Is the Moscow-Ankara alliance sustainable?

At a meeting in Saint Petersburg Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have declared an end to the dispute between their two countries triggered by the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet last autumn. Commentators discuss whether the two can overcome the differences in their policy vis-à-vis Syria.

Open/close all quotes
Habertürk (TR) / 15 August 2016

Turkey expanding its leeway in foreign affairs

Ankara's objective is to once again have some say in global politics, Habertürk concludes:

“The thaw in relations is the result of a pragmatic, necessary stance that serves mutual interests; it does not represent the formation of an alternative power bloc in the world. Despite all the complaints and resentment Turkey seems inclined to remain in the Atlantic alliance. But there can be no doubt that it wants to gain more room for manoeuvre. To do this it must come into play once more in Syria - one of the main global conflicts. This can be achieved by moving a little closer to the Russian position, limiting its support for opposition groups and playing a more active role in the campaign against the IS.”

Kommersant (RU) / 11 August 2016

No false illusions, please!

The Russian daily Kommersant warns not to expect too much from the new alliance between Moscow and Ankara:

“The reconciliation between Russia and Turkey formalised in Saint Petersberg a few days ago should not give rise to any unjustified hopes or false illusions. The relations between Ankara and Moscow are too riddled with problems and contradictions for any talk of a 'strategic alliance'. The first and main problem is their diametrically opposed positions in the Syria conflict. Putin supports Assad while Erdoğan wants him removed from office. Nothing has changed there. And Ankara's support for the Syrian opposition, which has gone on the offensive in Aleppo, hasn't ended. We shouldn't forget that it was differences over the Syria conflict that triggered the unprecedented crisis in their bilateral relations after the shooting down of the Russian bomber. Those differences remain.”

Novi list (HR) / 12 August 2016

The emancipation of Turkey

Erdoğan will make history at the end of the year, Novi list predicts:

“What direction will Turkey take in its domestic affairs? This question is of far less consequence to the West than the puzzle of which course Turkey will take in foreign policy. And Erdoğan has all the trumps up his sleeve here. He has restored good relations with Russia, normalised his country's ties with Isreal, quashed the coup, consolidated his power and eliminated his most dangerous opponents, the Gülenists. And now it looks like by the end of the year Erdoğan will be able to boast about having achieved what no other Turkish president before him has accomplished: the emancipation of Turkey from the US.”

Kaleva (FI) / 11 August 2016

Russia can't get by without the West

It only appears as if Russia and Turkey want to become independent from the West, Kaleva writes:

“Turkey and Russia are united by one thing: moving closer to each other gives both countries trump cards they can play against the West. Nato member Turkey can try to force concessions out of Nato and the EU, which fear further rapprochement between Turkey and Russia. At the same time Turkey can play the refugee card in its dealings with the EU: if the EU starts to gripe, it can let the refugees move on to Greece and other EU countries. Russia's relations with the West are at a low point over Crimea and Ukraine. Ultimately, however, Turkey is just a substitute friend. In the long term Russia needs even closer cooperation with the West, if only to reform its economy.”

Karjalainen (FI) / 11 August 2016

Putin as a master of transformation

It's astonishing how quickly the chill between Russia and Turkey has been overcome, Karjalainen comments:

“Who would have thought just a couple of months ago that the Russian and Turkish presidents would affirm their mutual friendship at a press conference? ... But Russia and Turkey were quick to realise that the chill caused by the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet would be too costly for both sides. ... If Turkey weren't a member of Nato, the two countries would now be swearing eternal friendship and allegiance. But despite everything Ankara still depends on Nato and Europe and can't go throwing itself into Moscow's arms. Putin, by contrast, enjoys nothing better than chipping away at Nato and the EU from the inside. The negotiations in Saint Petersburg are an unpleasant reminder of how quickly the political situation can change and of how versatile Putin can be within this context.”

Observador (PT) / 10 August 2016

A fragile friendship

The alliance between Erdoğan and Putin won't last for long, Russia expert José Milhazes predicts in the online paper Observador:

“This is an alliance whose main objective is to blackmail the West. … Despite all the declarations of friendship, however, Putin knows that his Turkish counterpart wouldn't hesitate to turn around and stab him in the back to guarantee his own political survival. For his part Erdoğan entertains no illusions about Putin's foreign policy. So it is likely that this 'alliance' will lead nowhere - above all because there are other divergences in the respective foreign policy of Moscow and Ankara. For example the Kremlin is not exactly enthusiastic about Turkey expanding its influence in Central Asia.”

Delo (SI) / 11 August 2016

Presidents both bear grudges against the EU

It is entirely possible that economic interests were also a factor behind the new alliance between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin but the main bond between the two is shared feelings, Delo observes:

“A compelling reason that drove the 'sultan of the Bosphorus' to eat humble pie and the 'Kremlin tsar' to receive the latter despite all their quarrels could be the EU. … Both Putin and Erdoğan bear grudges against the EU, the West, the US and Nato. Putin because of the Ukraine crisis and Nato's 'unjustified' advance in Eastern Europe. Erdoğan because of Europe's 'unfulfilled promises' and the 'betrayal' of Turkey by the EU, the US generals and the CIA after the quashed military coup.”

Avvenire (IT) / 10 August 2016

The new-old agreement

What is truly remarkable is that the West is so surprised at the new harmony between Moscow and Ankara, the daily paper Avvenire observes:

“The reasons for this second Russian-Turkish marriage are strategic in nature. Both countries border on the Black Sea which has become one of the centres of US geopolitics, starting with Ukraine, which the White House wanted to extract from Moscow's sphere of influence. … Russia and Turkey are too big and too strong to come to terms with being mere vassals but they are not big and strong enough to be able to compete on a par with the US. So isn’t it only natural that they should join forces? … The same is happening in the Middle East. Putin wants Assad to stay put in Syria, while Erdoğan wants him to go. Now the two leaders are seeking a compromise. Assad could go into exile in Moscow and make way for a successor whom the country's neighbours approve of. For pragmatic reasons and above all out of geopolitical necessity.”

Daily Sabah (TR) / 10 August 2016

Start of a new world order

The meeting between Erdoğan and Putin is historically important because it marks a realignment in the global balance of power, the pro-government paper Daily Sabah comments:

“We are stepping into a new and multipolar world where countries like Turkey will determine the fate of their own regions and contribute to the functioning of the global system. This is why Erdoğan reiterates that 'The world is bigger than five' [UN Security Council Members] at every occasion. ... The advocates of the old world did not pay much attention to Putin and his Eurasian union project. This was because a Eurasian union that excluded Turkey would not go beyond a small cartoon of a new, but rotten Soviet Union. Now, however, there is an opportunity to achieve a Eurasian union that is supported by Turkey. ... As such, we cannot regard the July 15 incidents merely as a conventional attempted coup like the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980. It was a new-generation occupation and pro-mandate move that was staged on an earlier date depending on Turkey's restoration of its ties with Russia and Israel.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) / 10 August 2016

Cause for relief

There are several reasons why Nato and the EU needn't worry too much about the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara, the die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments:

“Firstly it must be pointed out that Nato was very alarmed by the incidents last autumn, when military escalation seemed a distinct possibility and was to be avoided at all cost. So the fact that at least those clouds have dispersed comes as a relief. The Turkish president's bid to seek favour with Putin because he doesn't believe he can get it in Europe is more likely proof that the alliance being forged in St. Petersburg is not a strategically profound anti-Western one but at most an alliance of convenience dressed up in reconciliation rhetoric.”

L'Echo (BE) / 10 August 2016

Turkey and Russia may set a precedent

Other countries may follow Russia and Turkey in the transition to authoritarian regimes, L'Echo worries:

“This rapprochement between Turkey and Russia could signal the slow but sure emergence of a new balance of power in which the West and its values play only a secondary role. Europe faces huge demographic problems and has endured crisis after crisis. Turkey and Russia, two major military powers enjoying economic growth, have taken advantage of this weakness to push through their authoritarian model on the geopolitical chessboard. There is a great risk that a growing number of emerging countries will also shun the democratic model in favour of such authoritarianism.”

To Vima Online (GR) / 10 August 2016

Greece finally becoming important once more

A new Moscow-Ankara axis will give Greece's geopolitical role a boost, To Vima writes jubilantly:

“Yesterday's joint declaration by Putin and Erdoğan in St. Petersburg creates a new reality that extends beyond the region and is a very important international event in geopolitics. This declaration is extremely important for Greece. … It brings Greece very close to the geopolitical role it played when it was first founded at the start of the 19th century: at the forefront of the West, on the West's border. No one in the West can ignore the fact that Greece's geopolitical role is being strengthened. … It is vital that Athens itself doesn't ignore this. It must seize this opportunity to strengthen its role in the region in close cooperation with Cyprus, Israel and naturally with the US too.”

Handelsblatt (DE) / 09 August 2016

EU to blame for Turkey's newfound independence

The EU drove Erdoğan into Putin's arms by failing to stand by the Turkish leader after the attempted coup, Handelsblatt believes:

“Turkey threatens to slip away from the EU altogether, and the meeting between Erdoğan and Putin is the first step in this direction. The two will put the final seal on the political and economic partnership their ministers have hammered out in recent days. But one topic that will not be addressed today is Erdoğan's policies. The EU, however, is making precisely this mistake: it views the coup attempt primarily in the light of the refugee agreement, Turkey's possible EU accession and the observable democracy deficit on the Bosphorus. ... But instead of seeking to welcome Ankara into the Western fold as Europe did half a century ago with Turkey's Nato accession, the EU politicians are joining forces with Erdoğan to distance Turkey from Europe. Putin is delighted.”

De Volkskrant (NL) / 09 August 2016

Ankara can't get by without EU and Nato

It's unrealistic to say that Turkey is turning away from the EU and Nato and allying itself with Russia, De Volkskrant counters:

“Apart from such pedestrian issues as a gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant, Erdoğan's visit is above all of tactical significance. He wants to show that he doesn't need America or Europe. ... His problem is that everyone knows that's no true. The Americans know it, the Russians know it, and even the Turks themselves know it. They know their economic statistics: almost half of Turkey's foreign trade is with Europe, three-quarters of the vital foreign investments come from European states. They know that their security is ultimately guaranteed by Nato, not by the Kremlin's geopolitical cynicism. ... The photo session with the handshake between Putin and Erdoğan will no doubt remain the most important political result of this meeting.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) / 09 August 2016

Erdoğan just a pawn in Russian game of chess

Erdoğan's Russia visit is not a sign of his strength but the opposite, writes business paper Il Sole 24 Ore:

“The truth is that even after the counter-coup that has left him the absolute ruler of Turkey Erdoğan has to come to terms with a completely deficient foreign policy situation in which Turkey can at most hope to act as a dangerous pawn in the game of others. A bitter disappointment for those who believed in revival of the triumphal marches of [the Ottoman rulers] Mehmed the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent. The only small consolation for Erdoğan is that his subjects will hardly be able to properly assess the dimensions of the disaster in view of the dreadful state of press freedom on the Bosphorus.”

Trouw (NL) / 08 August 2016

Putin laughing up his sleeve

Erdoğan wants to put Europe and the US under pressure and meanwhile Putin is laughing up his sleeve, Trouw comments:

“For Putin it is a symbolic victory that Erdoğan has come to him and not the other way round. It shows that the Turkish president needs Moscow's good will. … Erdoğan is having to go down on his knees to restore economic ties with Russia. … Turkey will also have to accept Russia keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. … And in the area of energy too, Putin benefits from Erdoğan's current weakness. The two presidents will probably announce the relaunch of Turkish Stream tomorrow, the gas pipeline that is to run between the two countries. … This shows that Erdoğan is open once more for a project that makes Brussels nervous. As long as the Turkish leader continues to put his Western allies under pressure by improving the relations with Russia, Putin will be laughing up his sleeve.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) / 08 August 2016

Ankara going its own way without the West

Erdoğan's visit to Putin doesn't mean that the two now plan to forge an alliance against the West, Der Tagesspiegel comments:

“Major differences remain, and not just in Syria. As the heirs of two empires that were hostile to each other, Turkey and Russia are old rivals in the Caucasus. In the Ukraine conflict Turkey has clearly sided with Kiev in recent months; and it has complained about the oppression of Ankara's allies, the Crimean Tartars. Turkey's Nato membership, which goes back more than half a century, is also an obstacle to a close alliance with Moscow. A more likely prospect than a Turkish-Russian alliance is that Turkey will reorient itself. Important advisors of Erdoğan have long been demanding that the country free itself from the West and pursue its own foreign policy objectives as an independent power in the region. These voices have grown louder amidst the anti-Western mood that has prevailed since the attempted coup. Erdoğan's tirades against Europe and the West and his visit to Russia could be a sign that this process of withdrawal is beginning.”

More current debates

El Mundo (ES)
NRC Handelsblad (NL)
Korrespondent (UA)
Strana (UA)
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE)
La Stampa (IT)
Ir (LV)
Diena (LV)
Denik (CZ)
Dennik N (SK)
Cyprus Mail (CY)
Le Jeudi (LU)