We journalists had the chance to observe President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s day-long visit to Sochi this week. Frankly, we had quite a few concerns before the trip.
For one thing, the “Gordion’s Knot in Syria’s Idlib” awaited a solution. For another, the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) Syrian wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in northern Syria was on Turkey’s top agenda. Furthermore, there were gray areas about how Turkish-Russian relations would progress from here on, from fields in the economy to foreign policy.
The concern that the tides in Turkey-U.S. relations would reflect on relations with Russia was also prevalent. We traveled to Sochi with many other similar concerns on our minds.
A leaders’ initiative
Before the presidential plane took off from Esenboga Airport, we had the chance to discuss certain matters with top authorities. We were especially curious about the Russian emphasis on this visit being conducted “alone,” and why no other minister accompanied Mr. Erdoğan on his trip to Sochi.
Gathering from the answers we received, it can be ascertained that the two leaders were going to meet to take a stronger initiative, especially on “regional issues.”
The leaders’ initiative would come to the fore, not that of the two parties.
It was a matter of curiosity whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the tension in Turkish-American relations to his own advantage.
Once the visit was over and we were on the way back home, we had the opportunity to find answers to most of our concerns and questions.
Erdogan gives clear-cut messages
We discerned that the two leaders had a fruitful meeting on a litany of subjects that ranged from the defense industry to energy and regional matters.
We also ascertained that Putin did not take advantage of the present problems plaguing Turkey-U.S. relations.
We observed that our president’s hand had strengthened following the meeting, as he gave clearer messages to the U.S. with this motivation.
During President Erdoğan’s interview with us on the flight back home, we perceived that more potent steps would be taken from now on.
You will be reading the responses Mr. Erdoğan gave to our questions in Yeni Şafak’s pages. However, today I want to share with you my observations and predictions about both the future of Russia-Turkey relations, and what may happen in Syria after the Sochi visit.
Syria’s future depends on Turkey-Russia cooperation
I should first note that I observed President Erdoğan in the most “vigorous,” “comfortable” and “calmest” state he was in the last six months.
Mr. President was quite polite while talking about his Russian counterpart, and calm when discussing regional problems.
For example, he said they are in favor of a “just solution” for the Syria issue.
Additionally, he did not disregard certain problems in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which is under Turkey’s supervision. On the contrary, he highlighted them.
As he stated that Turkey is bound by all of the previous agreements reached with Russia, he also made a point of reminding his interlocutors of their duties.
The US must withdraw from Syria
Touching upon U.S. presence in Syria, he used much clearer and “firmer” words.
In reference to U.S. Special Presidential Envoy in Syria Brett McGurk, Erdogan said, “He works hand-in-hand with terrorists. This man is virtually involved in the mission and administration of terrorist organizations.”
He said, “The U.S. must leave Syria sooner or later. It must leave it to the Syrians.”
He also added that his messages in both New York and Istanbul addressing U.S. President Joe Biden found a response. He said, “The message reached its destination, thus we are going to meet in Rome.”
According to my observations, President Erdoğan is expecting certain signs from the Biden administration for the normalization of relations with the U.S.
Return Turkey’s money or give it the aircraft it was promised
For example, he reiterated that Turkey made an advance payment for F-35 aircraft, and said, “We paid $1.4 billion. What will become of that? We need to see results. We are not a country that has an abundance of money and spends it carelessly. This money did not come to us easily. We did not — and do not — earn this money easily. Either they will give us our aircraft or the money.”
He is anticipating a sign concerning this in the Rome meeting. Furthermore, I sensed that he also expects McGurk to pull out of the region.
If Turkish-American relations are to normalize again, Mr. Erdoğan thus stated the two steps the U.S. side can take.