Feeling the force of Putin’s wrath

Many other countries, including Georgia and Ukraine, have been penalized by Russia. EU member states also felt the force of Putin’s rage when he placed embargoes on many of their exports, including fruit, vegetables and dairy produce, as a consequence of the sanctions that the EU placed on Moscow following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and war in Eastern Ukraine. Hence Putin has a playbook, which he has used several times, and no doubt Turkey expected a repeat of this.

Russian tour agencies have canceled flights to Turkey and suspended sales of new tours, imports of fruits and vegetables (20 percent of all vegetables imported into Russia are from Turkey) have been banned, there are plans to cancel major investment projects, place restrictions on financial operations, and bring in new customs tariffs. Russian sports clubs will be banned from signing Turkish players during the upcoming winter break, some students in Moscow had their apartments searched and joint cultural events have been canceled. This list is expected to grow.

Russia, after Germany, is one of Turkey’s largest export markets. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the northwestern Turkish city of Eskisehir alone exports about $30 million worth of cookies, cakes, crackers and other foods to Russia. With unemployment in Turkey rising, this new Russian policy is very unwelcome news. The blowback against Turkey’s tourist sector has also raised concerns. A group of Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies from Antalya estimated that the Mediterranean resort could lose $6.5 billion in the tourism and agriculture sectors if there is no de-escalation. For the moment, Russia’s main export to Turkey, natural gas — the country supplies 60 percent of Turkey’s gas — has not been touched. Perhaps that is not surprising given that it provides Moscow with a good income at a time when sanctions, along with the low oil price, continue to bite the Russian economy.

Always looking for the tenderest spot to squeeze, Russia has focused on terrorism and Turkey’s rather opaque policy toward the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Last Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the suspension of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens as of Jan. 1, 2016, citing Turkey as a source of terrorism. In the days that followed the downing of the Russian plane, Putin declared that Turkey’s officials were “accomplices of terrorists” for supporting ISIL and that Russian spy planes had witnessed trucks carrying “industrial scale” amounts of oil from ISIL sources crossing the border from Syria into Turkey. Since then the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been working around the clock to create an image of Turkey as a terrorism-supporting state. Domestically, Russia’s numerous state-owned television channels have broadcast hours of programs about what the Kremlin claims are Turkey’s cynical actions and nefarious goals in the Middle East, while Russia Today has also been working around the clock to tarnish Turkey’s image abroad. Putin is fanning the flames of nationalist fervor, creating a dangerous anti-Turkish sentiment.

Russia has also hooked into the recent disgraceful arrests of Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar and his colleague Erdem Gul, who have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization” and “spying” for alleging that Turkey, a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had covertly shipped arms to Syria. The efforts of the Turkish authorities to try to bury this story by arresting everyone connected to it are being used by Russia to tell the world that Turkey is a friend of ISIL.

Lastly, the Kremlin is taking steps to ensure Turkey has limited access to Syria and those that it has been aiding in particular: the Turkmen. Russia is expanding and strengthening its military presence. The deployment of S-400 anti-air missiles means Russia has imposed a de facto no-fly zone near to the Turkish border. Unfortunately, by shooting down the Russian jet, Turkey has limited its ability to act in Syria.