December 4th, 2012
10:59 AM ET

Putin’s visit rekindles the Russia-Turkey affair

By Dimitar Bechev, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dimitar Bechev is a senior policy fellow and head of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

Are Turkey and Russia still friends? This is the question analysts are mulling as Russian President Vladimir Putin completes his visit to Ankara. Critics of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan are often heard fretting about “Putinization” in Turkey, but is the Russian leader a welcome guest in a country that is now the principal supporter of the Syrian opposition?

The answer, I would argue, is a cautious yes.

Putin and Erdoğan agreed to disagree on Syria, and at the joint press conference Putin phrased it diplomatically: we share the same goal but differ on how to get there. Yet the truth is that Ankara and Moscow are going through an extremely rough patch in their relationship – over Syria. On October 10, Turkey intercepted and force landed a Syrian jet flying from Moscow with 35 passengers, including Russian nationals. Erdoğan asserted that Russian munitions had been discovered onboard the plane. Soon afterwards, Putin postponed his trip to Ankara, prompting speculation of a freeze in bilateral ties.

But there’s more. The same day Turks intercepted the plane, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, who is certainly no friend of Ankara’s, met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow to announce arms deals worth $4.2 billion. If effected, this would be amongst the biggest shipment of Russian weapons over the past 30 years, with the exception of closely allied Venezuela and Algeria. It is looking increasingly questionable whether the deal, which was signed off on Iraq’s behalf by Maliki alone, will hold. The deal included radars and anti-aircraft missiles that if deployed in Northern Iraq would be a barrier to Turkey’s regular strikes against bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Russia, for its part, voiced its irritation over NATO’s plans to station Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border with Syria, in response to Ankara’s demands that allies should share at least some of its burden.

But yesterday, the two strongmen promised to keep a lid on tensions and announced the signing of 11 new sectoral agreements. That’s nothing new: over the years, Russia and Turkey have done precisely that in Cyprus, Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh. And one does not need to dig deep to understand such pragmatism. Since the early 1990s, Turkey and Russia have greatly expanded bilateral links in fields including trade, energy and tourism, despite historic antagonism and new fears that the Cold War’s end could spark geopolitical rivalries in the Caucasus or Central Asia.

Economic interdependence, meanwhile, has increased over time. In 2008, Russia overtook Germany as Turkey’s top trading partner, though $24 billion of a total $32 billion comes from Russian energy exports.  (Putin and Erdoğan grandiloquently promised to raise the figure to $100 billion in the coming years).

Set to become Europe’s third biggest electricity consumer in a decade, fast-growing Turkey remains an attractive business proposition. Next year, Rosatom will start building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant using Russian technology and fuel at Akkuyu, off the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Now Russia is bidding for the projected second station at the Black Sea port of Sinop, once the site of numerous battles between the Ottoman and the Russian imperial navies. Last December, Turkey granted Russia permission to build South Stream, a gas pipeline bypassing the established route through Ukraine, through its economic zone in the Black Sea. The same year, Turkey was visited by some 3.5 million Russian tourists benefiting from a visa-free regime. There are even the thousands of mixed marriages: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu once spoke of 18,000 women married in the resort town of Antalya alone.

But it is not just about economics – Turkey has been particularly careful not to antagonize Russia over security policy. For more than a decade, Ankara has been against bringing Black Sea Harmony, a naval initiative by the littoral states to jointly police the maritime space, under a NATO umbrella. That made it easier for Russia to join the operation in 2006. Also, Putin has surely not forgotten that during the 2008 Georgian war Turkey delayed letting in U.S. hospital ships trough the Straits. Indeed, the Western Balkans, Moscow and Ankara, in their different ways, have sought to fill in the gaps left behind by EU policy and find local allies based on religious and cultural affinities. Local diplomats quip that in places like Bosnia, Russia and Turkey come as a package deal. When one is around, you can be pretty sure the other will soon appear.

All this means that while Turkey and Russia may not be the best of friends, Putin’s visit is still a reminder that a shared pragmatism will keep the relationship strong, with each seeing the other as a valuable asset in its quest for autonomous foreign policy.

Post by:
Topics: Russia • Turkey

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    The main problem here is that Turkey needs to quit taking orders from Washington D.C. and get together with the Russians in order to work out a solution for Syria. But then again, if Turkey did that the U.S. would only cut off foreign aid to that country and thus causing it's economy to collapse! This goes to show just how much the right-wing thugs in Washington are in control of things over there!

    December 4, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Zigfroid Antonootchi

      It's the long arm of the United states mafia's war commerce is why the U.S is always trying to exacerbate the global populate into chaos & despair attempting to cause wars for Bush and Cheney's Illuminati war demogorgons to thrive in the wealth of their global private defense manufacturing and contracting monopolies. Oh Lord, please destroy everything the bush and cheney's have desecrated this world with and please implement former president Harry S Truman's engentum engentum stopping the rest of the world from invading the united states a-men.

      December 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
    • Marek Ivanovich

      Not sure what aid you are talking about. Turkey does not receive aid from the United States. Perhaps you are mistaking Turks with the famous leech Israelis or some other middle eastern country?

      December 8, 2012 at 12:29 am | Reply
      • Brian

        sorry to disappoint you, Ivan, but Turkey receives a great deal of economic and military aid from the U.S.

        December 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
      • Brian32

        All aid Turkey get's from US is a loan, they are aggressively paying it back. On top of Israel being the worlds leading aid receiver they also get loans from American banks and the American tax payers pay the interest on those loans. As for weapons Israel gets from the US it is all paid for with money US tax payers gave to Israel in the first place. Most of these weapons are already made and ready for shipment, so there aren't many jobs created. Israel also has a tendency to sell US weapons and secrets of the US to enemies like China....just look it up, they sold so many things including US nukes. Israel should get no aid from US, they are the biggest burden bar none.

        December 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Bulent

      Good point Merek Turkey in deed does not receive US foreign aid unlike Israel, the ultimate US welfare state and for the most part a "yes man state"!

      December 9, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  2. Cheetahe

    At this time Turkey is not a recipient of US foreign aid. Turkey is economically much better than most countries in the region.
    You seem like are one of those people who sees right-wingers under every bed and who also thinks that Monica was a right wing agent who lured Clinton in an embarrassing extra-marital affair.

    December 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Incorrect. Sorry but who started this nonsense? Go look at the Congressional budget figures for Turkey – they are substantial.

      December 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Russia has strong interests in Syria to defend: Russian citizens, billions in arms deals and the military base Tartus. Yet both Russia and Turkey have realised, that their mutual interests are stronger than their relationship to Syria. Turkey is a major consumer of Russian gas, and Russia is the biggest market for Turkish construction companies. Bilateral trade grows very rapidly. The two countries will carry on with their realpolitik.

    December 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • Beren Kraus

      The rest of Europe is going downhill, so is US but it's far more capable and delaying the outcome much longer than Greece managed to do for instance, Greeks didn't know what was coming until the last minute either. Turkey and Russia have a future and its in their benefit to have a close partnership. The only thing standing against a stronger relationship is Turkey's deep alliance with the US and Europe since its foundation, including its NATO membership, which is why Russia is hesitant. It's a tough choice for the Turks also, their trade with Russia and other neighbours to their east such as Iran are frowned on by their allies while their location requires it. In any case, this is a smart alliance which both sides will benefit from in various ways and it will do good for the rest of the western world as well.

      December 8, 2012 at 12:47 am | Reply
  4. Ekram

    No one is friend these days.......mighty dollar, Euro, pound etc are the only friends!!! Aliances change all the times because of one's interest, financial and/or military! To say Russia is friend of Turkey or Syria is just fantacy and all talk by so called pundits but far from the truth......If Russia was friend of both these countries then things would have been different. It benefits Russia to see chaos than peace. Russia hasn't help Syria much other than vetoing UN Security council resolutions........that's all!

    December 5, 2012 at 4:20 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      Nobody talks about Russia and Turkey being friends: so what is your point? Do you believe Turkey has got any friends? Seriously?

      December 6, 2012 at 10:20 am | Reply
      • Bulent

        Andrey nothwitstanding preconceived notions or misconceptions Turkey ofcourse has many friends (i.e. trading partners) without whom it could not have attained the 17th largest economy in the World with a GDP well exceeding $ 1 Trillion!

        December 9, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Audrey Merrell

      A chaos in Turkey would not benefit Russia in any way, it would actually harm Russia in various ways. A chaos in Syria would not affect them almost at all. Turkey and Syria are like day and night, they can not be grouped together, and their effects to Russia can not be argued together either.

      You are right about the friendship part. Turkish and Russian Empires have never been too close throughout history, they respected eachother far more than their other neighbours and had less wars. The Turkish-Russian relationship is really unique, they always had a lot of differences yet didn't fight much, spared eachother as both sides had enough enemies and wars.

      December 8, 2012 at 1:01 am | Reply
  5. deniz boro

    Fall has a rich texture in colors with the brilliant reds, yellows, still greens and all the variations in between. It is also a time to refresh the menu to root dishes for the coming season. Warm and hearty dishes of rich stew and even warmer Soups may be more suitable for the taste of some while detoxing fresh new ingredients may stand for Gold for many. Do eat celery, lots of carrots and beet (which is a main ingredient of borscht) to add up the essential vitamins and minerals into your diet.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:59 am | Reply
  6. deniz boro

    There is a very warm seasonal preperation in getting ready for the new season. She always makes pickles as she makes jams in every spring. Making tomato sauce is another preperation for fall. It is an art to do these traditional preserves. The picking, squeezing and boiling of the tomatos is an art to learn. That is a sweat seasonal preperation.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:10 am | Reply
  7. USN Ret.

    Quigley
    If Turkey and Russia are such good friends that why not cut off foreign aid and let Russia take up the slack? If your right we are just throwing good money after bad.

    December 5, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      You believe in buying friends: so that is why you waste so much money. It has never worked before and it does not work now. But you insist on keeping it up: that is your own problem, please stop blaming everybody else!

      December 6, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
      • Ivan M.

        He is a military background clueless so-called "hero" that was in it for the money. He is just absurdly proud for the nothing he actually did for his country although he assumes that people owe their freedom to him. He thinks that he is in a position to comment although he is a clueless brainwashed individual. There is a collective mental illness in the US, people live far from reality, just ignore.

        December 8, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  8. Marek Ivanovich

    Turkey does not receive foreign aid from the United States. You are throwing your money alright.. billions of dollars of US taxpayers' money pours into Israel every year, in addition to the military aid and disguised aid under the name of "investment". US politicians are puppets of Israel and under constant threat of Israeli lobbies. You are majorly confused, unaware of Turkish reality, and moving with prejudice+assumptions.

    December 8, 2012 at 12:32 am | Reply
    • Brian

      U.S. "aid" to Israel is in the realm of arms sales – we give them discounts, and receive huge amounts of cash for it. Material aid to Israel from the U.S. ended quite some time ago as far as federal funds go. Turkey, however, receives a great deal of military and economic aid from the U.S. Ivan, your posts sound like the ravings of some Russian nationalist looney tune.

      December 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Reply
      • Bulent

        Once again Turkey DOES NOT receive anu military of financial aid from the US PERIOD! Instead of posting baseless falsities one should use his favorite search engine to zoom in on the truth that while Turkey has one of the fastest developing economies in the World independent of the US the tiny Zionist state of Israel is wholly dependent on US taxpayer's handouts for its continued survival.

        December 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  9. pnm9pnm

    thats y i would of want rite in to treky throw irak an sadame would of joned me the usa,.pnm,.

    December 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  10. deniz boro

    The Periods may stand for more than anyone can imagine.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  11. deniz boro

    Anyway . I received my aim in getting some Turkish people in participating in CNN-INT or any INT forums. Turkey is now represented in these forums more than compaired to 2 years ago. I guess it is a job done for international communications. Cheers.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
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    February 13, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply

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