Our world moves at an ever-faster pace. Such is the speed of change that what would once have been a year’s history – both good and bad – now seems to take place within weeks.
The visit of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to St. Petersburg on Aug. 9 is another example of this acceleration of events. Even two months ago, his visit and the warm reception he received from his host, President Vladimir Putin, would have been viewed as simply impossible.
Relations between the two major regional powers in Eurasia remained in deep freeze, following the shooting down of a Russian bomber in disputed circumstances by Turkey’s air force last November. Russia’s angry reaction to the incident on the Syrian border and the lack of an apology from Turkey led to a diplomatic breakdown and the imposition of severe economic sanctions.
While the freeze was not in the interests of either country or the wider region, finding a way to break the deadlock was hard. Both sides’ position was becoming entrenched despite the economic and diplomatic damage it was causing. As our editorial early last month underlined, it took the personal intervention of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, with his long friendship with both leaders, to pave the way for the rift to be healed.
But it is only now, following the Kazakh President’s visit to Ankara on Aug. 5, that the full remarkable details of this role have been made public. Turkish sources have now revealed how President Nazarbayev acted as a trusted mediator and through persistence brought the two sides together.
Kazakh diplomats are praised, too, for the part they played in healing the rift. The Kazakh embassy in Ankara, as well as relaying urgent messages to their Turkish counterparts, apparently helped find a form of words acceptable to both sides over the loss of the Russian bomber. This was the key section of the letter from the Turkish President Erdogan to his Russian counterpart that provided the basis for the rapprochement.
Interestingly, this was apparently not the end of the personal involvement of President Nazarbayev, who along with President Putin, was in Tashkent for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit. We now learn that, as the aircraft carrying Turkish diplomats with the letter flew towards Uzbekistan, he rang the country’s leader Islam Karimov to gain last-minute approval for it to land. And on arrival, we are told that he read and approved the letter himself before it was shown to President Putin in the room next door.
Such extraordinary details underline the trust with which President Nazarbayev is held on the international stage. It also explains why he was so warmly praised for his efforts by the Turkish leader.
The full story also demonstrates Kazakhstan’s active commitment to promoting dialogue and constructive relations whenever it can. Many countries, of course, would claim to foster cooperation but few can point to such a track record of effort and achievement. It is, as we said when the first tentative steps were being taken to restore relations between Turkey and Russia, one of the main reasons why Kazakhstan was elected so overwhelmingly to the United Nations Security Council.
But what we did not know when the editorial was written just over a month ago was that within a few days the Turkish President, re-elected with a large majority only two years ago, would be the target of a serious military coup. The coup failed but it is another example of how history seems to have speeded up and the instability this inevitably brings in its wake.
This pace of change and unpredictability sets challenges for all countries. It also makes co-operation more vital than ever. Russia and Turkey are now well on the road to putting their relations back on a friendly footing. We now need other countries, with the help of their international partners, to follow their lead.