Turkey Signals Cooperation With Russia Against Islamic State

Turkey and Environs Satellite Image

(Bloomberg – bloomberg.com – Selcan Hacaoglu, Firat Kozok – July 4, 2016)

Turkey may cooperate with Russia in fighting Islamic State, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, just days after the countries agreed to work to repair strained ties.

Cavusoglu denied signaling in an interview Sunday that Turkey may let Russia use southern Incirlik air base for operations in Syria.

“I said we could cooperate with Russia in the struggle against Islamic State from now on,” Cavusoglu said Monday. “I did not say anything regarding the arrival of Russian planes at Incirlik air base.”

On Sunday, he told state-run TRT television that “Turkey has opened its Incirlik air base for those who actively want to participate in the struggle against Islamic State. Why shouldn’t we also cooperate on this with Russia?”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reacting to Cavusoglu’s remarks to TRT, told reporters on Monday that Russia would study the offer.

Mending Ties

Turkey has blamed Islamic State for coordinated attacks at the international airport in Istanbul on Tuesday that killed 45 people and wounded more than 200, ratcheting up the pressure for action against the militant group.

Ankara and Moscow have been trying to mend ties following Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane during a mission over neighboring Syria in November. The confrontation had hurt the Turkish economy as Russia pulled back on tourism and agricultural imports, and deepened Turkey’s isolation in the region.

U.S.-led coalition forces, including Britain, Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, currently use Incirlik to strike Islamic State targets in Syria. Turkey hasn’t participated in airstrikes over Syria since it shot down the Russian jet.

While Turkey classifies Islamic State as a terrorist group, it was late to seal its borders to jihadists crossing from Turkey into Syria, focusing instead on Kurdish militants and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the primary threats to its national security. It worries that Kurdish territorial gains in the fight against Islamic State in Syria could embolden Turkish Kurdish PKK militants who have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.

Article ©2016 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved. Article also appeared at bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-04/turkey-signals-it-will-allow-russia-to-use-incirlik-air-base