Russia and Turkey agree to disagree on Syria

Russia and Turkey agree to disagree on Syria

It is business as usual in the improving field of economy, but there is a lot to be ironed out in regional politics; that could be the best way to describe the current level of relations between Russia and Turkey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had extensive talks with his Turkish host, Ahmet Davutoğlu, in Istanbul yesterday, April 17, in the framework of the third Joint Strategic Planning group meetings.

Russia is one of Turkey’s leading trading partners with a volume of $26 billion last year. The mutual trade contributes much to Turkey’s trade deficit, in the first rank, since Russia is Turkey’s number-one gas exporter. The Turkish energy minister recently said more than a quarter of Turkey’s electricity production is dependent on Russian natural gas.

Davutoğlu and Lavrov reiterated the target pronounced before by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, to have a volume of $100 billion in the next two years, an ambitious target actually. But Russia is going to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, an important $20 billion investment on Turkey’s East Mediterranean coast, right across from the island of Cyprus actually.

Cyprus is one of the issues where Turkey and Russia fall apart. As Turkey’s European Union Minister Egemen Bağış joked yesterday, the “parents,” in this case Turkey, Greece and the U.K., have been trying to save the “marriage” between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, who have actually had separate beds for decades. Russian investors have enjoyed financial benefits from the EU member Greek Cypriot government for decades as well. But as the dolce vita is over with the eurozone economic crisis, Russian money there is looking for other destinations to park.

Another political problem, a much bigger one, between Turkey and Russia is Syria. Russia has strong nerves to stand by its major ally in the region (providing the only naval base to Moscow) as Bashar al-Assad jets have started to bomb even the suburbs of its capital, Damascus, now. Lavrov and Davutoğlu apparently agree on yearning about the human loss that the Syrian people are suffering, but that is the least common denominator and without much meaning other than lip service. The two countries part deeply on Syria and remained so right before a major meeting on Syria, that is the Friends of Syrian People meeting on April 20 in Istanbul. As if to underline their agreement to disagree, Davutoğlu met with Moaz al-Hatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition yesterday, in the same Çırağan Palace by the Bosphorus where he had the meeting with the Russian delegation.

U.N. Security Council permanent member Russia knows that without the U.S. putting its weight into the Syrian civil war, because of concerns about the radical group al-Nusra, with its declared links with al-Qaeda, seizing power, al-Assad would like to keep his post. Ironically the interests of Iran and Israel converge with Russian and American ones there enabling al-Assad to keep his post no matter the human cost in the country is. Turkey, having a 910-kilometer border in between and a painful Kurdish problem on both sides of the border, has been trying to cope with the situation – including a refugee problem – almost alone for nearly two years now.