Erdoğan has also used business channels in Russia diplomacy

Erdoğan has also used business channels in Russia diplomacy

As more positive signs poured in about the possible normalization of Turkish-Russian relations on June 28, details also started to surface regarding details of the diplomacy carried out between Ankara and Moscow.

According to diplomatic sources talking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has personally orchestrated the final stages of the normalization diplomacy, as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım heralded yesterday on June 28. 

Sources, who asked not to be named, said that not only official channels but “unofficial channels” - including the Turkish business community which has close links to Russia - took part in Erdoğan’s efforts to put relations back on track. They have been derailed since Turkish jets downed a Russian jet after violating Turkey’s border with Syria on Nov. 24, 2015. A number of influential businesspeople in the tourism, energy, construction, textile, food and retail sectors have been working on both sides to improve political relations for the economic benefit of both countries. 

Sources said that, in particular, the efforts of one renowned businessman with influential contacts in Russia played a key role in Erdoğan’s letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 24. The efforts of the businessman, greenlighted by Erdoğan, started in early May and included a number of visits between Ankara and Moscow. After this initial stage of diplomacy, Erdoğan included a small number of people from his diplomatic team to assist. There are reports that the Turkish and Russian intelligence services - the MİT and FSB respectively - also played a role in the rapprochement, especially in the fight against terrorism, mainly against the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.

After the announcement of the letter by the Kremlin on June 27 and Yıldırım’s comments on June 28, the Kremlin announced that there would be a telephone conversation on June 29 between Erdoğan and Putin.

Depending on the result of that phone call, the flow of the possible meeting between the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers - Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Sergey Lavrov respectively - is expected to be shaped on July 1 in Russia’s Sochi during the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Summit, as the first high-rank contact between the two countries since the jet downing incident. Sources suggest that the first outcome of this rapprochement could be Moscow’s withdrawal of its discouraging of Russian tourists from going to Turkey, probably within the next two weeks. 

The number of Russian tourists to Turkey (4 million in 2015, 3 million of them to the Mediterranean resort of Antalya) dropped by more than 90 percent in the first half of 2016. Prime Minister Yıldırım said yesterday that deals with Russia and Israel would help the recovery of Turkish tourism soon.

Turkey and Russia are close partners in energy, so a deal between them could reactivate the planned South Stream gas pipeline to Europe via Turkey, as well as joint projects between Turkey, Russia and Israel which were shelved with the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel after 2009.