Russian president Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s relationship with Turkey has fully recovered after a round of talks with the country last Wednesday.
“We are getting back to a normal cooperative partnership,” Putin said at a press conference after the talks, held in the Russian resort town of Sochi.
Relations between the two countries have been seriously strained due to the ongoing Syrian civil war, where Russia and Turkey have stood on opposing sides of the conflict.
In one particular incident in November 2015, a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M fighter jet was shot down after crossing over a thumb of Turkish territory near the Syrian border. That led to a major spat between Moscow and Ankara, including the levying of retaliatory Russian economic sanctions. Putin described that incident as the source of the “crisis” in the Russo-Turkish relationship.
Turkey, for its part, has been a major thorn in Russia’s side for years throughout the Syrian war, supporting anti-Assad factions and for some time even cooperating with the Islamic State.
Russia began direct intervention in the conflict in 2015, supporting the Syrian regime in its fight with the jihadist-dominated rebel opposition.
While the extent of Turkey’s current ties to the Islamic State aren’t clear, significant dealings were reported earlier in the conflict, including financial aid, logistical support, the provision of medical services, and even direct weapons transfers to the group.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a 2014 article for the London Review of Books, moreover, documents a Turkish covert operation intended to provide the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group and the official Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, with a chemical weapons capability.
Hersh would link that covert operation to the alleged sarin chemical attack on a suburb east of Damascus in the summer of 2013, an attack falsely blamed on the Assad regime.
Many analysts, as well as Hersh himself, suggest that the Turks wished to stage a regime chemical weapons attack in order to cross a “Red Line” set down by then-president Obama in 2012. That “Red Line” was an ultimatum issued to the Assad regime, warning that the use of chemical weapons would trigger direct American involvement in the war.
Obama in the end did not go through with enforcing his ultimatum, but Turkish provision of chemical agents to Syrian rebels would represent a major affront to Russia, Assad’s biggest supporter.
Aside from its dealings with rebel factions, Turkey’s primary interest in the Syrian war has been to limit the expansion of Kurdish militias in Northern Syria. Turkey has the world’s largest Kurdish population, and has been at war with Kurdish political groups since the 1990s.
Considering Turkish policy on Syria in the past, definitively anti-Assad and by implication anti-Russian, the recent Russo-Turkish reset is a significant development that will shape the course of the conflict. Already, the improved relationship has led to a ceasefire deal that would not have been possible under the prior relationship.
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Contributed by Will Porter of The Daily Sheeple.