Eyes on Russia amidst Turkey Coup Attempt
Russian politicians and state media sounded sharp alarm about the July 15 military-coup attempt in Turkey, Moscow's traditional regional rival, with some calling for "responsible organs" to come to the rescue of Russian citizens in Turkey. By contrast, officials in the South Caucasus, which borders directly on Turkey, expressed much greater caution .
The failed coup attempt led to the deaths of 1,661 people, and the injury of 1,440, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced at an afternoon briefing on July 16 in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Some 2,839 armed-forces personnel allegedly involved in the coup-plot have now been arrested, he said, according to Turkey's official Anadolu Agency.
Yet even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the coup had been put down, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency led with a statement from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that “we should undertake all measures for the defense of the interests of our citizens, and also our companies, our entities . . . “ in Turkey.
What measures, if any, were under consideration is not clear, but Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Alexander Romanovich, citing alleged bombing by Turkish military planes, earlier in the morning of July 16 called for "our responsible organs" to organize the immediate evacuation of all Russian citizens from Turkey.
The Russian consulate in Istanbul has not received any reports about Russian citizens suffering amidst the coup attempt, TASS reported mid-afternoon.
Any discussion about measures by Moscow to defend the safety of Russian citizens can make many uneasy in Georgia, wedged between Russia and Turkey. In 2008, Moscow also cited "concern" about its citizens to justify the invasion of Georgia's breakaway territory of South Ossetia.
In an interesting bit of timing, Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 submitted for parliamentary ratification a 2015 agreement with Georgia's other breakaway region, the Black Sea territory of Abkhazia, that would merge Abkhaz and Russian troops in times of an armed attack.
Starting in the early morning, Georgia's President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and other senior officials had emphasized that Georgia's security was not at risk from the coup.
Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili was the most direct on this score: “At this moment, complications are not expected from Russia’s side,” he announced after a meeting of the National Security Council, Interpressnews reported. “The main thing is the restoration of stability in Turkey.”
Georgia closed its western land border with Turkey except for Turkish citizens wishing to return home, but later announced that land travel from Turkey, a frequent destination for Georgian tourists, shuttle traders and migrant workers, had resumed. The interior ministry noted, however, that Georgia's border police had "strengthened" their defense of Georgia's border with Turkey.
Flights to and from Istanbul, as elsewhere in the region, were canceled, but, at latest report, Istanbul’s Atatürk airport had reopened and Turkish Airlines planned to resume service. Delays, however, are still reported on Facebook.
Apparently, some Russians believed that Erdoğan himself might wish to fly out of Turkey. TASS went so far as to ask Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov if Erdoğan had requested asylum in Russia – a highly unlikely scenario, given the conflicts and mutual suspicions that have historically dominated the two countries' ties.
Peskov's response was negative.
But Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, nonetheless saw a way to view the coup-attempt through the prism of Ankara’s recent reconciliation with Russia.
“It’s obvious that Erdogan suspected a coup was in the works,” he wrote on Facebook on July 16. “His political maneuvers recently, including the change of position related to Russia and Israel, and also, to a certain degree, Syria, were, as now becomes clearer, to a large degree an attempt to calm the emotions of the generals, already not hiding their dissatisfaction with the failures in the country’s 'new' foreign and domestic policy."
(Pre-coup-attempt, one Turkey observer scoffed at that notion. The peacemaking with Russia and Israel amounts to “tactical maneuvers aimed at damage control” rather than “a fundamental policy change,” wrote Al-Monitor columnist Kadri Gursel.)
One consequence of this reconciliation, however, may now hang in the balance.
A call has come in the Federation Council for Russia to put the brakes on plans to resume charter flights to Turkey – a needed energy shot for the Turkish tourism industry, severely ailing from recent terrorist attacks and soured ties with Moscow.
The coup-attempt also carried potential implications for Azerbaijan, Turkey’s strongest ally in the Caucasus. At a July 15 press-conference in Baku, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu stated that Ankara believed an "Azerbaijan-Turkey-Russia trilateral format" was possible to facilitate Azerbaijan's emergence as a regional transit hub, local media reported.
Cavusoğlu also traveled to Baku to discuss, inter alia, unspecified developments in peace talks over breakaway Nagorno Karabakhwith Armenia, Russia's strongest regional ally.
"The normalization of our relations with Russia will definitely help in this regard," Cavusoğlu said of the negotiations.
Consequently, any change in government in Turkey, long Azerbaijan's counterbalance to Russia, conceivably could have weakened Baku's position.
As Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev no doubt knows full well. His senior aide Ali Hasanov remarked on July 16 that "the head of state . . . throughout the entire night was very worried" about events in Turkey, Trend reported.
Aliyev himself has not yet made a statement about the coup-attempt, apparently preferring to speak through Hasanov, who expressed his hope that the situation in Turkey would return to normal.
In their relatively terse coverage of the coup attempt,
pro-government Azerbaijani news outlets earlier emphasized the punishment to be dealt to the coup plotters – a reflection, in part, of Baku’s own skittishness toward signs of opposition to its government.
Meanwhile, reactions from Armenia, Ankara's longtime sparring partner, which contains a Russian army base near its western, Turkish border, have been the most subdued. Foreign ministry spokesperson Tigran Balaian merely stated that the Armenian government is “attentively” following events in Turkey.
And, so, apparently, are the Russian border guards still stationed on Armenia's border with Turkey. Reminding readers that the troops provide an "important" component of the country's security, TASS reported that the guards have reinforced their positions.