United States President Donald Trump’s ground shaking announcement on Jerusalem prompted a new wave of rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, and the issue will be high on the agenda during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ankara on Dec. 11.
The Russian leader, already scheduled to visit Egypt on Monday, will travel to Turkey on the same day for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Jerusalem crisis and the situation in Syria.
Putin and Erdogan plan to discuss bilateral issues, including joint energy projects, as well as the conflict in Syria and the broader situation in the Middle East, according to the Kremlin.
Sources in Ankara told Xinhua that the two leaders will discuss “the tension caused by the US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the effects of this very wrong decision on an already volatile and vulnerable region.”
“The Syrian conflict and all aspects of the Turkish-Russian bilateral relations will also be on the table,” added these sources.
In announcing Putin’s visit to Egypt, the Kremlin said on Dec. 7 that Putin and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would discuss stability and security in the Middle East among other things.
Egypt, Turkey, and Russia have all denounced Trump’s decision. Putin and Erdogan voiced “serious concern” about it in a phone conversation on Dec. 7, the Kremlin said.
Russia’s major role in the war in Syria, where it has given President Bashar al-Assad’s government crucial military backing, has increased its influence in the Middle East.
Putin has courted closer ties with Egypt and NATO-member Turkey as well as other countries in the region in recent years.
“Because of a US strategy that does not take into consideration the sensitivities of its allies, pragmatic alliances have been formed with Russia in the region, and one of them is the Russian-Turkish one,” Professor Togrul Ismayil from the University of Economics and Technology told Xinhua.
The Trump announcement on Jerusalem “serves entirely the interests of Russia” in the region by even further consolidating the rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow by exacerbating US-Turkey tensions, explained Ismayil.
“Russia by itself has not the capability of being a major player in the Mideast, but with the alliances that it formed with key regional powers, such as Turkey and Iran, it is strengthening its game,” explained this international politics expert.
Russia and Turkey back different sides in the Syria war and their relations were severely strained after Turkish jets shot a Russian warplane down near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015.
But Putin and Erdogan said they have patched things up.
Meeting in Ankara in September, they said they wanted to see progress on the Turk Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is being built in Turkey with Russian collaboration.
Thousands of Turks took to the streets due to Trump’s highly controversial decision on Jerusalem, slamming the United States and Israel. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Istanbul and Ankara following the Friday prayers chanting pro-Palestinian slogans.
As other Muslim nations around the world, the US decision infuriated Turkey, and President Erdogan warned that it would force Ankara to cut diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
“This could go as far as cutting our diplomatic relations with Israel. You cannot take such a step,” Erdogan told on Tuesday, adding that it would create a “catastrophe.”
Turkish-Israeli relations have faced serious setbacks in the past. In 2011, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador to Ankara and downgraded diplomatic relations after a raid on a ship carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza, killing 10 Turkish activists. Full diplomatic relations were not restored until 2016.
In an effort to lead the Muslim world’s reaction on Jerusalem, the Turkish president called for a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul for Dec. 13 to discuss the US move regarding Jerusalem. Turkey is currently holding the presidency of this organization.
However, even participants of this meeting are expected to adopt a strong worded statement, its effects would be minimal, argued experts.
Talks in Ankara between Putin and Erdogan will also focus on the Syrian conflict where the Islamic State (IS) is on the brink of collapse. Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syrian President Assad.
Turkey, who is Syria’s neighbor, backed the rebels seeking Assad’s ouster in a conflict that lingers since more than seven years.
However, Moscow and Ankara have been working together since 2016 reconciliation deal resolved a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian warplane over Syria.
Erdogan until recently wasn’t renouncing on its insistence of ousting the Syrian president, but in recent months he has considerably toned down its stance and focused mainly on opposing a Syrian Kurdish militia seen by Ankara as a terror group.
For Turkey, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), waging an armed conflict in Turkey since 1984.
But both the US and Russia consider this militia as their allies on the ground in Syria. Washington has provided the fighters with arms, angering Turkey, and Russian support of the YPG strongly contrasts with Turkey’s vows to clear PKK-affiliated groups from all of northern Syria, bordering Turkey.