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Turkey and Russia talk space launch, human spaceflight cooperation

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (left) and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a news conference in Istanbul on 10 October 2016. Photograph courtesy of AP.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (left) and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a news conference in Istanbul on 10 October 2016. Photograph courtesy of AP.

During a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Istanbul, Turkey on 10 October 2016, Turkey and Russia held a meeting on the sidelines of the World Energy Congress.

This was the first visit to Turkey by President Putin since Turkey shot down a Russian Air Force jet near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, but the meeting between the two leaders seems to have helped the process of diplomatic rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow that began soon after the attempted military coup in Turkey on 15 July 2016.

Among the numerous agreements between Turkey and Russia signed at the meeting is a commitment by both countries to cooperate in space.

Only a few details of this agreement have emerged in the public domain, but apparently Ankara and Moscow have agreed that a number of Turkish satellites will be put into orbit by Russian launchers in the coming years. This alone is hardly headline worthy since dozens of countries use Russian launchers to lob their satellites into orbit.

More tantalising, however, is the possibility that Turkey may put forward a Turkish astronaut to be trained at Star City, outside of Moscow, and then sent to the International Space Station (ISS) as a guest of Russia.

Technical space cooperation between Turkey and Russia, such as the co-development of satellites and data sharing, is not part of the agreement, demonstrating the limits of Turko-Russian relations. Since the two countries are members of two very different strategic-military-technological international blocks, more technical cooperation will always be limited.

The Turko-Russian rapprochement also sinks the short-lived burgeoning of relations between Turkey and Ukraine. In April 2016 SpaceWatch Middle East reported that Ankara and Kiev had agreed to co-develop and manufacture satellites and other strategic capabilities. This cooperative venture was heralded with great fanfare but seems to have since withdrawn into obscurity, a development not helped by the resignation of then Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in May 2016.

With Ankara and Moscow now making substantive efforts to mend their relations, it would appear that the Turko-Ukrainian agreement is now nullified.

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