segunda-feira, 8 de agosto de 2016
Erdoğan and Putin reignite the bromance
Erdoğan and Putin reignite the bromance
In St.Petersburg, the Turkish and Russian leaders will find common ground in their defiance of the West.
8/9/16, 5:30 AM CET
ISTANBUL — The long-standing friendship between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is due to resume after a 10-month interruption as the two strongmen meet for a summit in St. Petersburg Tuesday.
Relations between the presidents of Russia and Turkey have been frayed since last November when Turkish F-16s downed a Russian bomber that strayed over the Syrian-Turkish border. But now, after a period of mutual hostility that included a ban on Russian tourists visiting Turkey, both combative leaders realize that more unites them than divides them — and that it’s time to rekindle an alliance based on defiance of the West.
The chief driver of this Russo-Turkish re-set is last month’s failed military coup against Erdoğan. In the aftermath of the attempted putsch by discontented elements in the army, Erdoğan has gone on the rhetorical warpath against alleged backers of the coup in the West.
“The script of outrageous assault on our democracy was written abroad” — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
“The script of outrageous assault on our democracy was written abroad,” Erdoğan told Turkish television last month. He also blasted the U.S. for refusing to extradite rogue Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen, who has been in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Erdoğan accuses Gülen — a former ally-turned sworn-enemy — of being behind the July 15 coup. “Those who aid the enemies of Turkey cannot be called our friends,” Erdoğan said in remarks clearly aimed at Washington.
Erdoğan has also turned on European leaders who criticized his post-coup crackdown that has seen 60,000 government employees and university professors suspended from their jobs and over 15,000 suspected coup plotters jailed and, according to Human Rights Watch, tortured. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini threatened to axe Turkey’s bid to join the EU if Erdoğan went ahead with plans to reintroduce capital punishment for “a clear crime of treason.”
Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2016. The U.S.-based cleric was accused by Ankara of orchestrating the military coup attempt but he firmly denied involvement | Thomas Urbain/AFP via Getty Images
Russia, by contrast, rushed to support Erdoğan in the jittery hours after he narrowly escaped a team of commandos sent to capture him in a holiday villa in Marmaris. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said this week that Russia had offered “unconditional support” over the coup attempt, and that Putin sent a personal letter of condolence to the families of Turkey’s soldiers and civilians killed in the fighting.
Turkey’s deepening anger at the West creates an ideal opportunity for Putin to pull Erdoğan into his own fiercely anti-U.S. orbit.
Ever since massive anti-Putin protests in 2011, Kremlin-controlled media have claimed that Washington is plotting regime change in Russia by funding opposition groups and waging an “information war” against Putin. When the Panama Papers revealed massive money laundering by members of Putin’s inner circle earlier this year, the Kremlin dismissed the leak as American-inspired propaganda. Similarly, when Erdoğan, his son and other close members of the ruling AK Party leadership were linked to insider deals and corrupt sanctions-busting financial ties with Iran, Turkey’s leader invoked a Western plot.
Over recent years, Erdoğan has also grown more like Putin as he imprisons critical journalists, prosecutes independent media proprietors on trumped-up tax evasion charges and nurtures a stridently nationalistic, xenophobic brand of personal rule. As Turkey moves away from the West, Putin and Erdoğan are ready to form an alliance based on “an ideology of sovereign values as a union of the deceived against the West,” argues Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The main bone of contention between the two leaders is Syria. Moscow backs the Assad regime, and since September Russian bombers and helicopter gunships flying out of a temporary Russian airbase near Latakia has turned the tide of the war in the regime’s favor.
Turkey, by contrast, has backed various Syrian opposition groups and turned a blind eye — at the very least — to Saudi-funded arms supplies to Sunni rebels that include radical jihadists. But Russia’s intervention has put those rebels on the back foot and assured the regime’s survival — meaning that Ankara has had to seriously re-think its strategy of backing a rebel victory and accept that both Assad and Russia will be players in the region for some time to come.
Syrian President al-Assad makes surprise trip to Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015 | Alexey Druzhinyn/Ria Novosti/EPA
Another reason why Erdoğan needs to make his peace with Putin is Russia’s support for the Syrian Kurds, who are closely allied to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Even though the Syrian Kurds are anti-Assad, Russia reached out to them at the height of the jet crisis in order to undermine Turkey and even allowed them to open their first overseas “embassy” in Moscow. That’s anathema to Turkey, which is fiercely resisting the Kurds’ attempts to carve out an independent state in Northern Syria lest its own Kurdish population follow suit.
Both sides have a strong financial incentive to patch up relations. Ever since the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Russia has been looking for an alternative route to export natural gas to southern Europe that avoids Ukrainian-controlled pipelines. An ambitious scheme known as South Stream to build a massive gas pipeline under the Black Sea and on through Turkey to the Balkans and Central Europe was put on hold in December. Now the South Stream talks are being revived — as well as a deal on a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Turkey.
Back in November, Putin called the downing of the Russian bomber “a stab in the back carried out by terrorists.” Kremlin-controlled TV launched a bitter campaign against Erdoğan and the “criminal band” who ran Turkey. Today, the relationship has made a U-turn.
Russia “isn’t just our close and friendly neighbor, but also a strategic partner,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek during a preparatory visit to Moscow last week.
For the time being, Turkey remains a candidate for EU membership and a key member of NATO. But at their meeting tomorrow in St. Petersburg Putin will surely do his best to encourage Erdoğan in his accelerating drift away from the West.
Owen Matthews has worked as a correspondent in Russia, Turkey and Iraq, among other datelines, and was shortlisted for a Guardian first book award, the Orwell Prize and the Prix Médicis.