We have all experienced how uncomfortable it can be when mutual friends are in conflict. No matter how trivial the dispute, life becomes more difficult as you yourself get stuck in the middle between people you like and respect. The best you can do is try to repair the friendship.
But the problems caused are far more serious when the friends are not individuals but countries. And the situation becomes critical when the heightened tensions prevent cooperation on grave challenges that threaten our hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous world.
The angry rift between Turkey and Russia was certainly such a dispute. The shooting down of a Russian Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force last November – and the killing of one of its pilot by Syrian opposition forces – brought to a head tensions over the two countries’ differing perspectives over the Syria conflict.
A war of words quickly escalated into a deep freeze in diplomatic relations and the imposition of a travel ban and economic sanctions. As always, economic sanctions damage not only the countries involved but nations with nothing to do with the original dispute.
But an even bigger concern was that the break-down in relations was a major barrier to two countries working together and with partners to help overcome shared challenges. At a time when our world faces grave political, economic and security dangers, there is an urgent need for unity.
Among these challenges is the threat of violent extremism. Tragically, we have again seen the devastation that these extremists can cause in the recent horrific terrorist attacks on the Istanbul airport that left 45 people dead and many dozens injured.
The outrage – and continued death toll from terrorist attacks around the world, from Dhaka, to Baghdad to Medina – underline the need for countries to work together to protect the safety of our citizens. It also puts an added responsibility on all of Turkey and Russia’s allies to try to heal the rift between the countries. It is a responsibility which, it is now clear, Kazakhstan willingly accepted.
Few nations, of course, enjoy better relations with Russia and Turkey than Kazakhstan. It is a warm friendship based on shared culture and history as well as many deep personal ties, including at the highest level.
Nor do many countries have a better record of trying to bring nations together through dialogue than Kazakhstan. It is one of the reasons why its election to the United Nations Security Council was so overwhelming.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev played an important role in easing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. By keeping talks on track when they were at the most difficult, Kazakhstan also helped the international community find agreement over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
So given this record and relationship, it is perhaps no surprise to find President Nazarbayev – along with his President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan – being praised by both sides in the last few days for helping broker talks between Russia and Turkey. It was, they say, his intervention and good offices which helped pave the way for a thawing of the ice.
The result is that, after a seven-month silence, the Turkish and Russian presidents have already had a lengthy phone call and are now expected to meet soon. Sanctions have been eased and both countries are pledging to get relations back to normal.
As a thank you for the important part played by President Nazarbayev in healing the rift, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited his Kazakh counterpart to visit Turkey as soon as possible. But the greatest reward will be to see these two important countries working together again. We all suffer if divisions prevent cooperation. We all gain when we focus our combined efforts on creating a safer, more stable and prosperous world. Through its efforts, Kazakhstan has shown itself to be a true friend of Russia and Turkey and a champion of peace and partnership.