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SEMİH İDİZ > Erdoğan’s Moscow visit is an opportunity

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Russia has effectively blocked the prospect of any early solution to the Syrian crisis as it considers itself to have been cheated over Libya and is suspicious over the intentions of the West and Turkey. 

If anything, Moscow is likely to harden its stance after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for those backing the Assad regime “to pay a price,” and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, following in her footsteps, called for countries supporting the Syrian regime, “to be isolated.”

As matters stand, Syria is no longer a simple issue of “a brutal dictator killing innocent people.” This issue is one of the main battlegrounds of the new conflict between the East and the West. Until that conflict is resolved it is unlikely that the desired stability in Syria, and consequently the Middle East as a whole, will be attained. 

The visit that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is to pay Moscow on Wednesday in response to an invitation by President Vladimir Putin will take place against this backdrop. There is the possibility of cold winds blowing from both sides during talks that are expected to concentrate on Syria. 

Ankara believes Moscow is supporting a bloodthirsty dictator and his regime for the sake of strategic interests. It is not too happy that this support has left Turkey’s policy towards Syria in a mess. Davutoglu’s call for countries supporting the Syrian regime to be isolated should also be seen in this context. 

Moscow, for its part, suspects that the West’s and Turkey’s involvement in Syria is not based purely on innocent reasons. Judging by commentary in the Russian media, the feeling is that both the West and Turkey are after their own material interests in that country.

The bottom line is that Russia is clearly not prepared to give up its final stronghold in the Middle East. Neither does it want an Islamic regime supported by countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar to emerge in place of the current regime in Damascus. 

All indications point to the idea that Moscow does not view the support by Turkey to the Syrian opposition as having humanitarian motives, but rather sees this in the context of “Sunni solidarity” aimed at bringing a “Muslim Brotherhood” type Islamist group to power. 

Historically Russia has also considered itself to be a protector of Christian minorities in the Middle East, a mission that was reanimated after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are those who argue that the common fear of Islamic fundamentalism and a desire to protect Christian minorities will eventually push Moscow and Washington to cooperating over Syria. 

That remains to be seen, of course. What is clear, however, is that a predominantly Sunni regime with and Islamic orientation, which is clearly the preference of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is unlikely to emerge in that country under prevailing circumstances.

It would therefore be wiser for Erdoğan and the AKP to give up on such expectations and act according to the realities on the ground. Erdoğan’s Moscow visit provides a good opportunity in this respect. 

An understanding between Turkey and Russia on Syria will not only be good for that country, but also contribute to stability in the Middle East, while also contributing to world peace. Erdoğan and Putin have enjoyed warm relations in the past, and this should help in making positive headway. 

In the meantime Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, who will accompany Erdoğan, will also get a chance to explain to his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, what he meant when he called for the countries supporting Assad to be isolated.

This particular remark of Davutoğlu’s was also criticized by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. In an interview with daily Milliyet, during which this writer was also present, Kılıçdaroğlu said mockingly that many countries who heard Davutoğlu’s words “must have laughed through their backsides.” 

In addition to this Davutoğlu, while in Moscow, can also ask for the “objective information” that Russia says it has on the Turkish jet Ankara says was downed by Syria. 

That could help enlighten the Turkish public on a subject that has turned into a political fiasco for the AKP. 

The hope is that the opportunity provided by this visit will be availed of fully.

July/17/2012

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