Erdoğan-Putin alliance vs. Greenpeace-Gezi activists
Accompanied by a large delegation composed of ministers, high-level bureaucrats and journalists, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will pay a two-day visit to St. Petersburg on Nov. 21 and 22 on the occasion of the fourth High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council’s annual meeting.
Despite a number of serious disagreements and clashes of interests over regional policies in the Middle East – particularly in Syria, in the Caucasus, in the Central Asia and on Cyprus question, Prime Minister Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to be each other’s best partner. Last year, the two leaders signed 11 agreements on trade and energy and vowed to increase the trade volume to $100 billion. Russian companies hand in hand with some pro-government Turkish companies have been aggressively chasing lucrative energy bids in Turkey.
In this regard, economic cooperation will again be on the top of the council meeting’s agenda but Erdoğan and Putin will also exchange views on critical international issues. Outspoken when it comes to criticizing Western powers and NATO allies on many global issues, Erdoğan seems to ignore Russia’s share in stonewalling the U.N. Security Council in the Syrian case since March 2011 and its growing military and logistic support to the defiant leader of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
In spite of Erdoğan’s silence vis-à-vis Putin’s stance, Ankara believes that, along with Iranian direct support, Russian military aid to the regime made Assad able to extend the survival of his bloody regime against the opposition groups. In the last nine months, around 30 Russian military vessels carried heavy weaponry to Syria which increased the firepower of the regime, according to Ankara’s intelligence. In addition, there are reports that retired Russian military officers are helping the Syrian regime in their fight against the opposition forces.
No doubt, Ankara and Moscow continue to remain on the other pages of the Syrian problem. Russia’s priority is not losing its influence and allies in the Middle East and in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well. That’s why the Russian factor in the stalemate of Cyprus question is very significant. It’s been nearly 10 years since the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s report criticizing Greek Cypriots for the rejection of a historic referendum in 2004 was shelved in the dusty U.N. archives due to a Russian veto.
Apart from these realpolitik issues, what make these two leaders resemble each other are their almost despotic moves against their dissidents, civil society and free media. Both leaders appear increasingly undemocratic and intolerant and do not hesitate to brutally crack down on protestors and to use all state means to oppress them.
In this frame, it would be as much of a surprise for Erdoğan to demand from Putin the release of Gizem Akhan, a Greenpeace activist who was arrested by Russian security forces along with 30 other activists in late September, as it would be if Putin were to demand Erdoğan to heed the demands of the Gezi protesters and other dissidents. This unholy alliance is merely observing a growing axis of undemocratic norms across the Black Sea.