We spoke about Russia with a senior diplomat from the Foreign Affairs Ministry who has long years of experience.
After saying, “You know how Russians work, don't you?” he looks into my eyes. Realizing that I expect the answer from him he continues to talk: “When Russians sit at the table, first they put their share aside and make sure it isn't negotiable or discussed at all. Then they start negotiating over your share.”
We are in Moscow with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. We have the question, “Why are we going and what will we come back with?” in our minds. According to the experienced Turkish Foreign Affairs diplomat, we don't have it easy when we are trying to normalize our relations with Russia. Yet, to end the above sentence, we have something that is positive and that can be considered as the glass being full for us. The same diplomat says: “We accomplished with the Russians what we couldn't accomplish with the Americans in Syria.” What does this mean? It means: We achieved the Euphrates Shield with the Russians not the Americans. We know that Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “You continue on, we might once in a while make critical statements so it is on the records, you don't worry about that part,” to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, indicating that deep down Russia wasn't fussed about Turkey's operations in Syria. This isn't insignificant at all. Our American “allies” weren't happy at all with Euphrates Shield Operation. The reason is simple. They weren't happy with the operation because it spoiled their plans. Therefore, the reality we face is this: If today we interrupted (and continue to interrupt) the U.S.'s plans to activate the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) zone project in the northern Syria line, we were successful because we worked together with Russia.
WHEN WILL A FULL NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS BE ESTABLISHED WITH TURKEY?
When we look at the assigned positions of the seven ministers that accompanied Prime Minister Yıldırım on his visit to Russia, we see that this trip is based mainly on economy and energy. During Putin's meeting with Erdoğan in St. Petersburg in August, “quick normalization of relations” was prioritized. But the reality is, this normalization didn't happen as fast as anticipated. Russia continues most of the sanctions it imposed on Turkey after the downing of the Russian jet in Syria on Nov. 24, 2015 for entering Turkish airspace. Even the embargos in fresh fruit and vegetables, which we thought would be a field that would be resolved at once, have not been fully removed. The ban on only five of the 16 lines of fruits and vegetables has been lifted as yet. For example, I don't know if you knew or not, Turkey still hasn't been sending tomatoes to Russia. These restrictions continue in many other fields, too. Visa restrictions on Turkish citizens haven't been lifted either. This was actually Prime Minister Yıldırım's main aim. This issue shouldn't continue any longer, the visa restrictions and embargos should be lifted, and relations should go back to how they were before November 2015. This was the reason for the Turkish committee's efforts during the meetings in Russia. Prime Minister Yıldırım, stated that he wanted to normalize relations with Russia as soon as possible, during the joint press meeting he had with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev said the sanctions would be lifted as soon as possible. He said so, but we shall wait and see what happens.
THE PRIME MINISTER DROPPED INTO SAY HELLO TO BAHÇELİ
I would like to conclude my article after sharing a few observations from the flight. Prime Minister Yıldırım was happy. During the first session we had with him, we asked him questions on the presidential system negotiations, which we agreed on asking with the other journalists. Before we left for Russia, news channels made breaking news announcing that Yıldırım and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli met at the Parliament. As a result we were all interested in this meeting. We learned from the prime minister that this was not a planned meeting. The “suspicion” that there was a problem with the presidential system negotiations obviously wasn't right. Apparently the prime minister wanted to say hello to Bahçeli when he was passing by his room in the Parliament. They sat for 20 minutes chatting upon the MHP leader's inviting him in for a cup of tea. There are so many things journalists fuss over in Ankara and thus turn into an issue. Obviously this one was just the latest.