Ankara confident over Russia ties despite discord on Syria

Ankara confident over Russia ties despite discord on Syria

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Ankara confident over Russia ties despite discord on Syria

Russian FM Lavrov referred to ‘the Turkish jet that broke up over Syria’ describing the Turkish jet downed on June 22. AP Photo

Differences of opinion on how to approach Syria should not cast a cloud over Turkish-Russian ties, Turkish sources have said ahead of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s key visit to Moscow today.

Although Erdoğan is expected to attempt to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Ankara is confident that the divergence of views on the Syrian crisis will not harm bilateral ties.

Changing the Russian stance has become key to securing a speedy departure of al-Assad. Erdoğan will try to persuade Putin to drop Moscow’s objection to a Western-backed resolution that threatens sanctions against al-Assad that are scheduled to be voted on today in the United Nations Security Council.

As the 90-day mandate of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) ends on July 20, Britain, France, the United States, Germany and Portugal have called for a vote on their resolution, which, while extending the mission for 45 days, also includes sanctions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
Under the resolution, Syria would face sanctions if it does not stop using heavy weapons and withdraw its troops from towns within 10 days of the resolution. Russia has vowed to veto it when it comes to a vote.

The Turkish government believes Russia’s opposition to the resolution would give the wrong message to Syria about continuing its policies. Convincing Russia to change its stance on Syria is important for a speedier and more orderly regime change in Syria, which, in the eyes of the Turkish government, is also in Moscow’s interests.

Turkish officials are convinced that Russia is also aware that al-Assad will leave sooner or later. They are also aware that Russia’s concerns stem from the uncertainties of the future regime that will replace the al-Assad regime. In order to alleviate these concerns, the Turkish prime minister is expected to ask Russia to cooperate to secure a more orderly regime change.

While the Syria issue is set to dominate the agenda of the Erdoğan-Putin meeting, Turkish officials are convinced the two countries have enough mutual history not to allow the Syria discord to become a problem that will overshadow bilateral ties. Both Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are known to have told their counterparts previously that disagreements on different issues could exist, but that Russian-Turkish relations remain more important than any other issue.

According to Turkish assessments, al-Assad has lost control over more than half the country and the army is now seriously overstretched. As the army becomes more demoralized, the Turkish government believes a Security Council resolution endorsing more sanctions against Syria will give al-Assad the right message that he is on the wrong course.

Britain, France, the U.S., Germany and Portugal also insist it is time to step up the pressure on al-Assad. Russia has branded the bid to renew the U.N. mission in Syria conditional on sanctions as “blackmail,” according to Agence France-Presse. “I made it very clear we are going to vote against this resolution,” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin has said.

A “no” vote by Russia, one of the five permanent members of the 15-nation council and a key ally of al-Assad, would be a veto. Russia and China, another permanent member, have twice vetoed resolutions which hinted at sanctions against al-Assad during the 16-month-long conflict in the Arab republic.

A rival Russian resolution proposing only to renew the U.N. mission would fail to get enough votes to pass, U.S. envoy Susan Rice told reporters. If no resolution is passed by July 20, then the UNSMIS would have to shut down this weekend, diplomats said.

Rice said it would be “immoral” to leave the nearly 300 unarmed observers in Syria if the council was not going to pressure al-Assad to carry out the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.