Loosely translated (we’re talking about an English idiom, after all), one possible meaning of the Turkish verb zorlanmak is “to eat crow” (actual Turkish speakers should feel free to correct my admittedly shaky Turkish on this if I’m wrong). Which seems applicable, since Tayyip Erdoğan is doing some of that today:
The Kremlin said Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized in a letter to President Vladimir Putin over the downing of a Russian military jet, an incident that plunged relations between the two countries into crisis.
“The head of the Turkish state expressed his sympathy and deep condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who was killed, and he said sorry,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. Erdogan said he would do everything he could to “restore the traditionally friendly ties between Turkey and Russia,” Peskov said.
Now, of course Ankara is keen to say that this was most certainly not an apology, and that it was incumbent on both Turkey and Russia to work to restore the ties between the two nations. And sure, Moscow isn’t above exaggerating something like this to boost Vladimir Putin’s world power image. But clearly this is Erdoğan reaching out to try to repair the damage that was done to Turkey as a result of Russian sanctions stemming from an incident in which, to say the very least, Turkey overreacted badly and misjudged how that overreaction would be received. If it soothes Erdoğan’s ego not to call it an “apology,” then whatever, but come on. Russia may now consider lifting sanctions (which would be in Moscow’s economic interest as well as Ankara’s), but I would imagine they’ll make Erdoğan stew for a little while before they do. The most interesting (and harmful, from Turkey’s perspective) casualty of the Russian sanctions was a joint project to build a new Black Sea gas pipeline. When that project is restarted you’ll know relations between the two countries are back to normal or close to it.
Erdoğan appears to be in a general fence-mending mood these days:
Israel and Turkey announced on Monday they would normalize ties after a six-year rupture, a rare rapprochement in the divided Middle East driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals as well as mutual fears over growing security risks.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the two countries would exchange ambassadors as soon as possible.
The mending in relations between the once-firm allies after years of negotiations raises the prospect of eventual cooperation to exploit natural gas reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars under the eastern Mediterranean, officials have said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it opened the way for possible Israeli gas supplies to Europe via Turkey.
Israel and Turkey broke off relations back in 2011, in the aftermath of the bloody (10 activists were killed, 8 of them Turkish nationals) Israeli raid on a flotilla of ships bringing aid to besieged Gazans in May 2010. But they’ve been steadily warming back up to each other over a shared animosity toward Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and in fact they put together the outline of today’s deal last December. Among the deal’s terms, Israel will pay millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the activists who were killed. However, Erdoğan has steadfastly maintained that he would only normalize relations with Israel if the sea blockade of Gaza were lifted, and it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to happen:
Netanyahu made clear the naval blockade of Gaza, which Ankara had wanted lifted under the deal, would remain in force, although humanitarian aid could continue to be transferred to Gaza via Israeli ports.
“This is a supreme security interest of ours. I was not willing to compromise on it. This interest is essential to prevent the force-buildup by Hamas and it remains as has been and is,” Netanyahu said.
But Yildirim said the “wholesale” blockade of Gaza was largely lifted under the deal, enabling Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products.
A first shipment of 10,000 tonnes would be sent next Friday, he said, and work would begin immediately to tackle Gaza’s water and power supply crisis.
“Our Palestinian brothers in Gaza have suffered a lot and we have made it possible for them to take a breath with this agreement,” Yildirim told a news conference in Ankara.
If Turkey can only get humanitarian aid into Gaza via Israeli ports and subject to Israeli control, then that’s still a blockade and in fact it’s not clear how that differs in any way from the current state of affairs. I don’t know what “wholesale” means up there, but it seems to be doing a suspicious amount of work, because I don’t see anybody in the Turkish government denying that this arrangement is how things will work.
Fortunately, by maybe/probably selling out the most important of his conditions with respect to the status of people trying to live in the shattered mess that is Gaza, Erdoğan opened the door to natural gas projects that could be very lucrative both for Turkey and Israel. And that’s really the point of both of these steps today. Turkey’s economy has been slowing down for a few years now and there are fears that a recession could be looming on the horizon, so it’s important, particularly for Erdoğan’s Imperial Presidency ambitions, that something be done to right the ship.