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Relations between Russia and Turkey have warmed noticeably since the deep chill that began between the two powers last November when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian fighter-bomber over Syria after it passed through Turkish air space for a few seconds. 

The Russian leadership — and President Vladimir Putin must be given the credit, if only because he so often and reflexively personally given any blame assigned by Western opinion leaders — handled that development shrewdly, and has now reaped the benefits.

The warplane was downed well before some units of the Turkish armed forces tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, and the coup’s failure was followed swiftly by rumours in Turkish media that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was behind the attempt to overthrow the government.

Whatever the truth of that is, it seems quite plausible — although this has for some reason not been reported very extensively in the West — that it was an eleventh-hour tip from the Russian security services, perhaps delivered by Mr. Putin himself, that allowed President Erdogan to escape the coup plotters with his life. 

Certainly, when the Turkish and Russian leaders met in St. Petersburg a week ago to reboot their countries’ relationship, Mr. Erdogan used the opportunity afforded by his first trip abroad since the attempted coup to thank the Russian president for his timely help. Warmly referring to Mr. Putin as “my dear friend,” Mr. Erdogan said, with only a moderate degree of ambiguity about the timing, “your call straight after the coup was very pleasing for me and our leadership and our people.”

Who knows about this kind of stuff? Certainly not us Western civilians, who are always the very last to be told if anything important is going on. Still, it’s an interesting factiod that while these things were first being rumoured, President Erdogan’s government arrested the two F-16 pilots who shot down the Russian jet for involvement in the coup. 

If nothing else, President Erdogan certainly sounded grateful and relieved in St. Petersburg when he announced “a new milestone in bilateral relations, beginning with a clean slate,” between the two countries. “I personally, with all my heart and on behalf of the Turkish nation, salute Mr. Putin and all Russians,” he said.

At the very least we can assume Turkish holiday resorts will again be full of vacationing Russians and Russian cooks will again be serving Turkish vegetables, normal bilateral activities that stopped for a spell when the chill set in last fall.

As esoteric as this Russian-Turkish rapprochement may seem in North America, this is an important matter to Canada and Canadians because we are playing a growing role in NATO’s ever more fraught contest with Russia in the north even as the chill between Russia and our Turkish NATO allies dissipates in the south. 

As the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported after last week’s St. Petersburg summit, the detente between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has “jangled nerves” at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels — which means it’s also setting off alarm bells in NATO’s real headquarters in Washington.

In the long term, this may mean additional problems with his armed forces for Mr. Erdogan, since, geopolitically speaking, Turkey occupies too important a piece of real estate ever to be allowed to leave NATO, which turns out to be harder to quit than the old Warsaw Pact.

Whether or not NATO or Washington had anything to do with the last coup attempt, if past behaviour is any guide, they could well have something to do with the next one if Turkey’s relations with Russia continue to improve.

Lacking much justification for its existence since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO has been searching for a meaningful mission ever since, settling first on adventures in the Muslim world and lately on reconstituting a new Cold War with Russia.

Given the historical predilections of military men with time on their hands and conservative politicians with voters to distract, there’s a strong possibility that if NATO’s leaders decide Russia is making gains in the south, they’ll get up to mischief in the north. 

Indeed, they are already doing just that, with their increasingly aggressive activities in the Baltic region, for which as we will see in the next post there is no strategic justification whatsoever.

That not only puts Canadian soldiers, many of them from my Alberta home town, in danger, but Canadians themselves if we allow ourselves to forget we live in an era of nuclear weapons and drift toward a war for which there is no reason. 

August in Europe may be an appropriate time and place to think about such things!

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...