Economy before politics at Putin Erdogan meeting

 Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a meeting in Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a meeting in Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg

Konstantin Zavrazhin/RG
Analysts say the outcome of the meeting at St. Petersburg on August 9 between the presidents of Russia and Turkey saw impressive results in economic issues. Analysts however caution that many elements in bilateral ties between Moscow and Ankara depend on whether solutions to political problems can be found, primarily concerning the issue of Syria.

The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the first after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian jet in November last year, took place on August 9 at Saint Petersburg. Analysts who predicted that the talks would lead to important breakthroughs in economic issues between Turkey and Russia were correct.

After the main part of the summit, progress was claimed on the two most important Russian-Turkish energy projects: construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant by Russia and laying of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline along the Black Sea seabed. At the press conference following their meeting President Erdogan said both projects would be renewed and brought to a logical completion. President Putin said the construction cost of both projects was several dozen billion dollars.

Analysts surprised by the talks

Construction of Turkish Stream is of particular interest for Russia. This pipeline presents a possible alternative to the Ukrainian transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Talks are now on about two out of the initial four lines, to deliver gas to Turkey, not European countries.

Putin also said that he intends to gradually lift restrictions on Turkish companies working in Russia. He made it clear that charter flights to Turkey would soon begin operating again, something which brought cheer to the Turkish tourist industry.

Elena Suponina, advisor to the director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said this bore witness to the fact that "the reestablishment of economic relations is moving at a pace that did not appear possible in such conditions."

Trade and economic ties between Russia and Turkey have become the priority, as this is the area that the countries find easiest to re-establish mutual ties, said Vladimir Sotnikov from the RAS Institute of Middle East Studies.

Without romantic illusions

Analysts also note that it may take a long while for relations to return to normalcy. Victor Nadein-Ranevsky, from the RAS Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said that Turkey had lost contracts worth $40-45 billion just in the construction business, much of which will be impossible to recover.

It is also not certain that Moscow and Ankara will be able to return to the level of relations that existed before November 24, 2015. Vladimir Avatkov, Turkish scholar and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies, International Relations and Public Diplomacy, believes that after the incident with the Russian plane Moscow will not nurture any "romantic illusions" in respect to Russia-Turkey relations and Ankara's policies. There will only be precise understanding of each other's interests.

Contradictions on Syria

Unlike economic issues, talks on political problems between Russia and Turkey are not simple. The issue of Syria was off the table at the summit in St. Petersburg, but it was discussed after Putin and Erdogan's joint press conference. Analysts point out that Moscow would like Turkey to close the Turkish-Syrian border so that the Syrian Islamists can no longer receive reinforcements from inside Turkey. Also, Ankara does not recognize the militants from the radical Al-Nusra Front as terrorists, and considers them as part of the opposition to the Syrian government. Analysts believe it will be exceptionally difficult to obtain progress from Turkey on these issues, but some points of contact can still be found.

Avatkov said that besides discussions on the Syrian problem, Putin and Erdogan must find some kind of mechanism in the field of security that would prevent a repeat of the November 24 incident. The future of Russia’s relations with Turkey depends on whether or not this mechanism will be found.

Turkish analyst: positive atmosphere of the talks

Kerim Has, analyst of Eurasian politics at the International Strategic Research Organization independent think-tank in Ankara said:

“The most significant outcome of the talks is that the sides are again speaking of security issues. Secondly, statements about economic cooperation are also important. Thirdly, it is important that with the normalization of bilateral cooperation the sides will pay more attention and make more efforts to guarantee regional security. This cooperation concerns the regulation of the Syrian crisis and the security issues of the Black Sea region.

Fourthly, decisions in the energy field are also crucial. Now we can see that talks on Turkish Stream are continuing. And finally, it is very important that the talks were held in a positive atmosphere.”



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