The geopolitical game between Turkey and Russia

Геополитическая игра между Турцией и Россией

The escalation of the conflict in Syria caused by the attacks of the Syrian Arab army on the last enclave of rebels in Idlib have led to the deaths of a dozen Turkish soldiers. Of course, that Ankara accuses of not only Damascus, but also Moscow – it was that saved the Assad regime from defeat in the war and continues to support it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not stint loud statements, showing the claims of the Russian partners. Support for the Russians offensive of Assad’s forces he sees as a direct violation of agreements reached, which were created in the Idlib area of de-escalation under Turkish control. Came the Russians and their activities in Libya, where Russia and Turkey also support different sides in a local civil conflict. The Turkish leader has accused senior Russian military leadership is actually in control of the actions of General H. Haftorah, acting against the UN recognized the government of national unity.

The nature of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the international arena remains controversial. In recent years the impression was that Turkey and Russia despite some contradictions, came to an agreement in matters of strategic importance (the construction of the pipeline “Turkish stream”; the purchase by Ankara of the Russian air defense systems s-400; the participation of Turkey in Russia initiated negotiations on the fate of Syria). But now the situation escalates, threatening to turn into a full-scale diplomatic confrontation – as it was in 2015, after the incident with the Russian destruction of a Turkish military aircraft.

In such circumstances questions to ask: is it a kind of Russian-Turkish friendship has come to an end; whether Russians to expect from Erdogan’s new knife in the back; did Erdogan another victim of empty promises of Putin, concluding with him in the year before the agreement on Syria? However, to answer them, just knowing the actual condition and characteristics of current bilateral relations between Moscow and Ankara.

Their analysis refutes any claims of a loss of trust between the parties, it is impossible to lose what really was not. Interaction of Russia and Turkey in the international arena is characterized by extreme ambiguity. On the one hand, it is inherent in the intensification of cooperation in the implementation of some projects. At the same time, the parties are in a state of latent conflict. The very nature of today’s international space and the essence of the strategies of Moscow and Ankara created a situation where these States are competitors and yet need each other for the sake of their ambitions.

This ambiguity is manifested at all levels. In global geopolitical terms, Turkey and the Russian Federation seem to be natural opponents. Both countries want to strengthen its role in the international arena and establish itself as the recognized centers of power. Ankara within the framework of the concept of neo tries to regain control of postsmadsen space and become the leader of the Islamic world. Moscow implements its own neo-Imperial ambitions, which in this case extend far beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. Expansionism and aggression become characteristic of their foreign policy. It is therefore not surprising that the interests of the Russian Federation and Turkey, finally, are in conflict. Focus on the historical legacy of the religious factor as an important component of the state ideology, which is to meet their ambitious plans only add to the severity of a potential confrontation.

But, from the point of view of the conceptual approach to modern international relations, the position of Ankara and Moscow are surprisingly similar. Both States are a kind of violators of the peace. They advocate a revision of the current distribution of forces at the regional level and in the global namespace. In this sense, it is logical for them, if not to unite or at least coordinate actions in opposition to system players – primarily the Western countries that the existing balance of power quite satisfied. Of course, we are not talking about trust and real partnership. However, the overall strategic goal is the revision of the system of international relations lays the Foundation for cooperation.

At the solution of specific regional problems develops the same situation. On the one hand, few countries in the world have so many points of collision of interests, as Russia and Turkey. Virtually all the conflicts of the regional space, they support the opposite side. In Syria, Ankara was the most harsh critic of the Assad regime, and Russia has kept it from falling. In Libya, the Turks are betting on the Islamist group, but the Russians want to bring to power the Haftarot – a kind of “ersatz-Gaddafi.” Finally, several decades of smoldering conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, where Russia is an ally of Armenia and Turkey remains a key strategic partner of Azerbaijan.

While Ankara and Moscow understand that a direct military confrontation between States is not healthy for either of them. Thus, the confrontation continues in stealth mode with the use of proxy groups. At the same time, the parties should consider the importance and influence they have in each of the aforesaid cases, is not forgetting about their obligations and interests. The situation where the inability to win a final victory over the opponent and the need to address urgent tasks require dialogue. For example, after the Russian intervention in Syrian Affairs Turkey objectively cannot neglect its position defending the rights of Turkomans, or speaking against the Kurdish threat. But Russia is interested in attracting Ankara to the resulting peace process, because it has to legitimize its efforts in Syria. Thus, despite the radical differences in the positions, the format of the talks in Astana and Sochi is actually responsible for the interests of both parties in the short term.

An important issue in Turkish-Russian relations is the energy sector. In this context, Turkey is often mentioned as a state that can offer an alternative route of transporting energy resources to European markets. Indeed, it is a key link in the implementation of a number of projects to build transport corridor from the Caspian sea to Europe. The launch of the TRANS-Anatolian gas pipeline contribute to the diversification of sources of gas supplies to the EU. At first glance it confirms the contribution of Turkey to counter the Russian policy, which uses the energy factor as an element of a hybrid pressure.

However, the fight against the Russian monopoly on gas supply is not the key to Ankara’s interest. The aim of Turkish policy is to transform the state into a transit hub, that is, to concentrate on its areas of key transport routes. It is considering this, the Turkish government evaluates certain infrastructure projects. Not so important, where is the pipeline, how that he must go through Turkey. That is why she is now actively opposes cooperation between Israel, Cyprus and Greece for the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline. But the Russian “Turkish stream” is quite satisfying Ankara, because it adds to her influence as a powerful transit country.

The analysis of the personal dimension of inter-state relations also sows doubts about the possibility of their development. In Turkey and Russia formed the leadership modes, when Erdogan and Putin become carriers of the so-called people’s will and virtually single-handedly speak on behalf of the state. It seems it is only a matter of time when the two policy with no contenders in the political arena and accustomed to take their positions, meet in a duel.

On the other hand, the similarity of our approaches to governance and international relations simplifies the presidents of Turkey and the Russian Federation establishing personal contacts. Erdogan and Putin focused on the same values, built on political realism and respect for the force. What distinguishes these two from most of the politicians of the Western world, accusing them of authoritarianism. Criticism of Europe political transformations in Turkey have caused damage to the Western vector of foreign policy of Ankara and it is naturally actualizes alternative directions for Turkish diplomacy. Besides, Erdogan believes in the principle of leadership mode, that is, the embodiment of “popular will” in the only state leader. It is logical that it is more convenient to sit down at the negotiating table with people who share these views than with the liberal-democratic camp.

All these arguments contribute to high level of relations between Russia and Turkey, demonstrated in recent years. But we are not talking about developing real partnership, but only about a complex diplomatic game in which Erdogan met with Putin. Can Ankara come out of it a winner, time will tell, because the party is still far from complete.

Ukraine, too, could play his or her role. It is no coincidence that “Glory to Ukraine!” sounded from the lips of Erdogan during his recent visit to Kiev. It is no coincidence that the defense Ministers of the two States had a productive meeting February 12 – almost simultaneously with harsh statements of the Turkish leadership on the situation in Syria. Solidarity with Ukraine to Turkey – a fragment of pressure on Russia: a demonstration of their own independent position, the call to be with her and some phantom menace to become more active in Ukraine if Moscow does not compromise in others. So before Ukrainian diplomacy opens up new prospects how to successfully use this to their advantage.

Nicholas Sanicola, national Institute for strategic studies

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