With U.S.-Turkish relations at their lowest point in decades, Turkey’s president flew to St. Petersburg on Tuesday to meet with his Russian counterpart. As both men were eager to announce, the summit will almost certainly help usher in a new period of Russian-Turkish rapprochement. But, whatever observers might hope or fear, there is little reason to think that the occasion heralds a major realignment in Turkish foreign policy.
Following the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, the Turkish media has been quick to contrast Russia’s enthusiastic support for Turkey’s elected government with the more restrained response from Western politicians and press. Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on July 16, and Russian papers promoted the (false) story that Russian intelligence had saved Erdogan’s life by giving him advanced warning of the plot. U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, did not call until July 19, by which point Turkish papers were already promoting the (false) story that Washington had orchestrated the coup.
Of course, there is every reason for Russia to be happy with the way the attempted putsch turned out. Erdogan, more firmly in power than ever, is furious at the United States and is quickly dismantling his country’s military. Both of these developments present an opportunity for Russia.
Those in Turkey’s ruling AKP who believe that the United States is conspiring to bring down Erdogan might be tempted to see Russian support as valuable purely from the perspective of political survival. And militarily, the arrest and dismissal of hundreds of high-ranking officers and thousands of other members of the armed forces will further complicate Turkey’s already strained strategic situation. For over a year, the Turkish army has been fighting Kurdish insurgents while Turkish-supported rebels in Syria have faced repeated setbacks at the hands of ISIS, Syrian Kurdish forces, and pro-Assad forces.