Turkish and Russian leaders hold high-stakes summit
The presidents of Russia and Turkey will hold a summit on September 29, in what is considered the most important meeting between the two leaders in years.
The talks between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in Sochi, a Russian city on the Black Sea, come 18 months after their last face-to-face in Moscow, during which the problems between the two countries only accumulate.
In addition to the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the two are expected to discuss the South Caucasus and Ukraine, the expansion of Russian gas exports and the possible purchase by Turkey of a second batch of the gas system. Russian S-400 missiles over US objections. .
In Syria, Ankara and Moscow are opposite sides of the conflict, even though they have coordinated and cooperated there in recent years.
At the top of the list, Erdogan is expected to pressure Putin to abide by the ceasefire agreement reached last year to end an assault by Russian and Syrian armies on Turkish-backed rebel factions in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria.
Turkey has deployed thousands of troops to bases in Idlib to deter a Syrian army offensive, which it says would push many of the province’s 3 million people across the border as refugees. Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Ahead of the summit, Turkey reinforced its troops in Idlib as Russia and Syria stepped up airstrikes against the rebels.
There have also been reports of “harassment” airstrikes near Turkish military observation posts.
In February 2020, an airstrike killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers, prompting Turkey to send reinforcements to Idlib and carry out devastating strikes on Syrian army positions with armed drones and artillery. .
The incident raised fears of a direct military conflict between Russia and NATO member Turkey.
“We hope that with the meeting that our president will have with Mr. Putin, a return to peace will be possible as at the beginning of the agreement” on Idlib, declared on September 28 the Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar.
“We respect the principles of the agreement reached with Russia,” he added.
Russia considers most rebel factions to be Idlib terrorist groups.
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on September 25 that the implementation of Turkey’s own commitments under the 2018 deal was going “slowly. “.
Erdogan is also expected to call on Putin to do more to eliminate Syrian Kurdish forces from areas near the Turkish border under the control of Russian and Syrian army troops.
Under a 2019 agreement between Ankara and Moscow, Russian and Syrian troops were to withdraw Syrian Kurdish militants from the YPGs from the border.
Turkey views the YPG, which contributed to the defeat of the US-backed Islamic State, as a terrorist group linked to its own Kurdish separatist movement PKK.
The two sides are also expected to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought last fall, and efforts to revive diplomacy in the South Caucasus.
Turkey backed Azerbaijan’s military assault that led to Baku forces recapturing parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring districts that had been under Armenian control for nearly three decades. Moscow has a defense pact with Armenia, but also close relations with Azerbaijan.
The war ended with a ceasefire brokered by Moscow in November 2020, which notably established a Russian-Turkish military observation center in Azerbaijan to monitor the ceasefire.
In the months following the end of the war, there was a wave of diplomacy and even hints of relaunching efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia as part of a regional peace effort. wider.
Turkey has kept its border with Armenia closed for almost three decades, due to Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, an issue that was resolved by the ceasefire agreement. -fire.
One point of the tripartite agreement that ended the war includes the “unblocking of regional economic and transport links”, including the possible creation of a rail or transport corridor that would connect Turkey to Turkey. Azerbaijan via Armenia.
After Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said earlier this month that he was ready to improve relations with Turkey “without preconditions,” Erdogan suggested he might be ready to continue diplomacy under multi-party regional talks, including Russia.
Last week, Erdogan said Pashinian was sending “positive signals” about multi-party talks and a possible transport corridor connecting Turkey to Azerbaijan.
“Now, with these positive signals, we will take action in this regard. I hope that we will have the opportunity to move the region forward towards peace. During my meeting with Mr Poutine, these will of course be discussed. In this way, I hope that we will enter a much stronger and new period in Turkey-Russia relations ”, Erdogan said at an event in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Turkey considers Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 to be illegal, although it did not participate in Western sanctions against Moscow.
However, Turkey regularly comments on the Crimean issue, in particular the treatment of the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim Turkish ethnic group whose cause is important to Erdogan’s Turkish nationalist base.
While Turkey’s statements on Crimea may anger Russia, Moscow is more concerned about Ankara’s growing defense cooperation with Ukraine in recent years.
Turkey has sold Bayraktar armed drones to Ukraine and Kiev plans to buy dozens more for deployment in eastern Ukraine, where government forces are fighting Russian-backed separatists.
Turkey and Ukraine have also signed or are continuing other military cooperation and production agreements.
Turkey bought Russian S-400 missile defense batteries in 2019, triggering US sanctions and threats from Washington of further action if it purchases more Russian equipment.
Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s defense systems. Turkey says it has not been able to procure air defense systems from a NATO ally on good terms.
Erdogan said last week that Turkey still intends to procure a second batch of S-400s, a move that would deepen divisions within NATO. Turkish officials said the S-400s would be discussed in Sochi.
In Libya, Turkey’s military intervention helped repel an assault on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli by forces based east of strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Experts from the United Nations and the United States claim that Russia has sent paramilitaries from the Kremlin-linked Vagner group to support Haftar’s forces, while Turkey has sent Syrian rebel fighters to support the government in Tripoli.
Under a ceasefire reached last October, the foreign fighters were supposed to be gone by January, although both sides ignored the deal.
Despite all the geopolitical issues between Russia and Turkey, one of Ankara’s most pressing concerns is securing natural gas supplies.
Turkey is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, which it obtains from the Turkish Stream and Blue Stream pipelines that pass under the Black Sea.
Turkey had previously turned down a long-term gas contract to supply Turkish Stream despite Russian insistence because it disliked the terms and the price.
Now that seems to have been a mistake as Turkey finds itself in a vulnerable position as the world faces gas shortages and skyrocketing prices impacting the global economy.