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Turkey-Russia thaw: Is Ankara ready to close Syrian border?

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The meeting between president Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan held on August 9 moved the relations between two countries to a new positive direction, and served as the beginning of restoration of “axis of friendship” and clean slate between Ankara and Moscow. The meeting was held in St.Petersburg after the failed coup attempt in Turkey and deteriorated relations over the downed Su-24 warplane.

Reportedly, both of leaders agreed to put on the table the number of cancelled projects, such as the “Turkish stream” pipeline. The pipeline is aimed to deliver Russian natural gas through Turkey to the Southern part of Europe. Obviously, the project means a lot for Russian Gazprom, as it allows to strengthen Russian gas monopoly in Europe. Even though Russia plans to start the construction next year, it still needs strong guarantees from Brussels.

A part of the proposed pipeline project, official Moscow seeks for an opportunity to renew the contract regarding the nuclear power plant “Akkuyu” in Turkey. The intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Turkey on cooperation in the fields of construction and operation of the country’s first nuclear power plant Akkuyu near the city of Mersin in southern Turkey was signed in 2010. The plant’s construction is expected to be completed in 2020. But despite the recent Russian – Turkish rapprochement, it is nearly impossible to shift the bilateral relations so fast after such a deep crisis.

Another important issue of the meeting agenda was Syrian crisis. The fact that Turkish president was accompanied by the Intelligence service chief Hakan Fidan showed that Erdogan travelled to St.Petersburg with “an action plan”. Although, the detailed content of the negotiations remained uncovered, most probably the both of sides agreed on the necessity of closure of the Syrian border. It is safe to say that Ankara is most likely to give the green light to the closure of Syrian-Turkish border given the ongoing normalization of relations between Russia and Turkey, according to Izvestia, which cited relevant agreements clinched during the meeting between Putin and Erdogan. Such measure will help to prevent the flow of radical terrorists, as well as weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that the “Turkey-Syria border remains ‘full of holes’ and is actively used for infiltration of terrorist militants into Syria via Turkey.”

Seemingly, by closing the border, Turkey hopes to decrease the Russian influence among Kurdish militant groups in Syria that threatens Turkey’s national security. It is not a secret that the growing Kurdish influence in Syria is one of the main headaches of the AKP government. Yet, the agreement on the closure of Syrian border does not really mean that official Moscow withdraws its support from Kurdish PYD, which is one of the guarantors of the strong Russian presence in Syria. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to imagine that Russia will voluntarily give up its “Kurdish tool”. By supporting the Kurdish militant groups in Syria, Russia intends to compensate the growing influence of the U.S in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey is also furious that Washington, its NATO ally, is working closely with Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) in its battle with ISIS. Nevertheless, official Moscow insists on Ankara to close the border with Syria, claiming that without preventing terrorist groups from entering Syria through Turkey, it is impossible to launch peace process.

Thus following the failed coup attempt in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan faced new challenges in foreign policy. Taking into account Turkey’s worsening relations with neighbours, a new road map could be launched, which includes the normalization of bilateral relations with Assad’s regime. Putin wants to re-establish dialogue between Erdogan and Assad administration. According to Prof. Mesut Casin, Turkey is among the nations guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Syria and that Erdogan is against the political establishment on the border controlled by the PKK-PYD (Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Kurdish Democratic Union Party).

Another interesting issue of the meeting was Mr. Erdogan’s statement regarding the necessity of the establishment of a secular administration in Syria. This is the first time Turkey, the country that has most helped the rebellion against the Baath regime since the beginning of the conflict, admits that Bashar Assad has a legitimate role to play. The statement made by the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, on Wednesday, stunned the Syrian opposition leadership, which Ankara hosts, as well as regional leaders, who had allied with Turkey in their push to oust Assad over a long, unforgiving war.

Although the Russian – Turkish summit in St. Petersburg is over, it is quite difficult to predict the possible repercussions both for Ankara, and Moscow. The one thing is clear that Erdogan will seek for a compromise with Damascus, as it is the only way to cut off ambitious of PKK – affiliated PYD militants, and homegrown Islamist radicals that trigger domestic security. Notwithstanding the fact, moving the Kurdish militants out of the way is a little price for Erdogan’s government to pay for the victory in Syria, as the returning to pre-war status-quo would cost much bigger price.

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Russia and Comoro Islands Cooperate To Enhance Bilateral Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 8-10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Comoro Islands, El-Amine Souef, paid his first official working visit to Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with him on November 9.

After the talks, Lavrov told the media conference that they had confirmed to continue promoting bilateral cooperation in many spheres and work together towards using the existing potential in both countries.

There is considerable potential for cooperation in fishing, renewable energy, the provision of fresh water and agriculture.

“We have agreed to help our business communities establish direct ties and we also exchanged opinions on international issues, reaffirming the identity or similarity of our views,” Lavrov said.

They exchanged of views on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on preventing and defusing crises in Africa and the Middle East, struggling against piracy in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean and countering terrorism and extremism.

Lavrov reminded that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, that is “African solutions to African problems” and urged Africans to find ways of settling conflicts while the international community provides the necessary assistance through the African Union and sub-regional African organisations with the coordinating role of the UN.

Under a memorandum signed by the ministers, Russia will be training law enforcement personnel for the Comoro Islands.

Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that foreign assistance is very essential to transform the economy and improve living standards of the population on the Comoro Islands.

Thus, Russia’s economic engagement is needed at this time, most importantly, to maintain stability and turn around the opportunities into an attractive place. With a relatively small investment, Russia could achieve important results for the Islands, so the first step should be genuine commitment, he told me in an emailed interview from Johannesburg.

One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Islands are hampered by inadequate transportation links. It has a rapidly increasing population and few natural resources.

The low educational level of the labour force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. France, the colonial power, still remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.

Russia established diplomatic relations with the Comoro Islands after it gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community with 15 other regional member states.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic are also widely spoken. About 57% of the population is literate. The Islands, with a population of about 1.2 million, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

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Russia’s Growing Clout in Asia Pacific Region

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In their strategic calculus, the Asia Pacific major powers as well as other countries do not consider Russia a major military power for the region. Although these Asia Pacific countries understand Russia’s military clout in Europe and Middle East, they somehow fail to see how overall Russian military might have an impact in the Asia Pacific region too.

Accordingly, the growing influence of Russia in the region finds less attention on the regional media outlets, the regional discussion platforms and the think tank papers produced across the region. This is a total contrast to Russian involvement in Europe and Middle East, something which receives huge coverage. Despite the low coverage of its engagement in the Asia Pacific, Russia’s geopolitical presence is increasing in the region.

Although its military and economic involvements in the Asia Pacific reduced significantly after the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia has over the last decade improved and enhanced its military might significantly, making its military a potent power in the region.

Russia has been selling weapons and other advanced military technology to the Asia-Pacific countries in order to bring these countries into its geopolitical orbit. Besides its close military relations with both China and India, Russia is increasingly building good relations with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Furthermore, Russia is on a spree of building certain infrastructures in several Asia Pacific countries which would make those countries dependent on Russia for the proper functionality of those infrastructures. Take Bangladesh’s nuclear plant for example. Russia is setting up a nuclear-powered power plant in Bangladesh, and this infrastructure would certainly make Bangladesh dependent on Russia for the technological aspects of the project. Bangladesh has also been purchasing heavy weapons and military vehicles from Russia.

Recently this year, many regional countries were alarmed by Russia’s large scale war games. The fact that the war games was conducted in the eastern part of Russia – which forms part of the Asia Pacific region, unlike Russia’s western part that forms part of Europe – makes it an alarming development for the Asia Pacific region.

According to an Australian news website, the war games, namely Vostok-2018 or East-2018, involved more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, 1000 aircraft, helicopters and drones and 80 warships and support vessels.

More alarming was the inclusion of the Chinese military into the war games alongside the Russians. Around 3500 Chinese troops were said to have taken part in the Russian war games. Troops from Mongolia too joined the drills.

Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister, boasted about the drills saying, “Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles – and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible.”

Condemning the drills, NATO said the war games “demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict”.

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Putin Pushes Business, Bogdanov Advocates Development

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 6, while chairing a meeting of the Commission for Military Technology Cooperation with Foreign States, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for renewed efforts, not only, in preserving, but also, in strengthening Russia’s leading position on the global arms market, primarily in the high-tech sector, amid tough competition.

“Our capabilities in the military technical sphere must be used to modernise and upgrade all our industries, to support our science and to create a powerful technological potential for the country’s dynamic development,” he told the close-doored meeting.

Putin further called for reliance on the rich experience in this sphere and building up consistently military technology cooperation with foreign states.

Russian manufacturers have the advantage of an unfailingly high quality of products, which have no analogue in their combat and technical characteristics. Russia values its reputation of being a conscientious and responsible participant in military technology cooperation.

“We strictly observe international norms and principles in this area. We supply weapons and military equipment solely in the interests of security, defence and anti-terrorism efforts. In each case, we thoroughly assess the situation and try to predict the developments in the specific region. There are no bilateral contracts ever targeted against third countries, against their security interests,” he explained.

Putin suggested that “the changing conditions in which we have to trade in military equipment require some adjustment of existing approaches and development of a new integrated strategy for the future.”

Over the past years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russia has signed bilateral military-technical cooperation agreement nearly with all African countries.

Early October, Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, has urged global community “to go beyond military cooperation” to assist African countries that are still facing a number of serious development problems.

“Joint efforts of the whole global community are required for meeting those challenges, I am confident that the aid to African states should go beyond military components. It is necessary to fortify public institutions, engage in economic and humanitarian fields, construct infrastructure facilities, create new jobs,” Bogdanov said, adding “those are the ways of solving such problems as migration, for example, to Europe.”

Bogdanov was contributing to the panel discussions on the topic: “Engaging Africa in Dialogue: Towards a Harmonious Development of the Continent” at the Dialogue of Civilisations Forum that was held from October 5-6 in Rhodes, Greece.

Kremlin website reported that, in recent years, Russia’s global export of military products has been at a consistently high level, around $15 billion.

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