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History of Russia and Turkey's ups and downs since 2015

A brief look on the past 18 months of Russian-Turkish relations by the TASS archive service

MOSCOW. May 2. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet in Sochi on May 3. A brief look on the past 18 months of Russian-Turkish relations by the TASS archive service is found below.

How the crisis began

A sharp worsening of bilateral relations occurred after the November 24, 2015 incident, when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 bomber over Syria. The pilots ejected themselves. Machinegun fire from the ground killed one of them, Lieutenant-Colonel Oleg Peshkov. Russian President Vladimir Putin described Ankara’s actions as a "stab in the back by terrorists’ henchmen" and warned that the event would entail far-reaching consequences for the development of Russian-Turkish relations. On November 26, 2015 Putin said Turkey had failed to respond properly to the incident and presented no apologies. Erdogan on the same day told the CNN network that Ankara would not apologize to Moscow. He argued that apologies were to be presented by Moscow, because the Russian plane had allegedly strayed into Turkish airspace.

On January 1, 2016 Russia banned all charter flights to and from Turkey as well as the sale of tourist vouchers, suspended visaless trips and imposed sanctions on a wide range of Turkish goods (farm produce first and foremost). Some major projects, including the Turkish Stream pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power project were suspended and bilateral political contacts frozen.

Gradual normalization of relations

On June 12, 2016 Erdogan dispatched a message to Putin to apologize for the downed bomber. On August 9, 2016 he arrived in Russia for a meeting with Putin in St. Petersburg. Their talks started the normalization of bilateral relations.

Later in August Russia lifted the ban from tourism to Turkey and restrictions from charter flights between the two countries (in January-May 2016 the share of Russian holiday-makers accounted for a tiny 1.7% of the overall number of foreign visitors to Turkey; in 2015 one in ten guests entering Turkey was Russian). Russia and Turkey agreed the necessary decisions for going ahead with the Akkuyu NPP. Ankara declared the nuclear power project as a strategic investment (priority economic development project). In October 2016 an inter-government agreement on the Turkish Stream pipeline was signed (Gazprom and Botas inked a memorandum of understanding on December 1, 2014). Later in the same month the Russian government canceled the import ban on fruit (and in March 2017 sanctions were removed from a number of other goods).

The assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov on December 19, 2016 was another challenge to bilateral relations. Moscow and Ankara slammed the killing as a provocation aimed at disrupting the normalization of bilateral relations. The political dialogue went on. However, the talks on cancelling visas Turkey had initiated in October 2016 were paused.

Cooperation in settling the Syrian crisis

Syria became one of the areas of cooperation after the normalization of bilateral relations. Although Moscow is an ally of President Bashar Assad while Ankara supports the opposition, toward the end of 2016 Russia and Turkey, and also Iran, which agreed to join in later, became the key actors seeking a settlement in Syria. Trilateral talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Moscow on December 20 established ceasefire in Syria. It took effect on December 30 and has been observed since then by and large with only minor exceptions. The three countries agreed to act as guarantors of the intra-Syrian negotiations in Astana (these started in January 2017; the second round followed in February 2017, and the third, in March; the 4th one is due on May 3). Also Russia, Turkey and Iran created a joint group of experts to monitor truce and promote the disengagement of terrorist groups and opposition forces (their meeting is due on Astana on May 2, 2017).

The political dialog was backed up by several joint operations Russian and Turkish air forces in Syria conducted against the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) in January 2017. Russia and Turkey on February 12 signed a memorandum on the prevention of incidents and on ensuring the safety of flights over Syria. The need for the air forces of the two countries to coordinate operations followed an incident near Al Bab, northern Syria, when strikes by Russian planes against Islamic terrorists unintentionally killed three Turkish soldiers and injured eleven others. Putin offered his condolences to Erdogan in a telephone conversation.

Erdogan’s visit in March 2017

On March 10, 2017, at a meeting with Erdogan in Moscow Putin said that Russia and Turkey had returned back to the track of partnership and cooperation. A number of agreements were signed, including a medium-term program for trading, economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation between the governments of the two countries for 2017-2020. An agreement was achieved on holding a cross year of culture and tourism in 2019. In the meantime, Russia has not yet lifted the ban from the import of a number of agricultural products contrary to Turkey’s expectations. On March 15 Turkey stopped issuing licenses for the duty-free import of sunflower seed oil, wheat and corn from Russia (the duty stands at 130%). According to the Russian Academy of Foreign Trade Russia’s losses from the ban may total $1.3 billion - $1.5 billion.