ANKARA, Sept.28 (Reuters) – Turkey’s defense purchases from Russia have alarmed Ankara’s NATO partners, but the two countries remain rivals in Middle East wars in the Caucasus, highlighting loopholes who cross their delicate alliance.
Turkey has bought Russian missile defense systems and may buy more equipment from Moscow. It imports Russian gas, welcomes millions of Russian tourists and claims that membership in the Western NATO alliance is no obstacle to establishing ties with Moscow.
But it has also deployed troops to northern Syria to push back Russian-backed Syrian government forces, and the two countries have supported rival camps in the wars in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ahead of Wednesday’s summit between Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan, here is a summary of the ties that unite and the cleavages that divide Moscow and Ankara. Read more
– In Syria, Turkey is supporting fighters who once seemed close to overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, until Russian intervention strengthens the Syrian leader and helps push insurgents back into a small pocket in northwestern Syria. Syria on the Turkish border.
In February 2020, when an airstrike killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers, Turkey sent reinforcements to the northwestern Idleb region to block advances by Russian-backed Syrian government forces that had displaced 1 million of people.
In preparation for this week’s summit, Turkish-backed rebel fighters say Russia has stepped up airstrikes. Read more
They say Turkey has sent more forces to the region again, although officials in Ankara say it was mostly troop rotations, rather than reinforcements.
– In Libya, Turkey’s military intervention repelled an assault on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli by forces based east of Khalifa Haftar.
United Nations experts say the Russian Wagner group sent fighters to support Haftar’s forces, while Turkey sent Syrian fighters to support the government in Tripoli.
Under a ceasefire reached last October, the foreign fighters were supposed to be gone by January, a deadline all sides seem to have ignored.
– Turkey supported Azerbaijan’s military assault to drive Armenian forces out of much of the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in the southern Caucasus last November.
Moscow has a defense pact with Armenia and sees the region on its southern flank, made up of former Soviet republics, as part of its own backyard. Putin negotiated a peace deal to avoid a total defeat of the Armenian ethnic forces.
– Turkey did not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and says it is important to maintain Ukrainian sovereignty – a message that angered Moscow and which Erdogan repeated at the United Nations this week last.
When Erdogan pledged in April to back Kiev amid a build-up of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border, Russia warned Turkey not to fuel “militarist sentiment.”
– Two years ago, Turkey took delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defense batteries, ultimately triggering US sanctions against Ankara’s defense industries.
Despite warnings from Washington that further Russian arms purchases would result in additional US sanctions, Erdogan said no country could dictate the Ankara acquisitions and suggested he would buy a second batch of S-400s. Read more
– Russia has so far this year accounted for around half of gas imports to Turkey, which relies heavily on imports for its energy needs, after falling to a third last year when a main pipeline was under repair for four months.
A recovery in consumption after the decline induced by last year’s pandemic has also boosted Russian gas volumes.
– Seven million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2019, the most of any country, before the pandemic significantly curtailed overseas travel. Tourism remains an important source of hard currency for the Turkish economy.
– Russian nuclear conglomerate Rosatom is building a nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, southern Turkey, which Putin says will start operating in 2023.
Reporting by Dominic Evans and Can Sezer Editing by Gareth Jones
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