A Meeting In St. Pete

This is another of my big political stories of the week being covered on Sunday articles. The problem is that it went almost unreported in the American press. I’m afraid an America obsessed with the 2016 election is falling into it’s the world begins at the Atlantic and ends at the Pacific worldview once again.  

On Tuesday the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia. This is significant for several reasons. Let’s explore some of them today.

Before I get into specifics, let me just state what my regular readers know has been my view for some time: Turkey is the key to the Middle East region.

This is the first time Erdogan traveled outside of Turkey since the recent coup attempt which began when he was out of the country. That means that Erdogan thinks he has the situation under control at home and has at least temporarily neutralized the opposition.

Erdogan came to Putin and not the other way around. Importantly the meeting took place in St. Pete, not Moscow. That was more of a somewhat neutral site and entailed both men traveling. Some face saving for Erdogan, not giving in much for Putin who always needs to be seen as the strongman and again Erdogan displaying an “everything is just fine at home with me in charge” attitude.

Turkey is courted by Russia along with the United States and its European allies. Turkey, while importantly a member of NATO, tries to maintain ties with both groups. Turkey and Russia have important trade relationships many of which are based on geographical convenience. Last November Turkey shot down a Russian jet it claimed had encroached on its airspace. Needless to say that didn’t make for a lot of warm and fuzzies. While the United States and the West largely remained non-committal during the early hours of the coup attempt Putin jumped right in with words of support for Erdogan’s regime. That may be a reason why he made Russia his first post-coup stop.

The Middle East is a multi-level chess game and the Turkey-Russia relationship is no exception. Both want to see ISIS eliminated but they are on opposite sides in support for the Assad regime in Syria. Turkey has long hated Assad while Russia sees him as its most valuable ally in the region. Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base is in Syria. If you think naval bases aren’t important to Putin let me just mention one word: Crimea.

Erdogan and many of his supporters are actually blaming the United States for the coup. They cite our slow reaction as aid to the rebels. Personally I think we were caught by surprise and just needed time to analyze the situation in hope that we didn’t end up supporting the loser. More complex is the fact that Fethullah Gulen, a cleric based in Pennsylvania, is being accused of having inspired the coup. Like most Americans I simply lack sufficient knowledge of the situation to express an informed opinion on that aspect other than to say influencing public opinion in Turkey is a big deal.

Little was reported of the aftermath of the meeting. That is both typical and fine. The reality is that the true results of a high level international meeting are often not known for years. While Americans were obsessed with the ranting of a presidential candidate that the majority of Americans are now questioning the very sanity of, something with potentially huge global impact happened in Russia on Tuesday. In early November we will definitively know the results of the American election. We may not know the complete significance of the meeting in St. Pete for some time to come.

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