Firstly, NATO will exclude Turkey from the alliance and secondly, the activities of the Kurdish groups in Turkey that are supported by the liberal West would be sharpened. Thus, in order to avoid this, President Erdogan needs to prevent unification of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds and PKK. Nevertheless, Erdogan has already taken the first step and gained support from the Iraqi Kurdish regional President, Massoud Barzani.

To sum up, if all the above-mentioned come true, the dramatic changes will be observed in the whole region and the world. The world will become bipolar again as in XX century, when the USSR and Warsaw Pact states confronted the US and the liberal states of Europe. That was a clash of ideologies. However now, we will witness political confrontation between the autocratic regimes (Turkey, Russia, Iran) and the Liberal West.