NEWSLINK: Russia and Turkey: Cool pragmatism: They may disagree about Syria but Russia and Turkey keep close business relations

[Russia and Turkey: Cool pragmatism: They may disagree about Syria but Russia and Turkey keep close business relations – The Economist – Dec. 8, 2012 – click here for full article]

The Economist reports on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Turkey, and its context.

Russia has been siding with Syria’s Assad regime at the United Nations over sanctions,while also being mindful of the influence Syrian Islamists could have over Russia’s own Islamist situations.  Meanwhile, Turkey has been drawn into aspects of the conflict, including hosting refugees and allegedly allowing a flow of arms to Syrian rebels.  Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet over the sea, possibly with Russia’s help, while Turkey intercepted a Russian plane headed for Syria under circumstances with which Russia took umbrage:

… Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, arrived in Istanbul on December 3rd for talks with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister (pictured above). Russia is wary of Syria’s Islamists and their pull over its own restive Muslims. It is bent on blocking America and its friends from gaining further ground in the region. It continues to back Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, with cash and weapons.

The Russians have repeatedly blocked more sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council and are firmly against any international intervention. Turkey is at the forefront of a campaign to overthrow Mr Assad. It has opened its doors to thousands of refugees (135,519 at the last count), and granted haven and the free flow of arms to rebels. Turkey has also been lobbying for the establishment of a buffer zone and humanitarian corridors.

When Syria downed a Turkish fighter jet over the Mediterranean in June some claimed that it had done so with Russian help. Tension increased on October 10th when Turkey intercepted a Syria-bound passenger jet which it said contained Russian-made radar equipment. Russia denied this and claimed that 17 Russians on board had been manhandled by the Turkish authorities. Mr. Putin then postponed a planned trip to Turkey.

Nevertheless, Putin eventually made his visit and signed nearly a dozen Russian-Turkish agreements, with the two countries emphasizing trade:

… in the end Mr Putin did come, and even signed 11 different agreements with the Turks. …

… Russia has become Turkey’s top trading partner. This is mainly in Russia’s favour: the bulk of the transactions are made up of Russian natural-gas sales to Turkey. Next year Russia will start building Turkey’s first nuclear- power plant near the Mediterranean port of Mersin. Turkey has also agreed to let Russia build a second pipeline via the Black Sea to Europe. Russia is the biggest market for Turkish contractors; Turkey is the top destination for Russian tourists. The two countries boast that two-way trade will triple to some $100 billion in the coming years.

On the political front decades of cold- war hostility have given way to a cool pragmatism. Turkey remained pointedly neutral during Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia and has worked hard with the Russians to resolve conflicts in the Balkans.

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Russia also reportedly is back-peddling on the issue of Patriot missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria:

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… Russia seems to have overcome its twitchiness over the deployment of NATO-manned defensive missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria. It says it “understood” Turkey’s security concerns. (Reports that Mr Assad has been shuttling around his chemical weapons have set off alarm bells in Ankara.) And Mr Putin’s assertion in Istanbul that Turkey and Russia “share the same goals in Syria” but “differ on how to get there” is being touted by Turkey as an encouraging sign …

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