Moving beyond Turkey’s apology, Russian rhetoric

The joke doing the rounds these days is about Turkey’s postal service, which works so badly that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s letter to the Kremlin arrived seven month late. Jokes aside, Russia has made a media spectacle about the receipt of a letter from Erdogan apologizing for the downing of a Russian fighter jet over the Syria-Turkey border on Nov. 24, 2015.

Such a letter was long-awaited by the Kremlin. Despite the harsh rhetoric that followed the incident, including accusations that Ankara supports the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, Russia needs Turkey as an ally. It is an important trading partner, and an influential and powerful neighbor. Even if Turkey is not loved or trusted, it is always better to be on good terms with it.

The Turks have a remarkable skill to apologize without being apologetic. Nevertheless, the letter was received, the leaders spoke by phone for the first time since the downing of the jet, and agreed to meet during the G20 summit in China, however Erdogan asked for a meeting on Russian territory. President Vladimir Putin has ordered ministries to start normalizing ties, and both countries’ foreign ministers will hold talks in Sochi on July 1 on the sidelines of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization meeting.

Erdogan had numerous reasons to send the letter. He has spoiled Turkey’s relations with all its strategic partners. Washington became cool toward Ankara following its crackdown on media, freedom of speech and dissent. The U.S. alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) alienates Turkey.

Meanwhile, Europe is tired of a noisy neighbour, and the German parliament has recognized the Armenian genocide, which is a slap in a face for the Turks. Erdogan thinks his country will not become an EU member, at least not in the medium term. Due to Turkey’s isolation, Erdogan is turning to regional neighbors, boosting ties with Saudi Arabia, and restoring ties with Israel and Russia.


The letter is just the one of the signals Ankara has been sending Moscow for at least two months. Russia’s sanctions and embargo on a significant group of Turkish goods has hurt the latter’s economy. The strongest blow was the ban on Russian tourists traveling to Turkey, which was a prime destination for them.

Russia is ready to embrace Turkey as its ally again, and the coming months will see the unfreezing of bilateral projects

Maria Dubovikova

The severe decline in tourism has caused local businesses to collapse. The tourism industry, which accounts for 6.2 percent of Turkish economic output and 8 percent of employment, is set to lose $12 billion this year. However, it should be noted that the decline is also due to the severe rise in terrorism.

Despite the terrorist attack on Ataturk International Airport claiming dozens of lives, Erdogan’s promise to do whatever possible to guarantee the security of Russian tourists appears to be enough for the Kremlin to start the process of lifting the ban. Russia is ready to embrace Turkey as its ally again, and the coming months will see the unfreezing of bilateral projects.

However, relations will not be as they were before, as too much was said on both sides in the past seven months, and the shooting down of the fighter jet will be imprinted in their relations. Also, there are numerous disagreements between the two countries, especially over Syria, which will complicate bilateral cooperation, as well as Crimea and the sensitive issue of the Armenian genocide.

However, the warming of ties indicates that both sides have found common ground, perhaps even on the Syrian matter. This could possibly be concerning their stance on Assad, as no matter how devilish he is, he doesn't support the Kurdish desire for autonomy.

Ultimately, what can truly serve as a common ground for the rebuilding of relations is the fight against terrorism. The Istanbul attack has already played an important role in this. The organizer of this violent bombing was on a Russian terrorist list. Hopefully, the fight against terrorism will be a solid background for overcoming existing disagreements between Russia and Turkey. It's time to build alliances, not fuel rivalries.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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