Putin and Erdogan’s meeting signals revived economic ties

Putin and Erdogan’s meeting signals revived economic ties

A troubled relationship between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw some rapprochement last week with a pivotal meeting between the two leaders in St. Petersburg.

The two countries have been in a standoff since Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet on the Syrian border in 2015. President Erdogan finally issued a written apology to President Putin in June which opened the doors for renewal. This de-escalation of the two powers holds both risk and opportunity for multiple sectors; namely trade, energy, immigration and military cooperation.

Impact on immigration

Firstly, it should be understood why the rapprochement is happening now. President Erdogan has shown signs of strategic diplomatic outreach recently with his renewal of Israeli relations and apology to Putin. These two events unfolded directly before July’s coup attempt in Turkey which sought to remove Erdogan from power. Turkey has floated accusations of U.S. involvement in the coup attempt, and has also set itself at odds with the West following his massive crackdown against Turkish academics and law enforcement. These events, contrasted with Turkey’s immigration nightmare from Syria, have caused the troubled nation to look for friends.

Though Turkey and Russia remain distanced on military matters and counterterrorism, a Russian friendship could be pivotal for Turkey in negotiating immigration policy. As Europe and Russia squabble over issues in the Baltics and Ukraine, Europe and Turkey have experienced a deep fallout in dealing with the refugee crisis. The E.U.-Turkey deal to return refugees to Turkey has sparked outrage from global critics, and has placed stress on Turkey’s buckling infrastructure. Turkey may now be able to leverage its friendship with Russia in immigration policy negotiation. Turkey wants a better deal, and Russia’s support in the face of European differences could certainly yield those results.

Tourism sector implications

True there are risks to be considered in this partnership, but there also are opportunities. Amid Turkey’s myriad of other internal issues this year, tourism has seen a sharp decline. Multiple terror attacks, the recent coup, and general unrest on the Syrian border have dealt a critical blow to this deeply important sector in Turkey.

Following the downing of Russia’s jet, Russia placed harsh trade sanctions on Turkey. This stemmed the flow of Russian tourists, resulting in a major blow to Turkey’s already struggling tourism sector. A more friendly relationship between Russia and Turkey will undoubtedly produce a revitalization in Black Sea trade and the tourism economy. The reopening of travel between the two states will be a much-needed boost for the Turkish tourism sector, though it still must overcome the looming danger of terror attacks within its cities.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek declared in early 2016 that the sanctions would cost Turkey $3.1 billion. The sanctions certainly did not help Russia’s struggling economy either, therefore they served a purely political motive. A revitalization of Russo-Turkish trade will be a key opportunity for those involved in the region, as the sectors affected by Russian sanctions will receive a kickstart and put a positive face on regional trade. The sanctions primarily cut off agricultural products sold between the two countries and, once sanctions are lifted, the agricultural sector can bounce back to normal.

Energy is key

Another key point of agreement between Putin and Erdogan will be the Turkstream project, a trans-Black Sea pipeline to bring gas into Turkey from Russia. The project was unofficially put on hold during this standoff, but seems to be returning to the forefront of investors’ priorities. Turkey’s energy sector is vastly important to both Russia and Europe, and Turkey stands to gain a great deal by bringing in Russia gas sources directly. In the near future, the world can look to renewed Turkstream efforts and a continually evolving Turkish energy sector.

Though the friendship could yield some positive results in regional trade and investment, it is also unsettling for Western powers, who have remained in a standoff with Russia for years. An overtly friendly gesture from a NATO country towards the Russian president is certainly a matter of concern, and does nothing to quiet fears of NATO disunity following the coup and post-coup crackdown. Turkey’s standing in the alliance is shaky at best, and this gesture will undoubtedly see a change in rhetoric from Brussels.

Turkey has one of the most powerful militaries in NATO. If relations continue to decline between Europe and Turkey (a rift which has been widening for years), the coalition in the Middle East could see fragmentation. Turkey’s firepower is key to fending off terrorism, and its future compliance is vital. Europe will, therefore, need to walk a delicate line of supporting Erdogan while navigating the intricacies of Russian involvement.

Turkey’s future stance is rather unclear. It does not seem to strive for protection of its NATO status, and has actively moved away from relations with the West. At the same time, though its relationship with Russia has seen improvement, it must be remembered what began the standoff: the shooting down of a Russian jet. A militant and vivacious leader such as Erdogan can be difficult to predict. Yet beneath all these difficulties Turkey continues to offer compelling areas of investor interest, especially if renewed relations with Russia bear economic fruit.

About Author

Jonathan Hoogendoorn

Jonathan is a Massachusetts-based geopolitical analyst with an M.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy from Northeastern University. He works at a global analytics firm as well as Wikistrat, focusing on the Russian-European relationship, industry/political dynamics, and diplomatic relations. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @jonathanhoog