Next month, Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a meeting with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has confirmed that there will be "no shortage of topics" for discussion. But according to Russian analysts, Moscow's key interest will be to get Ankara to end its support for the terrorists in Syria.
On Tuesday, Peskov confirmed that Putin and Erdogan would meet in St. Petersburg on August 9. The presidential spokesperson added that he could not reveal what exactly would be on the agenda for the talks.
This will be the first meeting for quite a long time, the first after the two leaders have managed to turn the page, so there will be no shortage of topics for discussion; we can say [that] with confidence," Peskov said, speaking to reporters.
Russian and Turkish political experts expect that negotiations will span an array of topics, from politics and economics to regional security. However, according to experts speakingto the independent Russian news and analysis website Svobodnaya Pressa, Turkey's support for terrorists in Syria is expected to be at the top of the agenda.
Russian Turkish relations, the online newspaper recalled, have seen a dramatic turnaround over the last half-year. "As recently as November 2015, when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24, the two countries were on the brink of war. This was followed by a long period of cooling relations and economic warfare, with Turkey carrying the main losses from the latter. Then Erdogan seemed to have delivered the apology required of him."
"Then," the paper noted, "just the other day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked the Russian president for his support of the Turkish authorities during the coup attempt earlier this month. The Kremlin did not confirm the Turkish diplomat's statement. Nevertheless, Turkey is obviously set for a 'pro-Russian U-turn.' This is also evidenced by Turkish Economic Minister Nihat Zeybakchi's statementthat 'political decisions have been made' on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant projects, with the Russian and Turkish leaders' meetings expected to give the projects their 'final momentum' toward being realized."
Commenting on the very public talk of warming relations, Mikhail Alexandrov, a senior expert at the Center for Military-Political Studies at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explained that "Erdogan's behavior is only logical.
"That," the expert suggested, "is why Erdogan is looking for closer ties with Russia, to find common ground – to use this rapprochement as an instrument of pressure on the West, to avoid anti-Turkish sanctions by the EU, etc."
In short, much is riding on the Putin-Erdogan meeting, and the corresponding 'comparison of notes' between the two leaders; hopefully, the meeting will play a role in resolving the Syrian crisis, which has not only left the country in ruins, but has helped to destabilize the Middle East and even Europe, which continues to suffer from the consequences of the refugee crisis and radical Islamist terrorism.
Russia has strengthened its southwestern flank as NATO builds up its military presence and Ukraine remains unstable, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday in remarks the United States called contrary to efforts to lower tensions.
Moscow has deployed more air defense systems in the southwest and has also deployed a "self-sufficient" contingent of troops in Crimea, Shoigu told a meeting at the Defence Ministry broadcast on state television.
"Since 2013 ... we have formed four divisions, nine brigades and 22 regiments," he said. "They include two missile brigades armed with Iskander missile complexes, which has allowed to boost fire power to destroy the potential adversary."
Shoigu said "terrorist" groups were also active in the North Caucasus.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Washington had seen the comments and "if true, we believe that this would appear to run counter to ongoing efforts to stop violence and de-escalate the tensions in eastern Ukraine."
Kirby said the United States expected Moscow to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreement to halt the war in eastern Ukraine and the Vienna document that attempts to provide transparency about military movements in the region.
He noted that the reports indicated the Russian buildup included troops in Crimea, which Moscow seized and later annexed.
"Crimea is and always will remain part of Ukraine. We're not going to allow ... the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun," Kirby said, calling for an "immediate end to the Russian occupation there."