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National Security Desk / August 8, 2016

Turkey and Russia Warming to Each Other?

Erdogan’s meeting with Putin is a potentially troubling development.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after having survived a recent coup attempt, will be traveling to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, continuing a reconciliation processes of sorts. Relations between the two countries have warmed lately after having been severely strained last year when Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet that crossed its airspace. The timing of this latest meeting and Erdogan’s severe crackdown on accused coup conspirators is causing leaders in the West to question his commitment to democratic government. What has been particularly troublesome to the U.S. is the demand by Erdogan for the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan blames for instigating the coup attempt. So far the U.S. has failed to find any connection and has refuse extradition.

Officially, the meeting between Erdogan and Putin is touted as primarily purposed for developing economic interests between the two nations. However, Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based foreign policy think tank Edam, believes there is more to it. He says, “Turkey could indeed go in a more anti-West direction by seeking now to accelerate the normalization and eventual rapprochement with Russia. So there is a real signal Erdogan is trying to give beyond the concrete talks on trade, energy and Syria.” This is indeed troubling news.

It seems that both Putin and Erdogan see an opportunity to help each other, which could further pull Turkey away from its NATO allies in the West. Barack Obama seems to have done little in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, and has even looked rather uninterested. There has been almost nothing coming from the administration as far as foreign policy decisions regarding an area of the world where it is essential for national security interests that the U.S. maintain a strong presence. And so it appears that Putin has out maneuvered Obama on yet another very important foreign policy issue.

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