Russia and Turkey, two former empires that dominated Eurasia at their own ways, is seeking to reassert their power in West Asia and in the international community. Turkey lies in West Asia while Russia lies in the fringes of West Asia. Russia and Turkey shares similar patterns—in their imperial rise, decline, nation building, foreign policy objectives and ambitions.
Turkey’s image of Russia has been that of a geopolitical opponent that had largely disappeared as the latter had lost much of its global influence, as well as influence in its own neighbourhood. This posed less of a threat to Turkish interests and security. The result was an upward trend in the relationship between Russia and Turkey.1 However, the Arab Spring that engulfed the whole of West Asia and influenced the world showed its impact in the bilateral relationship between Russia and Turkey. The Syrian crisis where both the countries are deeply involved has opened the Pandora box of complications between Russia and Turkey. A crack in the relationship took place with the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the harassment of the Crimean Tatars. The diplomatic relationship between both the countries were still continuing however with the downing of Russia’s Su-24 jet by Turkey and Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s non-apologetic stand froze the relationship. Russia took actions such as imposing sanctions on Turkey that started impacting on the economic development of the country.
Turkey, meanwhile, have been going through its domestic troubles such as a fallout between the president and the prime minister, rise in unemployment and terrorist attacks etc. building discontentment within the people and creating insecurity for the president and the government.
Russia, on the other hand, apart from the sanctions imposed on it by the West for its intervention in the Ukraine crisis also is facing security challenges in the form of deployment of NATO defence missile systems in its borders and Islamic fundamentalism etc. Turkey being a NATO member and its actions against the Assad regime counter’s Russia’s objectives in the region.
The economic problems and the threat from terrorism and cold shoulder from the West helped Russia and Turkey in mending their relationship. In mending of the relationship, it is in the interest of both the leaders—economically, politically and socially which has helped them to work out a working relationship. In June, Turkish President Recep Tayiip Erdogan apologised to Russia for the downing of the Russian jets in the Syrian border and on July when Erdogan faced a coup, Putin was the first foreign leader to offer his support. Russia and Turkey are trying to strengthen their relationship in every sector including having defence cooperation. Talks between the two countries are on for the development of a long-range missile defence system. Turkey was also supposed to have offered Russia its military bases to fight against the ISIS in Syria.
Rapprochement between Russia and Turkey would help the countries to counter the challenges the countries are facing—economically, politically, socially and security wise. Coming together of Russia and Turkey resolves many problems firstly, Russia can win the support of Turkey, a NATO ally, which will help Moscow in the Black Sea and also in Georgia and Armenia conflicts. The move helps Putin to build an image of a mediator in the Caucasus region, helps in the uninterrupted military and economic activities in the Black Sea region and also helps in retaining its influence in Abkazia and Ossetia. Strong relationship with Turkey also helps Russia to maintain its dominance in the energy sector which helps the country to have an upper hand on Europe and its ex-Soviet allies turned adversaries. It helps to weaken NATO’s influence in the region if Russia and Turkey becomes strong partners.
For Erdogan, amending the relations with Russia helps in returning to the foreign policy motto ‘zero problems with neighbours’. Russia can help Turkey to amend the relationship between Ankara and Damascus. Resolution of the tension between these two neighbours help Turkey in resuming a positive image of a good neighbour, helps in containing the Kurds and helps in resolving the refugee crisis. Turkey is facing terrorist attacks which can be blamed to an extent to the Erdogan government’s support to the extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra2 during the Syrian crisis. Russia’s military actions in Syria to contain the ISIS and also the other terrorist groups will help Turkey in protecting its national security.
Lately, Turkey is facing domestic problems due to Erdogan’s conservative and Islamic policies that have created friction within the society between the Islamists supporters and secularists. Erodgan’s policies are seemingly anti-Western and more religious oriented, driving Turkey away from the West. His relationship with Putin helps him in garnering support against the Western value systems which in turn consolidates his personal power. Erdogan has been unhappy with the US and Europe. The July coup has created a wedge against Erdogan and the US. He had asked for the extradition of the popular religious leader Fethullah Gulen from America, which the Obama administration has refused to it on the basis of not having strong evidences against the religious leader’s involvement in ousting the Turkish president. This is given another opportunity for Erdogan to come closer to Putin. Coming together of Russia and Turkey will have an impact on NATO and the Alliance’s objectives in the region.
The Views of the Author is her personal and not of the Council.
*Dr. Indrani Talukdar, Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
1. Sergey Markedonov, Natalya Ulchenko, “Turkey and Russia: An Evolving Relationship”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 19, 2011. http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/08/19/turkey-and-russia-evolving-relationship/8kld (Accessed on January 12, 2016).
2. “EXCLUSIVE: Turkey ‘protects & supplies’ Al-Nusra camps at its border – Syria’s YPG to RT”, RT, March 4, 2016. https://www.rt.com/news/334483-turkey-nusra-ypg-exclusive/ (Accessed on November 4, 2016).