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Turkey Pursues Warmer Ties With Russia, Europe Amid Dispute With U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have met 11 times since 2016.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have met 11 times since 2016.

As relations between the United States and Turkey have soured in recent months, Ankara has stepped up its pursuit of better relations and increased trade with Europe and Russia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the leaders of Britain and Germany on August 27 to discuss strengthened ties even as his government warned the United States that recently imposed U.S. tariffs on Turkish goods threaten to destabilize the Middle East.

At the end of last week, Turkey sent a delegation led by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Moscow to discuss a planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems -- a Turkish project opposed by Washington -- as well as efforts to find a peaceful solution to the seven-year war in Syria.

In a sign of the importance of the visit, Cavusoglu was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who praised their "deep cooperation" on Syria.

On August 27, Turkish media reported that the presidents of Turkey, Russia, and Iran would all meet next week at a summit in Tehran aimed at forging an agreement on Syria.

Cavusoglu told Putin during their meeting that "your dear friend Mr Erdogan" also expects him in Istanbul soon for dinner at a fish restaurant. Erdogan and Putin have met at least 11 times since August 2016.

Turkey's increasingly warm relations with Moscow, which also includes joint development of a major Russian gas pipeline that is to run through the Black Sea and Turkey to southern Europe, has become critical for Ankara at a time when a crisis in relations with the Washington has caused the Turkish lira to lose nearly half its value against the U.S. dollar.

The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member, "demonstrates a striking level of pragmatism" on both sides, but it is particularly helpful to Russia, Anna Arutunyan, a Moscow-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told AP.

"The prospect of a friendly NATO member is very valuable for Moscow" as it aims to bolster its influence in the Middle East, Arutunyan said. "Turkey is a good avenue to do that. Syria has been a good avenue to do that."

During Erdogan's call with British Prime Minister Theresa May on August 27, the two leaders focused on the economy, trade, and investments, as well as the Syrian crisis. May told Erdogan that Britain wants to see Turkey's economy "flourish," her office said.

The warm response in London contrasted with recent exchanges of threats and economic retaliation between Ankara and Washington that have sent Turkey's currency, markets, and economy tumbling.

In a second call with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu reported that Erdogan and Steinmeier both showed determination to strengthen diplomatic ties.

They also discussed preparations for Erdogan's state visit to Germany at the end of September and a meeting planned between both countries' finance ministers in Berlin on September 21.

The calls come after personal calls by Erdogan to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and German leader Angela Merkel in recent weeks.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters