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What did Putin and Nazarbayev talk about after the visit of Davutoglu to Astana?

Ilham Aliyev and Nursultan Nazarbayev are trying to reconcile Moscow and Ankara, but in vain. Photo: thepolitics.info

On Feb 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had a phone talk. A reliable source has told EADaily that the line in the press release saying that the presidents discussed schedule of their meetings does not mean that they are going to meet shortly. They will meet but not in a few days. Some experts still expect them to meet soon – especially now that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has visited Astana and was welcome there.

In Astana, the Turkish prime minister inquired if it was possible to create a free trade area with the Eurasian Economic Union - through the agency of Kazakhstan. Spoiled relations with Russia have caused Turkey much more economic losses than it expected as now the Turks need an alternative to the Russian market.

The free trade area project is not new. Nazarbayev suggested it long ago in hope to get access to the Middle Eastern and the EU markets. So, Davutoglu’s initiative is in line with Nazarbayev’s wishes. But the Kazakh president is wise enough to realize that he cannot neglect Russia here. His statements that Russia and Turkey are equally important partners for Kazakhstan and that it is necessary to search for ways-out of the current situation are quite sincere and are not just a political curtsey or an attempt to show how awkward it is for Kazakhstan to be between two quarreling allies. “The crisis between Turkey and Russia has become a big problem for us. Both countries are our important partners,” Nazarbayev said. In this light, it is clear that the contact between the Kazakh and the Russian leaders was inevitable.

Member of the Expert Council of the Center of Strategic Conjuncture Alexander Sobyanin suggests a wider approach to this situation. According to him, Davutoglu’s visit to Kazakhstan was crucial for Turkish President Recep Erdogan as it all of his attempts to meet Putin have failed. He is worried about the things happening in Syria and in his own country and has even urged the Americans to decide who they support – the Turks or the Syrian Kurds. Erdogan is worried about the agreements that might be reached during Henry Kissinger’s visit to Moscow. For Davutoglu this is a chance to gain more points at Erdogan’s expense.

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“The agenda of Davutoglu’s last meeting with Nazarbayev is similar to the agenda of their meeting in Feb 2010, when Davutoglu was foreign minister. If the Turks’ punitive campaign against Kurds in Diyarbakir fails and they prove unable to move their war to the Kurdish lands in Syria and Iraq, Erdogan may face even more serious problems, like, say, a military coup. Even though he has managed to neutralize lots of generals over the last years, the tradition of military coups is still existent in Turkey as they come from the times of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires,” Sobyanin says. Davutoglu is now gaining scores on the international arena as he looks much more reasonable than Erdogan when problems like Muslim refugees in the EU, war in the Middle East and Turkish-Russian crisis are concerned.

“The wish of Ilham Aliyev and Nursultan Nazarbayev to serve as mediators between Turkey and Russia is hardly realizable. The conflict in the Middle East involves such powerful forces like the EU members, the Wahhabi monarchies of the Gulf, the special services of dozens of concerned states. So, wherever it is really important the world’s two strongest military powers – the United States and Russia – negotiate tete-a-tete – as was the case with the last meeting of Victoria Nuland and Vladislav Surkov or Henry Kissinger’s visit to Moscow. I think Nazarbayev is not very much eager to mediate a conflict involving so strong powers. The key goal of his peacemaking rhetoric is to preserve good relations with Russia, to be active in the Turkic world and to develop economic and political ties with Ukraine,” Sobyanin says.

According to the expert, Kazakhstan can help to alleviate tensions between the West and Russia and Turkey and Russia. “Putin has repeatedly said that his claims are aimed against Erdogan rather than the whole Turkish people and that the sanctions applied against Turkey have bypassed over 20 Turkish companies working in Russia. So, Nazarbayev’s wish to stay friends with Turkey complies with the strategic position of all the Eurasian allies,” Sobyanin says.

He does not see any way for Turkey to prevent the Americans from creating independent Kurdistan. “In Syria Kurds have been promised autonomy, in Iraq they are de facto independent from Baghdad. Independent Kurdistan would mean the loss of territory for Turkey. If this happens, the only way for Turkey to survive will be a military coup. It will be then that Davutoglu will come onstage,” Sobyanin says.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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