closer ties after major rupture

Ankara and Moscow have forged closer cooperation after overcoming a major rupture in 2015 following the downing of a Russian fighter jet.

As Russia started delivering to Turkey a missile defence system in a deal that has angered the US, here is a recap of the fallout and repair of bilateral relations.

– ‘Stab in the back’ –

In November 2015, two Turkish military jets shoot down a Russian warplane over the Turkey-Syria border, resulting in the death of a pilot.

Russia rejects Turkey’s assertion that the plane, deployed in support of the Syrian regime’s fight against rebels, had strayed into Turkish airspace.

President Vladimir Putin slams a “stab in the back” and Moscow announces a raft of economic sanctions against Ankara, including in agriculture, tourism and construction.

– Turkish regret –

There is a thaw in late June 2016 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expresses regret about the incident and calls for friendlier ties.

The Kremlin says he also apologised.

After their first telephone call since the incident, Putin announces an end to the tourism bans and the normalisation of trade ties.

The following month he is among the first international leaders to offer Erdogan support after a failed coup rocks his country.

– Gas pipeline go-ahead –

In August 2016, the two men meet in Saint Petersburg, Putin saying afterwards their countries had “lived through a very complicated moment” but wanted to overcome their “difficulties”.

In October, Russia and Turkey sign an agreement to build the TurkStream gas pipeline that will pump Russian gas under Turkish waters in the Black Sea towards Europe.

Construction starts in March 2017.

– Together on Syria –

In January 2017, Russia, Turkey and Assad-backer Iran launch talks in Astana, Kazakhstan to end the Syrian conflict.

It sidelines the United States, with which both have strained ties.

Several rounds result in agreement on four “de-escalation” zones in Syria, leading to a decrease in violence in some areas.

Even though Russia backs the regime and Turkey is behind the rebels, they forge strong cooperation over Syria.

– ‘Most important partner’ –

In March 2017, Putin and Erdogan announce the “normalisation” of ties. “We consider Turkey our most important partner,” Putin says.

They sign a new economic cooperation plan and pledge to continue cooperation notably in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group active in Syria.

At the end of May, Putin orders the lifting of most remaining sanctions on Turkey.

– Russian defence system –

In September 2017, Turkey signs a deal with Russia to buy its S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems, its first major weapons purchase from Moscow.

It raises concern with Ankara’s allies in the NATO military alliance.

In December, Russia announces negotiations are finalised with delivery scheduled for 2019.

– Nuclear plant accord –

In April 2018, the two presidents launch construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power station, to be built by Russia’s state atomic energy cooperation Rosatom.

The Akkuyu nuclear power plant is expected to be operational by 2023.

– New Syria deal –

In September 2018, they agree to create a “demilitarised zone” around Syria’s Idlib region in a bid to avert a military assault on the last rebel and jihadist bastion in the country.

Syrian forces and their Russian allies, however, step up strikes on the hold-out areas from April 2019.

– Joint defence production –

In May 2019, Erdogan says Turkey and Russia will jointly produce the next generation S-500 defence systems.

There is “absolutely no question” of stepping back from the S-400s purchase, he adds, after Washington had threatened sanctions if the deal went ahead.

Turkey receives first Russian missile delivery, risking US ire
Istanbul (AFP) July 12, 2019 -
Turkey received the first batch of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system on Friday in a move expected to raise tensions with the United States, which has repeatedly warned against the purchase.

The delivery at an air base in the Turkish capital Ankara comes after Washington warned this week that there would be “real and negative” consequences if Turkey bought the defence system.

“The delivery of the first shipment of parts of the S-400 long range regional air missile defence system began as of July 12, 2019 to Murted air base in Ankara,” Turkey’s defence ministry said in a statement.

It was not immediately known where the defence system would be deployed or when it would be operational.

“It will be operational in a manner determined by relevant authorities once the system is entirely ready,” Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) said in a statement, adding that the delivery of the system’s other parts would continue “in the coming days”.

Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed the delivery to the TASS news agency.

TASS also quoted a Russian military-diplomatic source as saying that another plane carrying S-400 parts will depart for Turkey “in the near future”, while a third delivery consisting of 120 guided missiles will be shipped by sea “most likely at the end of the summer”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Friday that “everything is happening in strict accordance with the agreements and signed contracts, all obligations are being carried out”.

– Potential US sanctions –

The US State Department has said Turkish officials are fully aware of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a law passed by Congress in 2017 that mandates sanctions for any “significant” purchases of weapons from Russia.

Washington has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme, giving Ankara until July 31 to cancel the S-400 purchase or have its pilots kicked off the training course and expelled from the US.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting US counterpart Donald Trump last month that he was confident Ankara would not face sanctions for buying the Russian missile system.

Erdogan told Trump during their meeting on the margins of the G-20 meeting in Japan last month that former US president Barack Obama did not allow Ankara to buy Patriot missiles — an equivalent of the S-400s.

Trump appeared to be convinced, saying: “You can’t do business that way. It’s not good.”

– ‘Game-changer’-

The first parts of the Russian missile system arrived on two planes at Ankara’s Murted air base, Turkish media reported. Turkey’s air force changed the name of the base from Akinci to Murted after it was at the centre of a 2016 failed coup.

The delivery comes two days after US ambassador-designate to Turkey, David Satterfield, arrived in Ankara.

But despite the US threats, Turkish officials repeatedly insisted the agreement with Russia was a “done deal”.

“We say this each time. This is a done deal. The process continues. We are coordinating this work, whether permission for planes, personnel,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Friday.

“There are no problems, the process will continue in a healthy manner.”

The US and NATO have said that the S-400 is incompatible with equipment used by other members of the alliance.

Nick Heras, of the Center for a New American Security, said the S-400 system would be a “game changer” for Turkey’s air defence strategy in region surrounded by actors with well-developed air forces.

“It is no secret that Erdogan is positioning Turkey to be a ‘Eurasian’ power, which means that Turkey needs to balance its relationship with China and Russia as much as it does with the United States and NATO,” he told AFP.

“Turkey is not guaranteed to be in the American camp forever.”

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