Russia after Israel in Turkish rapprochement. What next?
It was almost clear last week that Turkey and Israel were likely to reach a deal to normalize their relations on June 26.
Indeed, Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and the Israeli envoy for the talks, Joseph Ciechanover, met in Rome’s Boscolo Exedra Hotel and on that evening the deal was announced to end the crisis. The announcement came six years and 27 days after Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on board the Mavi Marmara ship, which was in international waters heading for Gaza to deliver aid to Palestinians under blockade on May 31, 2010.
The official announcement was made on June 27 by the Turkish and Israeli prime ministers, Binali Yıldırım and Binyamin Netanyahu, simultaneously in their own capitals. Thanks to the pushing of U.S. President Barack Obama, Netanyahu apologized to (then prime minister, now president) Tayyip Erdoğan back in 2013, fulfilling Turkey’s first condition to normalize ties. The second condition was met after Israel agreed to contribute $20 million to a compensation fund for the families of the victims. Israel did not accept the direct approach of Turkish goods to Gaza but said they could be transferred through the Ashdod port, (meaning both that Turkish aid will go to Gaza and that Israel’s sea blockage will not be broken).
The Israeli PM’s first comment on the deal was that the deal would boost economic ties between the two countries, which have anyway not been affected very much by the political crisis. Now further ties are being implied, like the transporting of Israeli gas to Europe via Turkey.
In the morning hours of June 27, before the Turkish-Israeli deal was officially announced, the diplomatic backstage was hit by another big piece of news. Something was cooking on the Turco-Russian front. A statement could be expected from Moscow at 14.00 GMT (4 p.m. in both Moscow and Ankara). That statement could be a sign for more positive developments within the week.
Indeed, a statement was made by Kremlin as expected. It said President Erdoğan had sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. In the letter, Erdoğan expressed his sorrow about the downing of the Russian jet by Turkish jets on Nov. 24, 2015 after it violated Turkey’s border with Syria, which is the reason for the diplomatic crisis between the two countries ever since. Erdoğan also passed0 his condolences to the families of the two pilots killed in the incident.
Upon news from Moscow that Erdoğan had “apologized,” the Turkish Presidency stated that Erdoğan had said he was “deeply sorry.” Diplomatic sources say Turkey cannot be expected to apologize for defending its national borders.
This letter is the most important indication so far of a normalization of relations. Because right after the announcement in Moscow, Ankara announced that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had accepted the invitation of his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to join the Black Sea Economic Cooperation meetings in Sochi on July 1. There may be some other steps in between before then, according to diplomatic sources.
Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government seem to be trying to recover from the diplomatic regression in recent years, which has resulted in Turkey losing friends in the neighborhood. There is a tendency within the AK Parti circles to link these recovery attempts to the stepping down of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who used to be Erdoğan’s foreign policy right hand man.
In Turkish diplomatic circles, speculation over the next steps now focuses on Cyprus, the visa deal with the European Union, and perhaps Egypt as a more distant probability. But due to the fact that Erdoğan has proposed working together with Putin on “regional crises and terrorism,” Syria might also come into picture. Of course, that would depend on the deal with Russia, if that ends up becoming a reality like the deal with Israel.