On August 9, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for the first time in St. Petersburg for the time, since the downing of the Russian jet in November 2015. However, despite the two leaders' intention to proceed rapidly towards economic and political normalization, the difference of views on major topics such as the settlement of the Syrian crisis remain numerous. Andrey Kortunov, executive director of the pro-Kremlin think tank, Russian Council for International Affairs (RIAC), said that the meeting between the two leaders was largely an improvisation. "I think that it's not that easy to overcome the disputes between Turkey and Russia on Syria. Even if the positions got closer - the odds are that the rapprochement on that track was limited", said Kortunov.
Below is a review of the Russian media reactions to the Erdogan-Putin meeting:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan writing the word "sorry" repeatedly on the chalkboard, before being admitted to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Source: Sputniknews.com, August 9, 2016)
Kommersant Columnist: This Is In Many Senses A Rapprochement 'Under Duress'
In an article titled "Why It's difficult for Russia and Turkey to Become Strategic partners" Kommersant columnist Maxim Usim analyzed the current state of Russo-Turkish rivalries and disagreements. Usim wrote that the first and the most important disagreement concerns diametrically opposed positions on the Syrian issue - Russia favors keeping Assad in power, Turkey wants him out. Turkey has not ceased its support for the Syrian opposition, which is trying to storm Aleppo and which is under Russian fire these very minutes.
The second problem is posed by the Kurds: for Erdogan, Syrian Kurds are adversaries, separatists and PKK allies. For Moscow, Syrian Kurds are potential allies. The third problem is the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: Turkey supports Azerbaijan while Russia supports Armenia, its ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The fourth problem is Turkish influence in the former Soviet republics whose population is of Turkish origin (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Turkmenistan) - Ankara and Moscow are geopolitical competitors in those areas. The fifth problem is that various anti-Russian groups - Northern Caucasian, Crimean Tatars and others are operating in Turkey. If Erdogan wants to restrain them per Moscow's request, he will encounter serious opposition at home. The sixth problem is the prevailing lack of confidence between Ankara and Moscow: Moscow did not forget the announcement that Turkish officials made following the downing of the Russian jet. And finally - this is in many senses a rapprochement "under duress": the West is very reserved towards Moscow and Ankara and thus both Moscow and Ankara are attempting to break the isolation, while there is no assurance that in case Turkish relations with Europe and the US are normalized, Turkey will continue pursuing the Moscow track. However, considering that the two countries were on the verge of a military conflict half a year ago, the talks represent huge progress and provide hope that the sides will try to resolve some of the above enumerated problems.
The same opinion is shared by Sergey Zheleznyak, vice-speaker of the Duma. Commenting on the Putin-Erdogan meeting, the vice-speaker listed the following matters as "complicated problems" that need to be solved in Russia-Turkey mutual relations: the Kurdish question, blocking the smuggling of weapons and oil products through the Turkish-Syrian border, and the fate of terrorists who still reside in Turkish territory. He then added: "Without solving those fundamental questions of international security and without long term partnership with our country Turkey will face serious difficulties in having peaceful and stable development in the modern world."
Russian Middle East Expert: 'Russian Air Force In Aleppo Does Not Have Much Time Before Ankara Resumes...Aid To Islamist Terror Groups'
According to several Russian commentators, these differences of policies and views between Russia and Turkey make Erdogan an unreliable partner in settling the Syrian crisis. Prominent Russian Middle East expert, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Middle East Studies, Evgenii Satanovski wrote in his analytical article on future Russia-Turkey relations: "Contemporary Turkey will be a country of Erdogan's personal rule [Satanovski uses the term that was used to describe the Stalin era in the USSR] throughout his presidency. Turkey will only formally preserve the democratic institutions and a parliament, will remain part of NATO, but won't react to criticism by Western allies onthe inadmissible destruction of human rights. It's hard to tell when Erdogan considers that the total control over security forces is achieved and hits Syria - but it won't take too long. Thus, Russian air force in Aleppo does not have much time before Ankara resumes military and technical aid to Islamist terror groups in that territory."
Igor Korotchenko, director of the Russian Center for the Analysis of the Global Arms Trade and a candidate for parliament from the nationalist Rodina (Homeland) Party said in an interview to RIA that in order to reach a full normalization with Moscow, Turkey has to block the Turkish -Syrian border and deny weapons smuggling, start fighting ISIS on the ground and interdict financial aid to ISIS. Korotchenko also said that Turkey must officially recognize Assad as the sole legitimate authority in Syria. "If all of that is accomplished, we will be convinced that Turkey has seriously corrected its foreign policy. As for now, Erdogan's announcements made in Russia are just words. He has to confirm the words with real deeds," said Korotchenko.
Vzglyad Columnist: 'Erdogan, Like Him Or Not, Is One Of The Independent Leaders'
Despite the differences of views between the two leaders, Petr Akopov, columnist for Russian online newspaper Vzglyad, wrote that Erdogan and Putin fit each other. Akopov assessed that "Erdogan is neither a friend nor a foe of Russia - he's independent ruler, who is not afraid of taking decisions and is supported by his people. And this is exactly what makes him an important and interesting partner for Putin". The author continues: "Most heads of foreign states, whom Putin encounters are not his equal - neither intellectually nor in strength of will, but in terms of their roles and functions. Those heads of states are merely managers hired by the elites - some have more powers, others - less. No western leader is capable of making a decision - by himself - on the issues that really matter. Moreover, not one of them thinks in decades-long terms, considers the lessons of the past and has a clear picture of his own country's future... Erdogan, like him or not, is one of the independent leaders. Taking into consideration Turkey's weight in the world and especially in the Middle East, this makes him a very important figure, that [Putin] can talk to seriously". The author adds: "Erdogan will not exit NATO and will not enter the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but the mere vector of his rule will diminish the influence of the Atlanticists on Turkey and will bring [Turkey] closer to Russia, China and Iran...Erdogan has no alternative but to strengthen Russia-Turkey relations. Not because he likes Russia or Putin too much but because Turkey requires independence and stability, taking into account that Turkey wants to be a state where the native figures, professing the same faith as the majority of the people, rule rather than Westernized elites alien to the people. This is exactly Erdogan's path - and this is Putin's main bet on working with him, because Putin himself follows the same path of geopolitical and civilizational independence."
Georgi Bovt, a columnist for the Russian news site Gazeta.ru, wrote in an article titled "A Long Term Game" that Turkey maybe a useful political partner for Russia, since Moscow needs to diversify its allies in the East. He then added that Moscow may exploit Turkey's worsening relations with EU and US for its own benefit. Bovt wrote: "We need to recognize that the major long term strategic threats to Russia do not derive from Europe, even if four NATO regiments are deployed there in former Warsaw Pact countries. The threats do not emanate from 'accursed' America with its State Department and CIA, even if there is a harsh military-political rhetoric, heated up by our former brothers from the Warsaw pact." The major long term strategic threats stem from the burning and disintegrating Middle East, which is feeding terroristic Islamism and the threats are stemming from China, despite our own pontifications about "turning to the East". Russia may utilize new opportunities regarding Ankara, taking into consideration that Russia needs to diversify its attitudes and relations in the East and avoid excessive dependence on China."
Conspiracy Theories - Col-Gen (ret) Ivashov: 'The [US] Desire[s] To Push Russia Into A Military Conflict With Europe, [And] Turkey'
Among the reactions to the Putin-Erdogan meeting, the popular pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published an extensive interview by its military correspondent colonel (ret) Viktor Baranez with colonel-general (ret) Leonid Ivashov, former commander of the Main Directorate of International Cooperation of the Russian MOD, and a professor at the Moscow State Diplomatic University.
Ivashov explained that the West had a clear strategy towards the Middle East, which eventually backfired and delivered Erdogan into Moscow's hands: "At first US finance and petro capital unleashed the geopolitical tragedy in the Middle East in order to subjugate Europe and Asia to dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which is controlled by American companies and satellites like Saudi Arabia or Qatar. The prepared role of the Middle East itself was to be a 'region of chaos', and source of terror that spread destabilization to Europe, Asia, Russia. For that reason they've needed to destroy regimes firmly connected to Russia, China and Europe. I refer to Iraq, Lybia, Syria and Mubarak's Egypt, which tried to free itself from American 'custodianship'. I also refer to Iran which was gaining geo-political might and confronting US and Israel politics in the region." Ivashov then added that Erdogan followed American policy in the region until he understood that the US treats him as "worn-out" material while the US was - just in case - quietly supporting his rival Fethullah Gullen, a leader of military and religious opposition. Ivashov mentioned that the very minute Erdogan began thinking about re-approaching Russia, apologizing for the downed jet, a terror attack occurred in Istanbul airport, which could not have been executed by the Kurds or ISIS for political reasons. Ivashov concluded that that was the first shot heralding the attempted coup, which followed Erdogan's firm decision to re-engage Russia. "Erdogan understands who was behind the coup, and that Russia was the only real place he could take refuge in... The whole idea behind the turmoil in the Middle East, including Turkey, is the [American] desire to push Russia into a military conflict with Europe, Turkey and whoever in order to stop Russia's resurrection, regain control over Eurasia, eliminate economic competitors and to stop China's advance," concluded Ivashov.