The volatile Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has swung around again – landing this time with both feet in the Russian orbit. For the sake of closer ties with President Vladimir Putin, he has embarked on major steps, all at the expense of his country’s membership of NATO.
On March 8, Turkey and Russia conducted a joint drill in the Black Sea in defiance of Western pressure on Moscow over the Kerch Strait crisis with Ukraine.
On April 15, Erdogan and Putin are scheduled to meet in Moscow to discuss boosting bilateral trade and economic ties. But first, in a former meeting, Moscow agreed to double import quotas for Turkey’s agricultural products to help stabilize rising food prices in time for Turkey’s local elections on March 31.
On March 6, Ankara went back to the deal for the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense missiles systems (SAMs), in the face of strong objections from Washington and a threat of US sanctions. Erdogan added Russian S-500 SAMs to his military shopping list from Moscow and pointed the way to closer defense with the Kremlin.
On March 14, Turkey and Russia agreed to set up a bilateral coordination center for dealing together with the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the last large patch of Syria still controlled by rebel forces.
Notwithstanding its denials, Turkey is providing Russia and Syria with targeting intelligence for their air strikes against al Qaeda-linked forces in northern Syria. They are negotiating a similar cooperation deal for Northern Aleppo Province. Reopening trade routes between Turkey and Syria calls for a security environment on the highway linking Aleppo City to the rebel-held border town of Azaz. Washington and Brussels complain that the expanding ties between Turkey and Russia undermine the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty alliance. They also jeopardize any prospects of a US-Turkish deal for stabilizing eastern Syria.