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Putin and Erdogan — real friends?

Soric Miodrag Kommentarbild App
Miodrag Soric
October 10, 2017

Turkey is a NATO member, which makes the fact that it is planning to buy anti-aircraft systems from Russia more than a little unusual. Are Ankara and Moscow developing a closer partnership? Miodrag Soric comments.

A caricature of Putin and Erdogan playing tennis with a tomato (Sergey Elkin)

Both feel they are being treated unfairly. Both are regularly snubbed by the West. Both like to present themselves as strong men and in public, they call each other "friends." On the surface, at least, the presidents of Russia and Turkey have a lot in common.

These past weeks, it has increasingly looked as if Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan might enter into a partnership. Bilateral trade is on the rise, while their armed forces and intelligence services are cooperating in Syria.

Read more: Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons

At the same time, they are waging their various diplomatic wars with the EU and the US. Washington and Ankara have stopped issuing visas to each other, and Turkey has imprisoned German journalists and human rights activists, ignoring all objections from Berlin as well as existing laws. Meanwhile, with the support of Moscow, soldiers are fighting in East Ukraine. The Kremlin refuses to even speak about the annexation of Crimea, but continues to demand that the West lift its sanctions.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

Both Erdogan and Putin seem to have issues with the West and international law, to put it mildly — what could be more natural than to become allies? To really show his NATO partners, Erdogan has even decided to buy Russian anti-aircraft systems — despite repeated objections from Washington and Brussels.

Miodrag Soric
Miodrag Soric is DW's correspondent in Moscow

But have there been benefits from Erdogan's public outrage, his indignation with the West and the alleged friendship with Russia? No.

Foreign diplomats, whether in Berlin or Washington, have shown themselves to be unimpressed by Erdogan's saber-rattling, by his threats to change sides because of his better relations with Russia. They believe Erdogan will calm down, sooner rather than later, and place his country's interests above his own ego.

Read more: Turkish military expert: Putin uses Turkey to achieve his own ends

Even if ties with Russia were to become closer, Moscow can't give Turkey even a fraction of what it stands to lose in the West, from an economic point of view. The stock market has already severely punished Erdogan's foreign policy about-face. Turkish growth is financed with the printing press. Fewer tourists are heading to Turkey these days, forcing many stalls in Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar to close. German tourists have instead been flocking to Greece and Spain. We'll see how long the Turkish president can hold out.

The situation is not much different in Moscow. Even if German industry has begun to invest more, bilateral trade is far from what it was before 2014. Sanctions are working. Russia's recent economic commitments in Asia are actually more of an addition, rather than a good substitute for ties with Germany and the EU.

Waiting game

In the struggle with Russia and Turkey, time is on the side of the West. After all, the partnership between Russia kommentarand Turkey isn't actually that close. On the contrary — Moscow is disappointed because Erdogan referred to Crimea as being a part of Ukraine during a recent visit to Kyiv. Sure, Erdogan has placed an order for Russian anti-aircraft missiles, but so far, he's only made a down payment. The deal can still go awry.

The Turkish president is still upset because Russia continues to ban imports of Turkish tomatoes and other produce. In Syria, the two countries also have different interests: Moscow is holding fast to President Bashar al-Assad, while Ankara would like to see Assad gone.

By the way, Assad and Erdogan used to be best friends; they even spent family vacations together. But that was a long time ago. That's the way things go with politically-motivated friendships.

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