ANKARA (Hurriyet Daily News)—The Turkish and Russian top defense leaders held extensive discussions in Ankara on a wide range of issues, including the ongoing turmoil in Syria, in the first top level military-to-military meeting since the two countries resolved a crisis.
The Turkish and Russian chiefs of general staff held extensive discussions in Ankara on a wide range of issues, including the ongoing turmoil in Syria, on Thursday, in the first top level military-to-military meeting since the two countries resolved a long-standing crisis after Turkey downed a Russian warplane last year.
One of the most important outcomes of the talks is that both top soldiers agree that regional problems can only be resolved through joint initiatives of regional countries as Turkish military sources described the meeting as “fruitful.”
Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov arrived in Ankara on Sept. 15 for a visit that was announced by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov just hours before Gerasimov landed in the Turkish capital. He was welcomed by Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar through an official welcoming ceremony at the Turkish military headquarters.
The Russian chief of staff had planned to pay a visit to Ankara on Aug. 26, but the trip was postponed in the last minute.
According to Turkish military sources, this visit of Russian chief of staff that comes after an 11-year gap was very fruitful as the common understanding in the military has been enhanced with expectation that it will bring about more positive results in the future.
“This positive development is believed to be important in regards that this will lead to a common perspective between the two countries for the solution of other problematic regions in the Middle East,” sources stressed.
Turkish military sources evaluated the visit as the indication of the importance the Russian Federation attaches to Turkey’s capabilities in the region as a big power.
“Another important point with regards to this visit is the view that regional problems can only be resolved through joint initiatives of the regional countries among themselves has prevailed,” sources said.
The meeting in Ankara is very significant from different perspectives. From the bilateral relations angle, Gerasimov’s visit could be considered as the “military leg” of the normalization process between Ankara and Moscow that was launched in late June after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing his sorrow over the downing of the Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015.
Erdoğan and Putin later met in St. Petersburg on Aug. 9 and then in China on Sept. 3 to put political, economy, trade and energy relations back on its track. In particular, Moscow’s lifting of trade sanctions and tourism restrictions provided a better climate between the two countries.
The two top soldiers are believed to have discussed the jet downing incident of last November, after Putin told reporters at a joint press conference with Erdoğan that Russia still awaited information about how it occurred. Turkey had earlier arrested a Turkish national suspected of killing the Russian pilot, who jumped out of his airplane with a parachute.
A hotline has already been established between the two militaries in the last month to prevent the repetition of similar incidents along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Gerasimov’s statement came as a direct response to NATO’s plans to increase its military visibility in the Black Sea with the deployment of more vessels and strengthening the fleets of new NATO members, Bulgaria and Romania.
Before NATO’s recent Warsaw Summit, Turkish President Erdoğan urged the alliance that the Black Sea would turn into a “Russian lake” if counter-measures were not taken.
One of Russia’s main concerns is Turkey’s softening of the implementation of the Montreux Convention that limits the passage of military vessels on non-literal countries into the Black Sea through its straits.