Turkey: Prime Minister Erdogan called on Russian President Putin to let Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) during a joint press conference the two leaders held in St. Petersburg.
“Include us in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and relieve us from this pain,” Erdogan told Putin in a reference to Turkey’s long European Union membership process.
“Besides, we are also ready to ink free trade agreements with countries in Eurasia,” added Erdogan. The SCO is a mutual-security organization that was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The other countries, with the exception of Uzbekistan, had been members of the Shanghai Five, founded in 1996; after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, the members renamed the organization.
Comment: On Friday, press sources said Erdogan first had a tête-à-tête with Putin and then the two leaders attended the fourth meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council (ÜDIK), which was created between the two countries on May 12, 2010. Erdogan, accompanied by a group of Turkish ministers and journalists, has been in St. Petersburg since Thursday for top-level talks and was due to return to Turkey late Friday.
Turkey was accepted as a dialogue partner by the Shanghai Five at its annual summit in Beijing on 7 June 2012.
Membership in the SCO would not replace membership in NATO, but would signify that European Union requirements for membership would carry less weight with the Erdogan regime.
In his talk with Putin, Erdogan was playing to his audience, but, cumulatively, Turkey’s recent actions indicate a shift in Turkey’s strategic outlook. Turkey’s purchases of Chinese air defense systems and ballistic missiles are early manifestations of a gathering trend. Turkey’s strategic tilt means NATO is less relevant. It is also a setback for Uighur separatists in western China who obtain support from Turkey.