Turkey strives for open dialogue with Russia despite rift over Syria

Turkey strives for open dialogue with Russia despite rift over Syria
# 12 July 2012 04:29 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Disagreements over Turkish and Russian policies on the Syrian crisis are so deep that they are unlikely to be reconciled soon. But as the crisis begins to show signs of sparking a global confrontation reminiscent of Cold War-era hostilities, Ankara is keen to prevent further poisoning of its ties with Russia by keeping channels of senior-level dialogue with Moscow open. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning a one-day visit to Moscow on July 18 to find ways to end the 16-month violence in Syria that has now left more than 15,000 Syrians dead, APA reports quoting Today’s Zaman.

A Turkish diplomatic official, who spoke to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity, said that bilateral, regional and international affairs would be discussed during Erdoğan’s visit. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is expected to accompany Erdoğan, who is scheduled to hold talks and exchange views with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Syrian crisis. Experts agree that the crisis in Syria would dominate Erdoğan’s agenda and the downed Turkish jet by Syrian forces would be the main topic.

Syrian forces shot down a RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F4 fighter jet last month, which, according to Ankara, was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems and was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace.

Experts also expect that ErdoÄŸan will ask Moscow to share with Turkey any possible data which it has about the jet incident.

Birol Akgün, a specialist from the Ankara-based Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), told Today’s Zaman that the jet incident would be the main topic under discussion. "Following the incident, Russia has left Turkey in a difficult situation by stating that they have data on the jet incident. Probably, the two countries will discuss their data and may share them," said Akgün.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference in Geneva on June 30 that Russia has data to prove that jet shot down by Syria had violated Syrian airspace contrary to Ankara’s claims, and was prepared to present it. "We have our objective observation data and we are prepared to present it," Lavrov said.

Last Friday Davutoğlu called for greater pressure to be placed on Russia and China to push them to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, during a gathering of Western and Arab nations in Paris supporting the Syrian opposition.

"We should increase pressure on the Syrian regime and those who support that regime, increasingly isolate them," DavutoÄŸlu said at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting, where Russia and China were not present.

At the same meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged world powers to show Russia and China that they would pay a price for impeding progress toward a democratic transition in Syria.

"The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress -- blockading it -- [and] that is no longer tolerable," Clinton said.

Russia is under international pressure to exert influence over Assad’s regime to make it stick to a peace plan laid out by UN envoy Kofi Annan.

Hasan Selim Özertem, an expert on Russia from the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) told Today’s Zaman that there was pressure by the West on Russia due to its position in the crisis, adding Russia has changed its attitude relatively since May. "We see that Russia is holding dialogue with the Syrian opposition. It is taking an active position in international platforms, for instance in the Geneva meeting," said Özertem.

The foreign ministers of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members -- Russia, the US, China, France and the UK -- all attended the Geneva meeting along with Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, where they agreed that a transitional government should be set up in Syria but left open the question of what role Assad might play.

Members of Syrian opposition met with Lavrov on Wednesday with the aim of pushing Russia to accept Assad’s ouster as part of a political transition in Syria, but said after the talks that they saw "no change" in Moscow’s stance toward Assad.

Russian news agencies said this week that Russia planned to suspend arms shipments to Syria, possibly signaling a shift in its stance towards Assad, whom it has defended from harsher sanctions at the UN Security Council, along with China.

But news reports last Tuesday said that Russia had dispatched a destroyer-class warship, which was expected to arrive at the Turkish straits by Wednesday morning, to Syria from its Black Sea fleet.

"Actually Russia is also searching for a solution of the crisis. It seems that Russia has question marks regarding the future of the Assad regime," said Özertem.

Meanwhile, Russia said it would be ready to host a new meeting of world powers aimed at ending the conflict in Syria and proposed broadening the talks to invite other countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Özertem underlined that with the visit to Russia, Erdoğan wanted to use face-to-face diplomacy, adding that Turkey already has an open dialogue with Russia. "This visit is important because Russia has become a significant actor in the Syrian crisis. Turkey wants to be a part of the shuttle diplomacy. Especially after the jet incident, Turkey wants to control tensions and discuss issues with the key actors in the crisis. In this sense, Russia is an important country for Turkey. It is not an ordinary partner but a critical partner in terms of economy and energy. On the other hand, Russia is aware of Turkey’s importance in the region. Therefore, Russia cannot disregard Turkey’s position," said Özertem, adding that the divided position of the two countries did not affect their economic relations.

"The Syrian crisis didn’t affect the bilateral relations seriously but created a perception problem between the two countries. Moscow’s perception is that Turkey is adopting a similar attitude with the West regarding the Syrian crisis," said Özertem, noting the Syrian issue has turned into a power struggle between Russia and the West.

Akgün added that a trust problem occurred between the two countries due to their divided positions on the Syrian issue, adding that the Syrian crisis created a polarization in the region.

"It is not possible to issue a decision on the Syrian crisis in the UN Security Council without convincing Russia and China. Therefore, these states should be convinced. In this regard, Erdoğan’s visit is of great importance," said Akgün, adding Erdoğan would try to convince Moscow to change its stance on the Syrian crisis.

Russia and China have used their veto power twice in the UN Security Council to shield Syria from harsher international sanctions, arguing firmly against military intervention.