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An Analysis of Recent Turkey-Russia Relations with Emphasis on Subjective Factors

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Reza Solat
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

Despite all mutual suspicions that exist between Turkey and Russia, relations between the two countries have changed from a historical issue into a political issue and then a security matter. In reality, social needs and national interests have played an important role in defining Turkey’s relations with Russia. At a juncture of its relations with Russia, Turkey embarked on desecuritization of those relations, which means reducing security margins of bilateral matters and introducing an atmosphere of political discourse with Moscow. Of course, before the crisis flared up between the two countries over downing of Russia's Sukhoi fighter jet during Syria clashes, the changing positions of Turkey and Russia within the new world order and agenda priorities led to a  major change in these two countries’ attitudes toward each other. As a result, such concepts as political stability in the region, economic development, mutual dependence and active foreign policy in the region turned into major elements, which accelerated redefinition of relations between Turkey and Russia.

Russia knows that as a reliable source of energy, it can access the global economy through Turkey. Therefore, Moscow is aware of this viewpoint that such conditions will not only benefit Turkey’s economy, but can also help regional peace and stability through promotion of bilateral cooperation and economic interdependence between the two countries. In addition, recent relations between Turkey and Russia are marked with such principles as peaceful coexistence, diversity, and tolerance for differences, examples of which include Turkey’s support for secessionists in Chechnya and Dagestan and Russia's support for Syria’s President Bashar Assad. This issue allows strategists of the ruling Justice and Development Party to use these crises as trump cards in negotiations with leaders of Moscow.

In fact, new measures taken by Turkey are reflective of this country’s multidimensional foreign policy through which it is trying to improve mental views of Iran and Russia. However, Turkey is in fact pursuing resolution of its geopolitical problems in its foreign policy with Russia. Turkey knows that Russians are willing to expand southward in order to reintegrate Georgia and find common border with their Armenian allies by 2020. However, a return to Turkish borders by Russian soldiers may ignite a major crisis in Turkey. It seems that Ankara is trying to find solutions to address threats of the Cold War period and pursues a strategy to contain Russians through policies it adopts toward those regions which are closer to Turkey. Through these strategies, Turks are trying to avoid being a simple connection to the West anymore and follow their own special geopolitical policies as Moscow is getting closer to the Mediterranean through Syria and there is an outlook for its future presence in Georgia.

In fact, Turkey’s tendency to have close relations with Russia, Central Asia, Caucasus, the Islamic world and the Middle East is rooted in realistic geopolitical policies of Ankara and is of very high importance to this country. Ankara is well aware that in order to turn into a pivotal country in the region it needs to define special mechanisms for cooperation with Moscow because the Justice and Development Party has reached the conclusion that without cooperation with the Kremlin, any form of insecurity and instability in the region would cause failure of all cases of investment as well as all political and military plans and any specific activity in the field of energy. Therefore, Turkey is trying to establish security, peace and stability through various bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in the region through cooperation with Russia.

According to Ankara’s new viewpoint, the status quo in the independent republics of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will not remain stable. After the downing of Russia's Sukhoi fighter jet by the Turkish army, Turkey’s politicians have embarked on adopting multidimensional policies toward areas neighboring Russia and have especially focused these policies on creation of regional and bilateral mechanisms around Russia. The main reason for this issue is different positions and conceptualizations in the two sides’ foreign policies, which have caused differences in their viewpoints with regard to Syria, Georgia, Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Therefore, recent relations between Turkey and Russia as well as mutual meetings between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, following a period of tension, cannot be considered in line with approval of protocols by the two countries’ parliaments. The main challenge, however, is embedded in psychological impediments in Turkish and Russian societies because there are powerful opposition groups in both countries and the majority of people in both societies is inclined toward nationalism. Therefore, recent meetings between Erdogan and Putin have been focused on many social needs and interests of the two countries and it seems that due to inclination of Turkey toward the West and Russia's firm policies toward Eurasia, relations between Putin and Erdogan – and not necessarily relations between Turkey and Russia – are on the right track and can show how regional systems take shape within the new regional order.

However, there are some geopolitical fundaments in Turkey’s positions and policies toward Syria, which prevent a serious and basic change in Ankara’s relations with Moscow. Of course, I personally believe that the agreement between Erdogan and Putin on Syria cannot go beyond the general issues mentioned above because relations of Moscow with an important member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) cannot be too prominent since this would not be in line with strategic, military and security aspects of Russia's national security. On the other hand, the Mediterranean Sea and Russia's access to this sea through Syria has been of enough vital importance to Turkey to prompt Erdogan to give up his past friendly approach to Assad for a new hostile approach. At the same time, NATO and the West, along with Turkey, are aware that Russia lacks adequate potential and economic support capacity to maintain long-term military presence in Syria.

Key WordsTurkey, Russia, Relations, Subjective Factors, Historical Issue, Political Issue, Security Matter, Syria, Energy, Bashar Assad, Justice and Development Party, Iran, Georgia, Mediterranean, Central Asia, Caucasus, Islamic World, Middle East, Sukhoi Fighter Jet, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Military Presence, Solat

More By Reza Solat:

*The Future Outlook for Iran-Turkey Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The-Future-Outlook-for-Iran-Turkey-Relations.htm

*A Glance at Future Prospect of Turkey’s Policies in Syria: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/A-Glance-at-Future-Prospect-of-Turkey-s-Policies-in-Syria.htm

*Top Priorities of Turkey’s New Prime Minister: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Top-Priorities-of-Turkey-s-New-Prime-Minister.htm

*Photo Credit: T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Kurumsal İnternet Sitesi

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