Western nations wary of Turkey’s new friendship with Russia

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There are plenty of people who welcome the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey: Russian tourists looking for an affordable vacation along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, executives with big Turkish energy companies, and Russian farmers who want a slice of Turkey’s fruit and vegetable market.

Then there are those in Washington, Ottawa and European capitals who warily watched the handshakes yesterday between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The “reset” of relations between the two countries is a cause for concern for Western nations, as Turkey, a member of NATO, moves toward a closer alignment with Moscow.

Foreign affairs analysts say Western hostility to both countries helped drive Putin and Erdogan to patch up their relationship.

“Foreign affairs is a pretty pragmatic business, and so in a sense we in the West should not be surprised by this,” Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Moscow, told the BBC.

Relations hit rock bottom last November when Turkey’s air force shot down a Russian warplane that strayed briefly into Turkish air space while on a mission over Syria.

Russia imposed economic sanctions that hurt Turkey’s tourism and agricultural sectors. Russians normally fill the resorts on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, but Moscow grounded charter flights last fall, leading to a 90 per cent decline in Russian visits.

Erdogan’s trip to St. Petersburg marks the first time the president has left Turkey since the July 15 failed coup attempt.

Turkish leaders have felt stung by the harsh response by Western nations in the aftermath of the botched putsch. Tens of thousands of soldiers, police officers, civil servants and academics have been arrested or suspended from their jobs, accused of links to the coup plot.

 

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