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Analysts: Turkish president would like to mend relations with Moscow, save face

June 28, 2016, 21:56 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The Turkish president's apologies to Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the military plane shot down over Syria last November and the death of its pilot, Oleg Peshkov, made headline news on Monday

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

MOSCOW, June 28. /TASS/. Turkish politicians’ conflicting statements as to whether a compensation will be paid to Russia for the downed Sukhoi-24 bomber is sure evidence Ankara is keen to mend relations with Moscow, on the one hand, and to let the ruling Justice and Development Party and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan save face, on the other, polled experts have told TASS, when asked to clear up confusion over Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s remarks on the issue.

Conflicting statements

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s apologies to Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the military plane shot down over Syria last November and the death of its pilot, Oleg Peshkov, made headline news on Monday. Shortly after that Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the TRT television channel that in his message Erdogan expressed regret on Turkey’s behalf over the incident and said that a compensation would be paid, if necessary. However, on Tuesday Reuters quoted Yildirim as saying just the opposite. Turkey merely presented apologies but the issue of a compensation was not raised, he claimed.

What does this mean?

The head of the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institute of world economy and international relations IMEMO, Aleksey Arbatov, believes that a compensation for the downed Sukhoi-24 plane would be a meager sum for the economy of Russia or Turkey, but for Ankara it is a matter of principle.

"A compensation paid would be tantamount to material evidence of Turkey’s apologies. It should not be ruled out that Erdogan told his prime minister to toe the line and Yildirim had to take his words back, because after seven months of refusal to present apologies to Russia a sudden expression of sorrow and readiness to pay a compensation for the damage caused would spell the Turkish president’s wholesale surrender. The modality of Turkey’s attempts to restore relations with Russia is equivalent to that of oriental bargaining. In this way it will avoid looking like an utter loser," Arbatov said.

Assistant professor of political theory at the Moscow state institute of international relations MGIMO, Kirill Koktysh, too, believes that however obvious his intention to restore relations with Russia may be Erdogan places the reputation he enjoys inside the country above anything else. "The Turkish president has taken a step towards Russia, but at the same time he wants his electorate to see him as a firm leader. This explains why he refuses to comply with all of the Kremlin’s demands for the resumption of cooperation, namely, apologies, compensations and punishment of all those responsible," Koktysh said.

The ball starts rolling

Although Turkey’s stance looks obviously dubious, experts believe that Erdogan has got over his pride and ambitious and that he is really interested in mending relations with Russia. The question remains, though, why now?

"Obviously, Erdogan has realized that being at odds on all fronts - with the United States, with the European Union, with Russia, and with neighboring countries is counter-productive and he should start making peace at last. As the holiday season has begun, the Turkish tourist businesses are having a really hard time without the large Russian clientele. This partially explains why Erdogan has offered his belated apologies for the downed Sukhoi-24 jet at last," Koktysh believes.

Arbatov points to the pile of problems that has emerged in Turkey’s relations with the European Union over the migration crisis, the indefinite postponement of the visaless regimen, Syria and the Kurds. Ankara has had to pay dearly for severed relations with Moscow.

"Both countries - Turkey and Russia - are interested in restarting cooperation and it is resuming slowly but surely. Abandoning such a mega project as Turkey’s Russia-designed nuclear power plant Akkuyu that Turkish companies are building on the southern coast would be in nobody’s interests.

Leading research fellow at IMEMO and the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Ivanov, says that instead of eliminating problems in relations with neighboring countries Turkey has faced the opposite effect - confrontation along the perimeter border.

"Behind Erdogan’s apologies one may surely see Ankara’s wish to compensate for the losses resulting from its own foreign policy by restoring relations with Russia. Certainly, the level of relations that had existed before the downing of the Sukhoi-24 jet is unachievable. But the people of Turkey and Russia and both countries’ business circles are eager to resume cooperation. Russian holiday-makers were not the only source of revenue. Russia also provided gas and metals and designed the Akkuyu NPP. It is in the interests of both sides to restore cooperation. This will take a while but the process is on already," Ivanov said.

He believes that apart from meeting Moscow’s conditions for the restoration of relations future diplomatic steps must surely include negotiations on Turkey’s stance over Syria and the struggle against international terrorism.

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