A few years ago. Russian President Putin’s relationship with Turkish President Erdogan was strained at the time. He calls each other almost every day and talks about his country’s tactics on various issues. Their mutual trust came so close at one point that Putin continued to give Erdogan a lot of “special news.” At a time like this, two or three years ago, in response to a reporter’s question, Erdogan said without hesitation, “Russia is definitely our strategic partner. But what is going to crack about this friendship between the two leaders now? The distance between the two countries is widening on the question of Armenia, Libya and Syria. What is the current state of relations between Turkey and Russia?
Explaining why Russia is a strategic partner of Turkey, Erdogan said a couple of years ago that the two countries have joint investments in everything from pipelines to nuclear reactors. The two countries have joint ventures in the defense industry. Bilateral trade and tourism are on the rise. Other aspects of the relationship are also moving forward.
Such friendship between Turkey and Russia is not at all unusual. It has been observed for centuries that these two countries have “agreed or disagreed” on various issues. Nevertheless, observers say the Putin-Erdogan relationship is “unusual.” Especially in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian jet. At that time, the two leaders of the two countries stabbed each other in the neck if they could.
The following year, in 2016, a failed military coup took place in Turkey. That’s when Erdogan became disillusioned with the Western world. He was convinced that some Western countries were also behind the coup. Since then, Erdogan has focused on pursuing a more independent foreign policy. In this journey, the interests of Turkey and Russia came to a point in the Syrian crisis. The two countries have formed an alliance in support of the Syrian Kurds against the US military presence in the country. Moscow wants to save the Assad government in Syria, and the United States has stood in the way.
The U.S.-backed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, sees Turkey as a threat to their borders. Moreover, Turkey has also confirmed that the opposition has no chance of winning the Syrian civil war. So Turkey needs a new strategy to keep the refugee problem alive and prevent the establishment of a “PKK state” along the northern border.
In such a situation, Turkish President Erdogan is enjoying friendship with Russian President Putin. He sees that the Russians are not like the Americans. The Russian leader kept his promise. He spoke to Turkey about everything from the sale of the controversial S-400 missile system to investment in the pipeline.
How this wonderful scene has changed so recently! Unbelievable, but true, Turkey has stood up to Russia in regional conflicts in three separate countries from North Africa to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Russia’s air defense system is destroying Turkish armed drones in those countries. Turkey seems to have made Russian technology ridiculous in all three countries, at least looking at the video footage of the attack. In such a situation, the Putin-Erdogan friendship has broken down and as a result, Russia and Turkey are facing each other.
The first rift between the two leaders came in January, when a summit was being held in Moscow on the Libyan civil war. There, Putin failed to implement the ceasefire promised in Libya. Libya’s UN-backed government agreed to a ceasefire, but militant leader Khalifa Haftar stubbornly walked out of the conference. Even then, Russia continued to support him in the interest of maintaining its presence in Libya.
Turkey cannot take Russia’s love for the militant leader Haftar lightly. Erdogan later expressed outrage, telling the media that Russia had actually kept Haftar’s forces afloat by supplying Wagner’s mercenaries. Earlier this year, as government forces broke through Haftar’s siege of Tripoli, Putin was busy deploying more warplanes and sending Syrian mercenaries to maintain rebel control over the oil-rich Sirte.
Even then, the relationship between the two leaders was somehow the same. But next month, in February, it seems to have collapsed. At this time the civil war in Syria culminated. Government forces and their Russian backers violated the ceasefire in Idlib, the opposition’s last stronghold. Even before that, Putin has realized that he got what he got in Syria last year. His promise to Erdogan also expired in October last year, when Turkey launched an operation to oust Syrian Kurdish militias.
Meanwhile, President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria. Through this, the area came under the control of Russia. And Turkey loses the way to achieve the goal with Russia. Russia sees Turkey as needed to balance the US presence. Now America is gone, so Turkey no longer needs Russia.
This time Russia is sitting in Idlib and giving heat at the beginning of the incident. They continued to occupy more territory and occasionally launched attacks aimed at ousting opponents from their last stronghold. When Syrian government forces and Russian forces launched a major offensive in Idlib last March, Turkey began to increase its manpower at its observation posts.
When the fighting reached its climax, Erdogan called Putin. But it did not help. Erdogan told Putin to stop fighting. But Putin is adamant. He said his forces were fighting terrorism. This fight will continue. At the same time, he accused Turkey of failing to expel radical groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham from Idlib! In response, Erdogan threatened that Turkey would use military force if necessary to retake the occupied territories.
In a word, the Erdogan-Putin telephone conversation became heated. Neither side is reluctant to back down. This is the first time Putin has shown such an inflexible attitude towards Turkey. Not only Putin, but a Russian delegation visiting Turkey at the time also told the Turkish delegation to withdraw from the northern Afrin region.
Clashes in February and March killed 59 Turkish soldiers. Turkey thinks the Russians were directly involved in at least one of these airstrikes, killing dozens of Turkish soldiers.
Despite all this, Erdogan is adamant in his policy. However, Erdogan warned Turkey to refrain from counter-attacks in the wake of the Kovid-19 epidemic. He feels that Putin does not care about the humanitarian crisis in Turkey or the influx of refugees. He is now on the American field.
In this situation, the talks between Erdogan and Putin have come to a standstill. There is no consensus among the diplomats of both the countries. Agreed on one thing, another thing came and broke it.
But Erdogan’s adventurism in Syria and Libya has given the Turkish military a skill it did not have before. On the battlefields of Syria and Libya, they have learned many tactics, including the operation of armored drones, which have completely changed them.
This experience gave them the courage to be directly involved in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war. As soon as Azerbaijan asked for help, Erdogan agreed without hesitation. Putin’s stance against Turkey’s interests abroad has angered Erdogan. Putin’s one-time close friendship with him has broken down. Erdogan is now trying to find a new path. The next day will tell whether you will succeed or not.
Putin and Erdogan are both big players in international politics. Friendship developed between them in the interest of their country. Distance is created again. This relationship will not be completely broken. Only international events can bring them closer together. They both deal with their confidence as they choose to embark on their play activities.