Analysis: Turkey - Russia

Turkey's Erdogan warms to Russia after West coup response

Turkish President Erdogan speaks during Democracy and Martyrs Rally in Istanbul, Turkey, August 7, 2016.
Turkish President Erdogan speaks during Democracy and Martyrs Rally in Istanbul, Turkey, August 7, 2016. Reuters/Osman Orsal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up efforts to restore ties with Russia with a visit to Moscow on Tuesday, his first since surviving a failed coup last month. This rapprochement is seen by analysts as a way for Ankara to punish the West for its lack of sympathy in dealing with the threat posed to the Turkish state.


Just hours before the Turkish president's planned visit to Moscow, a senior German diplomat urged Ankara to respect international law as it deals with those responsible for last month's failed coup.

"It is essential that these criminal investigations are in accordance with international norms," Germany's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Markus Ederer told reporters on Tuesday.

This refrain has become familiar since the 15 July attempted putsch, much to the dismay of many Turks, who feel the West is more concerned about the rights of coup plotters than the survival of democracy in their country.

"Europe doesn't care about Turkey," Binnaz Toprak, a teacher and former MP of the Republican People's Party (CHP) told RFI.

This sentiment, she says, has been building for a while.

"You just have to look at how Turkey's adhesion to the EU has been drawn out. They kept coming up with hurdles--referendums that never came--no other country has been treated in this way. So, whereas support for the EU was 75 percent in the early 2000s, now it has really gone down to just 30 percent," she says.

That number is likely to descend even further following what is seen as the European Union's lukewarm condemnations of the failed coup.

"I think their reaction to the coup must be seen against this backdrop of already dwindling support for Europe," Toprak added.

In contrast, Russia has tactfully avoided outright criticism of Turkey's post-coup purges, which have seen over 60,000 people from the military and civil service dismissed. Instead, it has "supported democracy", in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Economic ties to be revived

Even before the coup Turkey penned a letter of sympathy to Moscow for shooting down one of its fighter jets last November and Moscow's gave thawing relations a further boost.

Within days, officials from both countries had begun talks to roll back sanctions Russia imposed on Turkey following the incident.

"I think there are two objectives to this visit," reckons Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. "Firstly, to patch up with Russia after the downed fighter jet, which hurt Turkey economically. Ankara needs the construction contracts in Russia, the exports, the Russian tourists, [...] they need to resume work on the TurkStream, the pipeline [...] so only for economic reasons, it's important for Turkey to resume normal relations with Russia, but of course there will be a price : the price for Turkey is to accept that the Russian policy in Syria is the predominant one."

Differences over Syria

That policy could mean softening Turkey's stance towards its sworn enemy, Syrian President Bachar al-Assad, whom Russia supports.

The other thorny issue is the role of Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turks consider them to be allies of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, the PKK, while the West and Russia consider the Syrian Kurds to be the best fighters against the Islamic State armed group.

"Turkey and Russia are supporting different sides in Syria, therefore it's not possible for Turkey to leave the Western alliance and forge a new alliance with Russia," says Behlul Ozkan, a professor at Marmara University in Istanbul.

"Turkey is basically trying to counter the Western, US and European hegemony, and basically trying to tell the West, 'Look I have other friends in the region such as Russia'."

But Turkey's economy remains heavily dependent on the West, with trade with its European and Western partners well over 40 percent.

"The Russian economy is not in a good situation right now because of the drop in oil prices and so there's no way for Russia to support the Turkish economy if Turkey decides to depart from the West," says Ozkan.

Turkey is merely flexing its diplomatic muscles and its bark is worse than its bite, he argues.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app