Erdogan: We will have closer defense ties with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) pose after their meeting at the Russian Official Residence of Presidency in Sochi. (Photo: AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) pose after their meeting at the Russian Official Residence of Presidency in Sochi. (Photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not address reporters after their summit in Sochi on Wednesday, leaving many unclear as to what exactly they had discussed

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However, Erdogan spoke extensively to Turkish reporters accompanying him, as he flew back home, and his remarks were reported on Thursday in the Turkish press.

It appeared from Erdogan’s remarks that Putin had offered extensive assistance in building up the capabilities of Turkey’s defense industry, and the Turkish president had embraced the prospect.

Increased Cooperation with Russia: Space, Defense, and Nuclear Energy

Erdogan told the journalists on his plane that he and Putin had discussed cooperation in manufacturing a range of defense equipment: aircraft engines, fighter jets, and submarines.

In addition, Putin offered to assist Turkey in developing land and sea platforms for space rocket launches.

Turkey actually has a relatively new program, which could use such help: the Turkish Space Agency. It was founded in December 2018, and earlier this year, as the Associated Press reported, Erdogan announced what it described as “an ambitious 10-year space program.”

Turkey’s space program will include lunar landings—the first of which is planned for 2023, when the modern Turkish Republic will turn 100 years old, as Erdogan proclaimed in February. The first stage of the visits to the moon will be carried out on the basis of “international cooperation,” Erdogan said, while in the program’s second stage, Turkish rockets will be used.

Quite possibly, in offering to help with rocket launch platforms, Putin was angling to make Russia the partner of Turkey more broadly in that endeavor.

The Russian and Turkish presidents had also discussed the construction of aircraft engines. “What kind of steps we will take,” Erdogan said, “we had the opportunity to talk about them in detail.”

“Another issue is that we can take many steps together in shipbuilding,” Erdogan added. “We will again take joint steps with Russia, including submarines.”

The Russian Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom, is now constructing Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is set to become operational in 2023. In their meeting, Erdogan suggested to Putin that Rosatom should build two more nuclear power plants in Turkey.

The Russian press, reporting on Thursday about the summit, stressed the increasing economic cooperation between Russia and Turkey, suggesting that had been Putin’s primary interest, while it had been Erdogan who was most interested in defense ties.

Trade between the two countries was up by 55% over last year, Izvestia said, while Turkish investment in Russia had reached $1.5 billion, and Russian investment in Turkey amounted to $6.5 billion.

One might be skeptical of the Russian account, however. Putin may well have been quite Machiavellian in laying before the Turkish president the prospect of a significant increase in his own defense industry. If so, it seems to have worked, as Erdogan, who seeks to establish Turkey as a significant power, appeared quite pleased with that possibility.

Turkish Relations with the US

In an interview with the US news program, “60 Minutes,” broadcast on Sunday, Erdogan had talked of purchasing a second battery of the Russian air defense system, the S-400.

Turkey’s acquisition of the missile had prompted the US to expel it from the F-35 jet fighter program and to impose sanctions. On Sunday, shortly after the “60 Minutes” broadcast, the US warned that if Turkey acquired a second S-400 missile system, it would precipitate more sanctions.

Erdogan did not mention a second battery on his return trip from Sochi, but he did affirm his commitment to proceeding with the S-400 system that Turkey has already acquired.

“Our process regarding the S-400 continues,” Erdogan said, “There is no question of taking a step back.”

He also complained that Turkey had spent $1.4 billion to purchase the F-35 fighter jets before it was expelled from the program and would demand that the US refund that money or deliver the planes, as originally agreed.

He also lambasted the US for supporting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which form the military leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Erdogan said that he would raise these issues at a planned meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G-20 summit to be held October 30-31 in Rome. He also suggested that he might meet Biden a second time at the Glasgow UN Climate summit, which will be held immediately afterwards.

It is unlikely that Biden and Erdogan would hold two back-to-back meetings, and it would seem that no final arrangement has been made, particularly as the White House has, so far, said nothing about such a meeting.

Still, Erdogan did suggest that his ties with Washington were improving. In New York last week, Erdogan complained that relations with Biden “had not gotten off to a good start,” but returning from Sochi, he said, “There are some steps being taken that bode well.”