Following a visit to St. Petersburg, President Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Vladimir Putin to bring back the level of cooperation that both countries had before the coup attempt.
Turkey had shot down a Russian jet and imposed trade sanctions, but now it seems that a stronger Erdogan is aspiring toward strengthening his country’s relationship with the Slavic superpower. Erdogan also took the time to criticize Secretary of State John Kerry as he had not visited Turkey after the coup attempt.
The State Department responded by expressing the need of being cautious when approaching Turkey, as its language of choice has leaned toward an anti-Western rhetoric, proposing that the Obama administration had something to do with the coup. Erdogan claims that Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim imam residing in Pennsylvania, was to blame for the events. The United States has refused to extradite him because there is no feasible proof of his involvement in such affairs.
President Obama condemned the coup attempt, but also appeared to be concerned because Erdogan urged Turkey’s institutions, killing hundreds of officials, teachers, journalists, and public figures. Erdogan saw the lack of a total support on his behalf as a disrespect from the United States.
Currently, Turkey supports the United States’ war efforts against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, using Turkish bases to launch airstrikes. The possibility of using their bases appears to be tilting, as Erdogan’s latest statements and his approaching to Russia show that he may be inclined to cut relationships with the US. This is a tough call, as ISIL has the capacity of launching attacks in Turkey, and without the presence of the U.S., these may become more frequent.
Turning to Russia for support
Because of the shooting of the fighter jet, Turkey’s exports to Russia dropped at least 60 percent, besides putting a hold on Russia’s gas pipeline projects on Turkish ground. As they met in St. Petersburg, Erdogan and Putin agreed on resuming these projects and lifting the bans on commerce with Russia.
It appears that Putin has changed his stance toward Erdogan, as the Turkish head of state apologized back in June for the shooting of the plane, and in turn, Putin showed his support for Erdogan after the coup attempt that occurred on July 15. Contrary to the U.S., Putin did not mind the political crackdown developed by Erdogan to purge the country of coup supporters.
But even if Turkey appears to have reestablished relations with Russia, the landscape still seems uncertain, as there are broader and more complex interests. For instance, Russia supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is waging war against rebels, the Islamic State, and Kurds. Turkey wants to see al-Assad fall from power, which is one of the reasons why Russia, who supports al-Assad, has previously accused Turkey of supporting groups linked to the Islamic State.
When there is war, the EU remains silent
In the case of the European Union, Erdogan has criticized their passive stance and the lack of solidarity, which shows that the EU and its members have a conservative position when it comes to international issues that do not involve them directly.
“There is not one person from the EU or the Council of Europe who came here to offer condolences. But they feel no shame or discomfort in telling us these humiliating things,” Erdogan stated back in July, concerning the criticism he received from the EU about purging the country of coup supporters.
European lawmakers have criticized the EU’s inaction, arguing that even if they had not been able to stop Turkey’s path to authoritarianism, they could have offered a statement on behalf of democratic values. The reason is that coups are always seen as attempts against democratic institutions, which in theory, Turkey still possesses.
One of Erdogan’s primary advisers, Ibrahim Kalin, expressed his disappointment of the EU, saying that if the coup had succeeded, the European Union would have supported it, similar to what occurred in Egypt.
Defeating the coup has refreshed the national support for Erdogan, which has allowed him to project power and further develop his authoritarian style of government. Over his 14 years of rule, Erdogan has opted for polarizing Turkey, but now he is going for unity at the basis while being able to create new ties on the international landscape.
A proof of this is that most countries have not focused on the coup attempt, but rather on the purge that he carried out subsequently. On a diplomatic agenda, the United States immediately acknowledged Erdogan’s feat of overcoming the coup, while the European Union remained silent. The U.S. needs Erdogan’s support no matter what to have a strong arm in the Middle East and, specifically, on the Syrian battlefield.
Perhaps Erdogan expected more support from the United States by extraditing Gulen back to Turkey, but a lack of evidence rendered the act impossible. The U.S. is Turkey’s greatest ally, but Erdogan appears to be looking for his ground by reconciling his people, antagonizing the EU and resuming relations with Russia.
“If I had died, our Western friends were ready to jump for joy,” Erdogan stated referring to the coup, the international lack of support and the many one-sided interests.