ISTANBUL: Shrugging off disputes that could have wrecked other relationships, the strongmen leaders of Russia and Turkey are pursuing a tight alliance at a time of chilly relations with the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday in Ankara for talks expected to include foreign policy, more energy cooperation and steps towards a bilateral trade goal of $100 billion a year.
Russia will also build Turkey’s first nuclear energy plant at Akkuyu in a project worth $20 billion scheduled to be finished by 2022.
Bilateral trade was $32.7 billion in 2013 while an astonishing 4.3 million Russians visited Turkey in the same year.
There would be every reason for Russia and Turkey—the successor states of empires that fought a dozen wars over the last five centuries—to have testy relations given gaping differences on the key international crises in Syria and Ukraine.
But Erdogan and Putin appear determined not to sacrifice an economic partnership that is critical for both sides, and are working to build stronger relations between the two dominant states of the Black Sea region.
“Both sides have spheres of common interest and they do not want the disputes to get in the way of these,” Ilter Turan, professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, told Agence France-Presse.
Many commentators detect similarities between Erdogan, 60, and Putin, 62 – both are charismatic men of an almost identical age, leading countries that only came into being in their current incarnation after the collapse of empires in the last century.
Both faced down unprecedented protests—in Russia in 2011-2012 and in Turkey in 2013—to win presidential mandates and the opportunity to continue to lead their countries for the foreseeable future.
And both are accused of harboring a strong authoritarian streak and are regarded with suspicion by officials in the West.
“There are contextual differences but in terms of having authoritarian personalities I think they may have remarkable similarities,” said Turan, emphasizing that the Russian political system was more authoritarian than Turkey’s parliamentary-based one.
Turkey and Russia would have had every reason for a major falling out in the past few years, especially over Syria, where Putin is the last major ally of President Bashar al-Assad who Erdogan thinks should be ousted without delay.
Ankara, meanwhile, opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and is deeply concerned about the treatment of the Crimean Tatar Turkic minority by the new pro-Kremlin authorities on the Black Sea peninsula.