If you buy it…

If you buy it…

Often, when something really odd is said, or if something impossible to believe is said to have happened, Turks say: “Yeah, if you eat it.” It has the same meaning as the phrase “If you buy it.” 

Indeed, recent developments have been so awful that it is easy to understand wishful thinking in relation to the recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement. This rapprochement has apparently reached such dimensions that after a day-long discussion with Turkey’s absolute ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin declared in full confidence that Moscow’s relations with Ankara, which plunged into a crisis after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in 2015, have now fully recovered. 

Are there no exceptions? Unfortunately, the embargo on Turkish tomato exports remains in place, while Turks’ visa-free travel hopes remain frustrated. These two exceptions are remnants of the Russian economic retaliation against Turkey’s downing of the jet on the grounds of violating Turkish airspace. Although then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu proudly declared that he ordered the downing and said he would do the same again, Ankara long ago placed the blame on members of an Islamist gang in the Turkish military, which on July 15, 2016 tried to stage a military coup.

Russia’s refusal to allow Turks visa-free travel was a retaliatory move, but it reflected the growing perception of Turkey as a security risk. Unfortunately, blocking access to Wikipedia or selective reporting in the Turkish media are unfortunately unable to improve the perception of Turkey in Moscow or in Western capitals. Despite the heavy toll that Turkey has paid in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists, persistent claims of oil trade and supportive actions by leading Turkish companies with intimate relations in the country’s power dens have produced a rather negative Turkey perception abroad. Probably Russia preferred not to move on visa-free travel for now due to such considerations. 

Regarding the embargo on exports of Turkish tomatoes, however, the reason is probably purely economic.

Because of the embargo, Russian farmers have made investments in tomato production, and Moscow wants to protect its own farmers at the beginning of the harvest season. Of course there is nothing abnormal in this, even if the continued embargo or restrictions on Turkish tomatoes has very adverse effects on the income of Turkish farmers.

On the battlefield, meanwhile, Turkey and Russia remain as far apart as ever, since Moscow has de facto moved to protect the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the PYD’s military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from probable Turkish attacks. Turkey has been preoccupied with preventing the Syrian Kurds from establishing an independent state along its borders, maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, and supporting the removal of the Bashar al-Assad regime from government. Russia, under its obsessive “stability of Syria” approach, has not only been supportive of al-Assad but has also started lending active support to the PYD, particularly after Turkey’s recent attacks. If Turkey and Russia really have left their crisis in the past and restored normalcy to their relations, will Moscow now order its troops in northern Syria patrolling the Turkish border together with YPG elements at least try to be less visible?

It appears that this will be an “Erdoğan-Putin-style normalcy,” with both leaders and countries delivering lofty statements of brotherhood and togetherness while each walking their separate ways.

Indeed, Turkey has long been doing exactly the same with the Americans as well. According to official statements from the White House, the State Department, the Turkish Presidential Palace, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the two countries have entered a honeymoon period thanks to the end of Barack Obama’s “troubled era.” However, photos have emerged of U.S. Special Forces aiding and abetting the PYD – which Washington considers to be legitimate despite Ankara’s condemnation that it is no different from the PKK – while also turning a blind eye to the presence of notorious PKK militants in YPG command positions. Like the Russians, American troops have also been patrolling the border with Turkey in armored vehicles bearing YPG and American flags.

All good allies and friends, if you buy it…