Mending Turkey-Russia relations requires more work

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Russia and Turkey believe bilateral relations have turned a new page following Turkish Prime Minister Binaly Yildirim’s two-day visit to Russia.

During the trip, both sides agreed to further strengthen cooperation, develop economic and trade ties and implement major joint programs.

However, Russian experts believe that while Russia-Turkey relations are in normalization mode, ties have not been restored to the level they were at a year ago before Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Russia has not lifted restrictions on imports of agriculture and food products from Turkey, and the two nations still diverge on the Syrian crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, while receiving Yildirim upon his visit Tuesday, said the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit would boost bilateral relations and lay the groundwork for a meeting of the two heads of state scheduled for next year.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took note of such long-term joint projects as the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline and Turkey’s first nuclear power plant Akkuyu based on a Russian design while meeting with his Turkish counterpart Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a law on ratifying the agreement with Russia on the Turkish Stream. The Russian parliament is expected to ratify it in the near future, according to Medvedev.

The Russian head of government also said the Russian side has endeavored to put the first nuclear unit into use by 2030, when Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding.

Medvedev and Yildirim covered the cancellation of the embargo on Turkish farm produce, but Russia is unlikely to lift the ban by the end of 2016, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev said Tuesday.

Natalia Ulchenko, the sector chief of the Turkish Institute of Oriental Studies, said Russia is hesitant to drop the ban on Turkish agricultural products since it faces much pressure from the national agricultural ministry which supports domestic farm produce.
The Russian daily newspaper the Independent wrote that “Russia needs the ‘Turkish Stream,’ not Turkish tomatoes.”

On the economic and trade fronts, tensions between Ankara and Moscow appear minimal. The real headache is political, as the two diverge greatly on some key issues related to the Syrian crisis, said Elena Suponina, adviser to the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Suponina pointed out that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow supports, has been listed as a war criminal by Ankara.

Furthermore, the two countries hold different views on the terrorist threats Syria is facing. Russia believes that the extremist group ISIS and its allies are posing the greatest danger, while Turkey also points the finger at Kurdish militants who keep close contacts with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Both countries are working to overcome these differences to make sure they don’t cloud economic prospects, Suponina noted.

Medvedev noted that both governments stress the need for the Syrian crisis to be resolved through dialogue among different Syrian parties.

Yildirim said Turkey wants to put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and will sustain its fight against all terrorists.

Ulchenko held that if the fragile balance in Syria is destroyed, Russia-Turkey economic ties will suffer too.

Relations between the two countries soured last year after Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border, which Putin called a “stab in the back,” and ordered a range of sanctions against Ankara, devastating the Turkish economy.

The eight-month-long period of icy relations began to thaw in June after Erdogan apologized for the downing incident, and Moscow began gradually lifting its restrictions on Ankara.

Putin met with the Turkish president in Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg in August, after which the two have kept frequent phone conversations on bilateral ties and regional hot issues.

“I’m sure that with joint efforts we have turned a difficult page of Russian-Turkish relations and on a new foundation we can move forward. Today’s talks gave it a necessary boost,” Medvedev told reporters Tuesday after meeting with his visiting counterpart.

In an interview with Xinhua, Leonid Isaev, Middle East expert at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said soured relations impact both economies. Since its ties with the EU have been deteriorating, Turkey is desperate to prove that it can survive without maintaining robust relations with Europe and can find powerful partners like Russia. Besides, the dynamic Syrian situation requires both countries keep in close contact.

Anna Glazova, deputy director of the state-funded Russian Institute of Strategic Research, said Moscow is a strategic spot for Ankara, which can feature its geopolitical importance and steer Western policies toward Turkey by strengthening its ties with Russia as well as grabbing real benefits from sound bilateral relations.

Nikita Isaev, director of the Russian Institute of Contemporary Economics, believes that Ankara is in greater need of normalizing ties with Moscow. He says Turkey only accounts for four percent of Russia’s foreign trade. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/

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