It is odd to find ancient enemies addressing endearments to each other but Turkish President Erdogan’s “my dear Vladimir” moment in Russia is understandable in the circumstances. For one, the failed military coup was a shock, though it gave him the chance to sanction more of his domestic opposition. Business is, of course, always important and both sides have an interest in what the other offers. And the third could be the possibility that as Turkey has possibly lost the chance of European Union entry with the thousands of arrests made after the failed coup, the Russians offer a viable option even in their enfeebled state.
Nevertheless it is a remarkable turnaround. When Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter last September, relations went into deep freeze. Moscow’s sanctions regime included a ban on farm imports and charter flights. All that seems to be history with the bonhomie on display at the meeting of Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin who said Russia was willing to lift sanctions on Turkish companies gradually and consider resuming agricultural imports as well as other avenues of economic cooperation. The lifting of sanctions would be a relief as Russia is Turkey’s biggest customer for farm goods. But Russia could be eyeing a bigger prize, if there is any truth to murmurs about Turkey’s second thoughts on Nato. It’s a reasonable hypothesis as its disgraced military was the greatest partisan of Nato ties.
Erdogan is sore at what he sees as tepid western support over the coup. It strengthens his feeling of alienation. Moreover, burgeoning Islamophobia in the EU and his human rights record make membership there a forlorn hope. Perhaps he feels the need for a strong friend and Putin may see an opportunity to peel away a vital Nato ally. That could explain his emollient tone. Erdogan may also be looking at Russia as a long-term conventional and nuclear energy option, as well as a lever in his bargaining with Nato.