It takes two to crisis

It takes two to crisis

As Americans say, it takes two to tango. Now we also have to know that it takes two to crisis.

The tension between Turkey and Russia, which has been going on for 10 days, revealed it is impossible to escalate a crisis if one of the two sides tries insistently to control it. 

Moreover, the neighborhood is also pushing for the reconciliation of this couple. Last week, during the Climate Summit in Paris, both American and European leaders called for calm and a diplomatic solution in their bilateral meetings with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of the reasons why the crisis hasn’t escalated is two-dimensional; in other words, Turkey-Russia relations. The enormous trade volume and long-term energy agreements between the two countries prevent relations from breaking down. This is why Putin has refrained so far from speaking about their agreements on energy and power plants, which require a deep strategic partnership.

This is mainly why not only Ankara, but also the West considers Putin’s statements as directed to his own domestic public opinion and Russia’s hinterland, i.e. Ukraine, Georgia and Crimea, where he has recently been consolidating his power and is still having a power struggle. 

A high-level official shared with me this week that French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in their bilateral meetings with Erdoğan in Paris that Putin’s messages targeted Russian people. Accordingly, the two leaders also told Putin that he was “doing wrong.”

The second reason is multi-dimensional. The international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been pioneered by the U.S. and includes Turkey and Russia, is also trying to contain the crisis. They are now all focused on the fight against ISIL. France has recently intensified its airstrikes in Syria. Britain just started its air operation in Syria. Germany seems just about to follow. And Russia has recently become an indirect partner of this coalition.

Moreover, it is worth remembering that Moscow is the most active international power in Syria at the moment, holding the strongest cards in its hands.

Besides, Turkey and Russia have to coordinate on the ground not only to prevent similar incidents in the future. A lack of coordination would also disable the joint operation soon to be conducted by the U.S. and Turkey in the zone between Azaz and Jarabulus along the Turkey-Syria border since the Russians might shoot down Turkish planes. This is crucial since this operation is planned to take place “in only days” according to the same high-level official mentioned above.

In addition, the plan for a political transition in Syria, which the foreign ministers of 20 countries agreed on during the Vienna talks, will start to be implemented from Jan. 1, 2016, on. This means Ankara and Moscow will need to sit around the same table and cooperate to find a political solution in Syria.

In short, the fact that the West wants and needs to coordinate with Russia against the increasing threat of ISIL and that for the first time since the beginning of Syria war a political solution looms on the horizon, a crisis between Turkey and Russia seems to be the least desirable thing. 

This all explains Turkey’s reconciliatory reaction and rhetoric. When Erdoğan answered our questions during the flight from Paris to Doha on Dec. 1, he defined Putin’s reaction as a “strategy shaped emotionally.” Hence, he said, Turkey is approaching Russia’s statements cautiously. When I asked Erdoğan if he expects Putin’s rhetoric to change, his answer was simple and meaningful: “Yes I do.” He also added that he had previously shared with Putin Russia’s violations of Turkey’s airspace. Accordingly, Putin replied that “he doesn’t know.”

The statements of the high-level official were in line with Erdoğan’s stance. He underlined that there was coordination - even if no cooperation - with Russia at the moment and that both militaries are in continuous contact. My source also added that it was Erdoğan’s personal instruction to fly the body of the Russian pilot who died after the jet was shot down back to Russia. It seems like Ankara expects relations to normalize in the upcoming three to four months.

Erdoğan’s messages, which he gave in our conversation during the flight back from Qatar, complete this picture: “The current state of affairs between Turkey and Russia could be quickly overcome. I hope that we will overcome this together in a very short time.”