Inside Putin’s cold war with Turkey

Anna Nemtsova reports: In a favorite Russian corner of old Istanbul, Laleli, the streets and stores are eerily quiet. The little boutiques, stores, stands and outlets selling leather and fur coats are just about empty. The prostitutes from the former Soviet empire and from Africa are lonely as well.

Until recently there were crowds of Russian shoppers and Russian clients here. Now, in vain, shop assistants run out of their stores yelling, “Devushka, kurtki, dublenki!” They’re begging a woman to buy a fur coat, in hopes of attracting Russian clients, famous for their generous purchases. But there are none.

Such are the local symptoms of the growing cold war between two countries, or perhaps better said, two leaders who seemed until recently to be fraternal allies.

Yes, one of them is the commander in chief of NATO’s second biggest military, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the other is Russian President Vladimir Putin, but over the years they had found so many common interests, from tourism to oil shipments, that they seemed almost inseparable.

Then Putin entered the Syria war to defend his client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Erdogan is sworn to depose. And on Nov. 24, one of Erdogan’s American-made F-16s shot a Russian Mig-24 out of the air on the serrated edge of the frontier between Syria and Turkey.

And, so, the Turkish-Russian cold war began, and is growing worse.

On Thursday, speaking at a press conference, Putin said that at the state-to-state level the relations between the two countries were damaged beyond repair. The Turkish leadership, he said, “decided to lick Americans in a certain place.”

Putin’s coarse language, reminiscent of his threats to hang other regional enemies “by the balls,” picked up on weeks of vitriol spewed at Erdogan. The ever-vituperative State Duma deputy, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, claimed that if Turkey “acts as a hooligan” its northern neighbor would answer with destructive bombing, “so that half of Turkey would lie in ruins.” [Continue reading…]

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