Ankara hosts task force meet aimed at building trust among EU, Russia, Turkey

Ankara hosts task force meet aimed at building trust among EU, Russia, Turkey

Emine Kart - ANKARA
Ankara hosts task force meet aimed at building trust among EU, Russia, Turkey Officials from a number of countries have noted the need to build trust among the European Union, Russia and Turkey amid the conflict in Syria following a conference in Syria last week. 

The timeliness of the European Leadership Network (ELN) meeting was not totally “coincidence” even though it had been scheduled for a long time, according to participant Lord Des Browne, a former U.K. defense secretary.

A Pan-European Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, including former foreign and defense ministers from the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Germany, Turkey and France, is supported by analytical work by the ELN, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

Based in Ankara, USAK hosted last week’s meeting with the participation of Director Özdem Sanberk, the former permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Ministry and former chief foreign policy adviser to the prime minister.

“The whole practice of partnership for the task force focuses on generating a forum in which people that are knowledgeable on these issues and are influential can discuss relevant, complex and challenging issues that are a manifestation of the lack of trust that we have in each other,” Browne told the Hürriyet Daily News on the sidelines of the meeting, adding that part of building trust involves addressing difficult issues. 

“Although we did not plan to be here at this very precise time in terms of the geopolitics of the regional politics, it is more than a coincidence that addressing issues that are relevant today,” he said.

The meeting coincided with the partial Russian withdrawal from Syria, U.N.-led Syrian talks in Geneva and a shaky cessation of hostilities in Syria as well as a special Brussels summit between Turkey and the EU on the growing migration crisis.

Browne also described the Turkey-EU summit as the “beginning of the end of the migration crisis.” 

“We try to keep things relevant to today and from our point of view; we face a challenge to maintain relevance in a changing environment. We hope to make a contribution,” he said, noting that they would come up with a common position paper that would be presented to the capitals of the participants in upcoming weeks.

Browne said the world had become a better place compared to the post-World War II era of his childhood, while admitting that today “in this part of the world, we have our own arc of crisis.”

“We have to recognize that we all have a shared interest in dealing with it,” he said, recalling that countries managed to build several mechanisms which have been useful in the post-Cold War era such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“We should understand that we absorb a lot of resources in order to address this lack of trust collectively, by being honest with each other. But if we are to do that, we need to share information and we need to be conscious that these things can escalate,” he said, citing the Turkish downing of a Russian military aircraft in November 2015 as an example when asked about prior elements of rebuilding that trust. “People need to back off these things in order to prevent conflict.”

Human error in bilateral relations

Alexey Gromyko, director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IE RAS), also referred to Turkey’s downing of the jet.

Recalling that before the plane was shot down, bilateral relations between Ankara and Moscow were defined as “strategic” by many politicians and specialists despite their differences on a number of issues, Gromyko told the Daily News that this definition was “the true reflection of affairs between the two countries.”

“Of course we know from history that mistakes which are not a result of some fundamental matters but which are made because of tactical politics or just because of human error can have disastrous consequences. In history, some wars happened not because states were enemies from the point of their national interest but because their political classes were not wise or reasonable to prevent this cause of events. That is why I hope very much and strongly believe that due to the fact that our cultures share much more strategic goals and they share a lot of similarities, I am sure that a period for repairing this will start, but it is impossible to repair the damage overnight; it is going to be quite a long process of rapprochement,” Gromyko said, recalling a famous quote from Winston Churchill, and separately echoing the same approach as Browne from a different point of view.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” Gromyko quoted Churchill as saying in 1942 at a time of British victories in North Africa.

‘Hostages of fragility’

Another participant from Russia, Ivan Timofeev, program director at the Russian International Affairs Council, used “a chicken and the egg” metaphor to describe the course of events in Russian-Turkish bilateral relations.

“One of key problems on lack of trust is to hold a discussion on what goes first, the chicken or the egg,” Timofeev told the Daily News.

“They often say we don’t cooperate because of a lack of trust, but trust does not emerge from nothing. Trust emerges from the results of common interests and from the results of joint actions,” said Timofeev.

“An example between Russia and Turkey is very illustrative; they have been partners for more than two decades and this partnership was very dynamic. There were also disagreements but we respected these disagreements, but the plane crash ruined almost all of these. This is a very non-linear process when one action may have very big consequences – bigger than we expect. The only remedy to this lack of trust is the cooperation in spheres where we have common interest,” Timofeev said, while referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s swift offer of condolences to the people of Turkey following a March 13 suicide bomb attack in Ankara as a positive beginning.

“I must say that the experience of partnership we had in the past is an asset for the future. Because it will help to overcome the negative legacy ease and help to revive trust; we do not have to need to start from a blank sheet, not a tabula rasa,” he said.

Yet, he admitted: “The situation on Syria-Turkey border and everything is very fragile so we are very vulnerable. In fact, Russia, Turkey and Western countries are the hostages of this fragility. We are limited by this chaos.”