Russian-Turkish Relationship: “Eyes Wide Shut”
Reem Issa Reem Issa

Russian-Turkish Relationship: “Eyes Wide Shut”

Anyone following the Syria file, is aware by now of the importance and impact of the Russian-Turkish relationship on Syria, whether the positive aspects of that relationship or the negative ones. This relationship tool a new direction in the formal framework through the Astana track, which was born at the end of 2016.

Since the Astana track started, the Russian-Turkish rapprochement clearly became a major source of concern for the West, particularly the US, which spared no opportunity to undermine what was evidently a strategic relationship working outside the old international balance of power, and within the efforts to establish a new balance of power. Some of the tools the West used to influence the relationship covered a wide range of measures, which include economic, political / diplomatic, militaristic, and media.

In this article we will take a quick look at examples of media coverage of the last meeting between the two heads of state, Putin and Erdogan, at the end of last month in Sochi, in a meeting that lasted about three hours with no press conference thereafter. There were separate statements from the two presidents and succinct comments from other officials, but nothing detailed.

Although there are not many details about the meeting, the statements made by the two sides after and during their meeting, bear initial indications of a new shift within the bilateral understandings regarding Syria. Perhaps more important than that, from the American point of view, these statements carried a harsher and harmonious inclination against US presence in Syria. It was noteworthy in this context Erdogan’s statement about the necessity of US exit from Syria, the first statement of its kind with this intensity and directness, in addition to the statements about a “comprehensive approach” to the Syrian situation towards a comprehensive political solution.

These statements, although general, and despite the fact that many complications remain, foremost of which is the Turkish occupation of parts in northern Syria, as well as the continued presence of al-Nusra Front and other organizations listed as terrorist, the general trend of Russian and Turkish statements, and perhaps in particular the absence of details with clarity of the general aim, indicate indicated that the two countries are committed to continuing to work on relations between them at a strategic and long-term level, and that ending any dispute over the Syrian issue has become an urgent necessity to move forward.

A tour around Western media

Prior to the meeting, an article in AP proposed that Turkey is turning to Russia “after Biden talks disappoint”, in reference to talks between Biden and Erdogan during UNGA. The article implied that this disappointment is why the Turkish president “would seek closer ties with Russia”.

Other articles after the meeting continued with the same rhetoric. In an article in Bloomberg, the first thing the author says is “The Turkish leader may have no place to turn but Moscow now that he’s burning his bridges to Washington”. The article portrays the meeting that took place a few days earlier as “the next step in Turkey’s uncoupling from a fraying alliance with the US”.

Somehow, the author concludes that “no important decisions were reached” (after the meeting in Sochi), even though there was a lot of discreetness from both sides. At the end of the article, the author decides that Russia got more out of this meeting, and Turkey came out on the losing end, not getting anything measurable and at the same time losing the US and NATO.

An Atlantic Council article in which four analysts analyze the latest meeting between Putin and Erdogan, one analyst portrays the relationship as being driven by “deteriorating relations between Ankara and the West” and Erdogan’s “estrangement from the West”. Another analyst, James Jeffrey, sees that the importance of the latest meeting is driven by the absence of US support, which had previously strengthened Turkey. Jeffrey says “The Idlib ceasefire resulted from US diplomacy supporting Turkey’s and Israel’s military actions in Syria, and keeping US troops there, to pressure Russia and Assad for a comprehensive compromise settlement of the conflict”.

Another article in Al-Monitor, proposed that the main driver of Turkey’s relationship with Russia is “a balance act [by Turkey] with Russia and the United States”, and that the main factor in the latest meeting between Erdogan and Putin was the failure of “Ankara’s efforts to strengthen its position in NATO and mend ties with Washington”.

British media outlet the Financial Times also saw tensions following a failure of a meeting between Biden and Erdogan during UNGA as an important factor in the Russian-Turkish rapprochement. The article also described Russia as Turkey’s “episodic ally of convenience”.

“Israeli” newspaper The Jerusalem Post also had the same idea, though noted that the “Turkish move toward Russia is not only determined by Ankara’s declining relations with Washington”. The article noted that one of the driving factors is its position in the region, mainly to avoid regional isolationism, which explains its outreach efforts “toward the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and, notably, Israel”. However, the article goes on to conclude that “Ankara’s ongoing efforts in this area, its increasing estrangement from Washington, its moves toward Russia and its direct opposition to Israel’s closest and emergent regional allies mean that imminent rapprochement between Turkey and Israel is unlikely, and excessive effort toward it is futile and probably inadvisable, for the foreseeable future”. All of this can be summed up with the article’s title: “Growing relations between Turkey, Russia is concern for Israel”.


Eyes Wide Shut!

In general, Western and US media, along with Syrian media affiliated with the two extremist sides, are trying to portray the whole matter as Turkey moving toward Russia after the US “rejected” it or was “disappointed” with it. That is portraying things as if this relationship is something that has recently happened or a passing incident, or more importantly, that it is a relationship driven by US behavior, and that Russia is for Turkey a second option or a last resort, or rather just a tactic used by Turkey to extort the US. Although one cannot deny the Turkish attempts of extortion or the attempt to play between the two superpowers, but to reduce the matter to one point of a tactical nature is turning a blind eye to the general strategic direction in which things are proceeding, which is clearly not satisfactory neither to the West nor to the extremists on the Syrian sides.

What is really interesting is how Western media deals in a very disciplined and unified manner with the Turkish-Russian relationship. Western media insists on looking at the issue from a “tactical” point of view, and at the same time insists on ignoring the essence of the issue, that is, its long-term strategic side. Western media usually discusses at least the strategic dimensions possibilities, but in the case of the Turkish-Russian relationship, according to what we have been able to follow from Western media, it refuses to even put forward these possibilities or think about them. This in itself is an indication of the extent to which the West understands the dimensions of this relationship in the strategic sense.

In English, “Eyes Wide Shut” is an expression that essentially means eyes that are wide open looking at a clear scene, which they refuse to see or believe. In this sense, it seems that the eyes of the Western media towards the Russian-Turkish relationship are “eyes wide shut”.

(Arabic Version)