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Erdogan in the Kremlin

Erdogan must have seen Turkey’s need for rapprochement with Russia and other countries

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

It was difficult for a lot of people to accept the handshake between Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The entente between their countries, and Ankara’s normalization of relations with Israel, have caused much controversy. However, interests prevail over principles.

Erdogan must have seen Turkey’s need for rapprochement with Russia and other countries. Turkish Kurds are threatening the country’s integrity and unity, more Syrian refugees are at its border crossings, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) succeeded in reaching the heart of Ankara and Istanbul. The recent coup attempt has destabilized the country’s pillars.

Turkish tourism was hit by Moscow’s ban on Russian tourists, who comprise the second-largest source of visitors at 4 million annually. Some 1.5 million Iranian tourists have also boycotted the country. As such, the Turkish lira has slid.

These are some of the reasons that pushed Ankara to reach out to Moscow. Arrangements were initiated before the coup attempt, when the new prime minister said the government intended to end problems with all countries, including Greece, Russia, Israel and Iran.

The belief that Ankara was forced to make up with Moscow because it was afraid of a possible Russian attack makes no sense. Turkey is in NATO, which undertakes joint defense against aggression toward any member.

We cannot disregard the country’s strategic aim of becoming a passageway for Russian gas to Europe. This was discussed between the two presidents in Moscow, and they agreed on part of the project.

However, extending Russian gas pipelines to Europe is currently far-fetched because it would break the Western control on Russian gas, which is forbidden through Ukraine. If tensions between Moscow and Washington escalate, Turkey’s interests with the West are much more important than with Russia.

Erdogan’s reconciliation with Russia, Iran and Israel shows political courage, despite his commitment to his image and popularity in Turkey and the Arab world

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

National interests

Erdogan’s ententes are based on his desire to reduce the risk of international and regional conflicts on his country. He must be hoping for a peaceful solution in Syria, to be implemented most probably after the U.S. presidential election because it is unlikely that Barack Obama will change his position.

Regarding Turkey’s contradictory stances, such us opposing Russia in Syria then signing a cooperation agreement with Moscow, this is normal in politics. Erdogan wants to shorten the gap with Russia, and if he does not succeed in Syria he will have at least done a favor for Turkey in other areas. This also applies to normalizing ties with Israel and strengthening them with Iran. Erdogan wants to serve his country’s interests.

Those who fail to understand recent developments have conjured up an unrealistic image of Turkey acting outside the diplomatic framework and against its own interests. Erdogan’s reconciliation with Russia, Iran and Israel shows political courage, despite his commitment to his image and popularity in Turkey and the Arab world.

Our countries should emulate him because it is normal to have relations with our opponents - even sign agreements with them - for our interests and needs, especially given the changes currently taking place. In any case, Turkish entente with Russia and Iran will not affect the future solution in Syria because the situation on the ground is no longer in their hands.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 12, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.