By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
Turkey and Russia will establish a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday.
Speaking at Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk, Cavusoglu said the previous day’s meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin had paved the way for closer ties following a nine-month freeze after the shooting down of a Russian warplane.
“The officials will go to St. Petersburg tonight,” Cavusoglu said. “Our delegation will consist of foreign ministry [personnel], the Turkish Armed Forces, along with our intelligence chief.”
Cavusoglu said meetings will be held at ministerial level.
Erdogan’s trip to Russia and the revival of ties between Russia and Turkey have sparked concern that the NATO member is turning increasingly to the East as it feels rebuffed by the West over a host of issues such as EU membership and the West’s tepid response to the defeated July 15 coup.
Questioned about increased cooperation between the Turkish and Russian defense industries in the context of Turkey’s NATO role, Cavusoglu said Ankara had already established defense sector cooperation with non-NATO countries, including missile development.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” the minister said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO.”
Referring to the Nov. 24 downing of a Russian warplane over the Turkey-Syria border by the Turkish Air Force, Cavusoglu explained that the Turkish pilots involved in the incident had been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the coup bid.
“Some of the pilots, who were involved in the downed Russian jet incident, are remanded in custody right now,” he said. “This is because of the allegation of being a member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization [FETO], not because they were involved in the incident. The judiciary will look into the case in every aspect and evaluate.”
Turkey says the coup attempt was organized by supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen and has called for his extradition, another source of Turkey’s exasperation with the West.
The shooting down of the Russian jet led to a freeze in relations, including economic sanctions and a bar on Russian tourism to Turkey that only thawed in June when Erdogan wrote to his counterpart and the two later spoke by telephone.
On June 30, Russia lifted a ban on tourist flights and Cavusoglu met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian city of Sochi on July 1.
Putin gave his support to Turkey over the coup attempt and said he stood by the elected government, offering his condolences to the victims of what Erdogan called the “most heinous” armed coup attempt in modern Turkish history.
Cavusoglu also touched on Turkish-Russian cooperation on Syria, where the two have supported opposing sides in the five-year civil war.
He said both governments agreed on introducing a cease-fire, providing humanitarian aid and finding a political solution.
“There may be different thoughts on how to apply the cease-fire,” he said. “We particularly do not want attacks that hurt civilians. We also do not approve of attacking the moderate opposition in Syria. We are also against the siege of Aleppo.”
Turning to the coup attempt, Cavusoglu said Turkey had no intelligence on the possibility of Gulen fleeing to another country, such as Egypt, in the face of a potential U.S. extradition.
“We see the efforts of Egypt in trying to increase its relations with FETO and vice versa but there is no concrete information about Gulen going to Egypt,” he said.
He added that Gulen-linked schools in Libya had been closed down. Following the attempted coup, Ankara stepped up requests for overseas Gulenist schools, which it says finance the terror group, to be closed.
He added: “FETO exerts efforts not only to deteriorate Turkey’s relations with Russia but with all other countries.”
$100bn trade target
Turkey's foreign minister also stressed the importance of economic relations between Turkey and Russia, saying trading sanctions between the countries were being removed.
"Our trade volume has dropped 43 percent mutually in the last year. That total prices were down, the Russian ruble decreased in value, tourism and Turkey's export levels went down can be shown as evidence," Cavusoglu said. "We need to get those numbers up."
"Our target in trade volume with Russia is $100billion. That is why Mr. Putin said he will lift the sanctions imposed on Turkish products. It includes food and agricultural products, as well as automotive sector," he added.
Turkey's foreign minister also said that Putin asked Erdogan to take measures on products that are embargoed by Russia, but still reaches the country via Turkey.
"We will continue our embargo to these countries," Cavusoglu said. "We won't let this happen. Why would another country's products reach Russia, instead of our own?"
The foreign minister also reminded that discussion underway to restart the charter flights, which was interrupted following the jet crisis.
Akkuyu nuclear plant
When asked about the latest on the energy projects between Turkey and Russia, Cavusoglu said the Akkuyu nuclear power plant process "will be accelerated."
Erdogan has announced that the Akkuyu nuclear power plant project in Mersin province, southern Turkey, would be granted strategic investment status.
In a 2010 agreement Russia said it would help construct and operate Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is expected to produce around 35 billion kilowatt-hours per year and cost around $25 billion.
"We will also initiate Turkish Stream works as soon as possible and make necessary and additional agreements accordingly," Cavusoglu said.
Announced by Putin in Dec. 2014, the 'Turkish Stream' pipeline will carry Russian gas via the Black Sea and Turkey to southeastern Europe. The project was shelved following the November jet crisis.
Turkey, which is the second biggest consumer of Russian gas after Germany, imports around 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually via two pipelines; the Blue Stream and the western line. The private sector in Turkey imports 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year, representing over 30 percent of Russia's gas exports to Turkey.
Upon a question on Turkish-Russian joint investment funds, Cavusoglu said the idea came up during the Erdogan-Putin meeting to pave the way for businesspeople to take over major projects.
"Turkish businessmen have investments in Russia and Russian businessmen want to make business with Turkish businessmen in several countries," Cavusoglu said. "The project will pave the way for both countries' businessmen."
Turkey-Russia-Azerbaijan trilateral summit
When asked about the expectations of a suggested Turkey-Russia-Azerbaijan trilateral summit, Cavusoglu said the idea came up on July 15, when foreign ministers were returning from Azerbaijan's capital Baku.
"During our meeting in Baku, Azerbaijani officials said that a trilateral summit was established between Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran," Cavusoglu said. "I told them there can also be trilateral summit with Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey."
The foreign minister said Erdogan offered the possible summit to Putin and get a positive response.
"Lots of subjects can be brought up during that meeting. Unfortunately there is this Karabakh issue and occupied lands of Azerbaijan," Cavusoglu stated.
"We have made lots of efforts to resolve the issue. Russia made some attempts as well. We are right now considering Russia's suggestions, which suits our suggestions to Armenia."
Cavusoglu said Turkey will do its part on the issue, because "both our Russian and Azerbaijani friends want us to contribute to the subject".
Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in 1991 with Armenian military support and a peace process has yet to be implemented.
Since the end of war in 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have held talks under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group.
An agreement-in-principle was reached in St. Petersburg, Russia, following talks late June involving Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, President Putin and Serzh Sargsyan, president of Armenia.