Today’s Zaman – January 27, 2016 – Is the Cyprus problem nearing a solution?

Turkish-Russian relations are likely to remain less than satisfactory in 2016 as a result of the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey on Nov. 24, 2015. However a decrease in tension may be expected after the intensity of the early stages of the crisis wanes.
Economic relations
In fact, some adjustments have already been made in the retaliatory measures taken by Russia, but these adjustments aim at alleviating the negative impacts of the measures on Russian consumers rather than easing Turkey’s problems. Turkey may benefit from them only indirectly.
Syrian crisis
Regarding the Syrian crisis, Turkish and Russian policies are almost diametrically opposed. There is little hope of altering this state of affairs. Russia aims at settling in Syria; Turkey does not want to be surrounded by Russia from the south. Russia would prefer to cooperate with the Syrian regime in a transitional period; Turkey is opposed to any deal with the regime even during a transitional period. Russia is in favor of allowing President Bashar al-Assad to run in presidential elections at the end of a transitional period; Turkey is strongly opposed to this idea as it holds Assad responsible for the deaths of 220,000 Syrians since the beginning of the crisis.
If a Russian-led initiative for a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis is undertaken, Turkey will be faced with a dilemma: Either it softens its stance toward being a part of a deal that involves Assad, or it deprives itself of the opportunity of contributing to the shaping of Syria’s future. If it participates in the process, occasions may arise for Turkey to cooperate with Russia. Turkey should not waste such an opportunity if it arises.
Turkish Stream gas pipeline
The $12 billion gas pipeline project called the Turkish Stream that would have carried 62 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to the Europe was suspended by Russia after the jet crisis. However, Russia recently amended its initial position. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak made a statement on Dec. 30, signaling that the project may be revived. He threw the ball in the EU’s court, saying, “The project could still be implemented if the EU Commission develops corresponding infrastructure for natural gas transportation to Central and Eastern Europe.” If the project is revived, this may leave the door ajar for the thawing of Turkish-Russian relations.
Kurdish problem
Russia is helping the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), mainly composed of Kurds from northern Syria, and its military branch the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey should not see this as hostile behavior. Russia needs the support of the Kurds in Syria in order to achieve its goals. Therefore, it is not realistic to expect Russia to reject this support. Furthermore, the PYD and YPG are also cooperating with the US, and Turkey does not see this as a reason to sour relations with the US.
A more problematic question is the support provided by Russia to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). There is little hope that Russia will be deterred from supporting the PKK because it puts pressure on Turkey as part of Russia’s retaliatory response to the fighter jet incident and will give Russia leverage in the future shaping of the Kurdish cause in the Middle East at large.
Ukrainian crisis
Turkey and Russia also have divergent interests in both Ukraine and Crimea. They seem to be doomed to differ in their respective stances as long as the crisis remains unsolved.
Russia has a vested interest in keeping the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict unsolved because, when it is solved, Armenia’s dependence on Russia will decrease. Russia does not want this to happen.
The most likely scenario for Turkish-Russian relations in 2016 is that they will remain stagnant unless one of the parties takes a bold step, which would be a nice surprise to everyone. What Turkey could do in these circumstances is continue its appeasing approach and not antagonize Russia unnecessarily; a further deterioration in relations will hurt Turkey more than Russia.

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