Kazakhstan Plays Key Role in Reconciliation between Russia and Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was able to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in St. Petersburg on Tuesday to normalize relations between Ankara and Moscow, thanks, in part, to Kazakh diplomacy, diplomatic sources told EFE.
This “historic visit,” as it was labeled by Erdogan, marked the first trip abroad by the president since the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s mediation efforts began immediately after the downing of a Russian fighter by Turkey in November 2015 and intensified in the spring, a high-level Kazakh official close to the mediation efforts told EFE on condition of anonymity.
“The ice that was in the relations (between Russia and Turkey) has melted, thanks to the contribution of our sister countries, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, who exerted every effort to normalize relations. We express our gratitude to these countries,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on June 28.
Kazakhstan’s mediation culminated a few days earlier in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, where Nazarbayev and Putin met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.
During his stay in the Uzbek capital, the Kazakh leader suggested to Erdogan that “some kind of letter” be sent to Putin, the official said.
“If Erdogan is ready to send a letter to the Russian president, Putin is ready to accept it,” Nazarbayev said after the meeting with the Russian leader, according to an article published by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet on Tuesday.
Kazakh diplomats helped draft the letter, which could not include the words “apology” and “compensation,” following the instructions from Erdogan. They used “izvinite,” a Russian word that is stronger than “sorry” but less so than an apology, Hurriyet said.
The next day, according to the official, an envoy from the Turkish president arrived unexpectedly in Tashkent, where Nazarbayev set up an informal meeting between Turkish and Russian presidential advisers, marking the first high-level contact between the countries since the Russian fighter’s downing.
On Aug. 5, the Kazakh president traveled to Ankara, making him the first leader to visit the Turkish capital after the attempted military coup in July, arriving four days before the meeting between Erdogan and Putin.
Kazakhstan’s role in the reconciliation comes as no surprise.
The country was part of the Soviet Union for 70 years before gaining independence in 1991, and Astana and Moscow maintain close economic and political ties through organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Ethnic Russians make up slightly less than one-quarter of Kazakhstan’s population, making them the second-largest ethnic group in the country.
Turks and Kazakhs, meanwhile, are connected by blood, as both are part of the same Turkic collection of ethnic groups. The Turks consider the steppes of Eurasia the historical birthplace of the Turkic nations.
Turkey is also one of the biggest investors in Kazakhstan.
Over the decades, Nazarbayev has built very strong personal ties with the leaders of both Turkey and Russia, a factor that proved critical during the crisis.
As a recognized “aksakal” (elder) by the Turks and someone with whom Putin often consults, Nazarbayev was uniquely positioned to play the role of mediator.