As Russian Power Declines, Turkic Military Cooperation Grows – OpEd


In October 2009 the Cooperation Council of the Turkic Speaking States was founded in the Nakichevan province of Azerbaijan, three years after then Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed the concept. At its eight summit in 2021, it was renamed the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS). Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey are members of the OTS while Turkmenistan and Hungary are observers. 

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev views the OTS as not only uniting independent Turkic states. This is because ‘Its geographical boundaries are wider.’ 

While initially Azerbaijan and Turkey were the driving force behind deeper integration of the OTS, recently Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also stand out as active of OTS members. Kazakhstan views itself as the ‘cradle’ of Turkic nations and has outlined a Turkic World Vision to the year 2040. Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Toqaev believes the OTS follows the ‘will of our ancestors’ and increases ‘unity of the brotherly nations.’ A unity ‘based on mutual trust and brotherhood,’ Toqaev added. 

The OTS differs from most other international organisations in being an equal union of countries, unlike organisations that are traditionally dominated by global powers. Although Turkey dwarfs the other countries in terms of the size of its population, other members do not feel as though Ankara is hegemonic. The OTS’ secretariat has always been in the Turkish city of Istanbul but there are OTS structures in other member states, for example in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

A more equal structure contrasts with organisations that are used by Russia to impose its hegemony on Eurasia. The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) replaced the USSR in December 1991 but has always been seen by Moscow as a structure with overtones of Soviet nostalgia. Only two of OTS members – Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are also members of the Russian-led CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) and the Eurasian Economic Union.

The OTS unites countries on a basis very different to the Russian World, British Commonwealth or Francophonia. The latter three are led by former colonial powers – Russia, the United Kingdom, and France – who dominate their political, diplomatic, economic, and security relationships. Moscow sees itself as the ‘elder brother’, or leading country, of the Russian World which unites Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.  As with the CIS, the Russian World looks with nostalgia to the past rather than the future. 

The OTS is united, according to its former Secretary General Baghdad Amreyev, by common ethnic identity, history, language, culture, spiritual values, and traditions. The same cannot be said of the Russian World which Ukrainians do not want to be part of and which Russia is seeking to violently impose upon them.

Two issues which dominate the OTS – security and energy – are closely inter-related. OTS members pursue balanced foreign policies that diversify their relations and export routes while maintaining good relations with their two big neighbours – Russia and China. This is difficult to accomplish for because the OTS are strong supporters of the territorial integrity of states and inviolability of internationally recognised borders. Azerbaijan completed the liberation of its occupied territory in three stages in the last four years. President Aliyev said in November 2023, ‘Throughout history, the Turkic world has always struggled for independence and territorial integrity.’

In September 2022, the OTS Working Group on Energy Cooperation was established. Its first step was the launching of an OTS Energy Cooperation Programme and Action Plan for it to be implemented by 2027. OTS members would seek to diversify their export routes beyond Russia through the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Project (TANAP), Trans Adriatic Pipeline Project (TAP), and Southern Gas Corridor. In addition to gas and oil, OTS members would increase their cooperation in renewable and alternative energy, nuclear energy, and new energy technology.

OTS members are proponents of a multipolar world and are sceptical towards the old unipolar system which reinforces US and Western hegemony. Russia, Iran, and China also seek a multipolar world although this is unlikely to be defined in the same way. It remains unclear what a ‘just multipolar world’ means or whether it would be better than the unipolar world that is in place. 

OTS members understand a multipolar world differently to that of Russia, Iran, and China. OTS members are not anti-Western or anti-American. OTS seeks cooperation with Europe and the US to assist in its diversification of energy export routes and to manage a declining, but increasingly nationalistic Russia, and a rising China.  

OTS members are drawing up common positions on combating international terrorism, separatism, and extremism. Turkey has some experience in this area in its fight against ISIS and Kurdish terrorist groups PKK and YPG. The OTS will be expanding its cooperation in the fields of domestic security, defence, training, and their military industrial complexes. 

OTS members have different approaches to security. Turkey is a member of NATO and hosts US military bases. None of the other OTS members seek to join NATO. Azerbaijan is a long-term military partner of Israel and Turkey, uses Western military equipment and its officers are trained in NATO academies. While in the past Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan continue to rely on, as seen in its weak performance in Ukraine, poor quality Russian military equipment and inadequate military training, nowadays they increasingly look at Turkey. 

Following the liberation of occupied territory, Azerbaijan has led the way in the OTS in calling for greater cooperation on security and defence. Azerbaijan’s military victory ‘marked the beginning of a new stage in the strengthening of the Turkic unity.’ 

In December 2023, President Aliyev said that the ‘geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West’ means ‘We are facing (an) absolutely new and unpredictable situation in the world. Because of this, and the situation in our region the ‘issues of security should be top priority.’ President Aliyev said that ‘cooperation between member states’ on defence questions, military industrial complexes, military training, and border protection ‘should be further increased.’

The OTS summit held in November 2023 initiated ‘closer cooperation in the field of defence industry and military collaboration.’ Bilateral military cooperation, as seen in that between Azerbaijan and Turkey, is to be expanded to a multilateral format. 

Turkish drones were made internationally famous by Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia and Ukraine in its war with Russia. They are being produced in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. 

The OTS has emerged as a new geopolitical actor which is successfully uniting countries with a common Turkic identity which seek a multipolar world that is cooperating with, and not in confrontation with the West. Successful Turkish-Azerbaijani military cooperation is the template for the expansion of OTS cooperation in the fields of defence and security.

Dr. Taras Kuzio

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and an associate research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. He is the author of Genocide and Fascism. Russia’s War Against Ukrainians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *