The article, Collusion or Collision? Turkey-Russia Relations Under Erdogan and Putin, is forwarded by former Ambassador Eric S. Edalman to Turkey and written by Aykan Erdemir, Sinan Ciddi, and John Hardie. The three are experts in diverse fields holding such degrees as anthropology, middle eastern studies, international relations, political science, psychology, and security studies. Aykan Erdemir, Sinan Ciddi, and John Hardie. Dr. Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish Parliament and a senior director of the FDD’s Turkey program. He holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies and anthropology from Harvard University and a B.A. in international relations. Dr. Sinan Ciddi is an associate professor of national security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University (MCU). He has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of London’s Oriental and African studies school. John Hardie is a Russian research associate and research manager at FDD, he also holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology, political science, and international relations from the University of Georgia and is currently pursuing an M.A. in security studies.
The article is subdivided into four sections, including Turkey’s drift from the Western world, Enduring geopolitical competition with Russia, A new partnership, and Policy recommendations. This review will help to understand the basis for both nations’ interests in their collaboration, the challenges they face, competition in volatile regions and whether their ties are temporary.
For centuries, Russia and Turkey have had their sour and sweet relationship anchored on war and strategic competition in volatile region that goes back to their former empires. Their legacy of distrust and mutual enmity persist today. Among its other neighbors, Turkey only truly fears Russia. In 1974, the U.S. imposed an incapacitating arms embargo on Turkey after invading Cyprus but lifted it in 1978, tilting Turkey’s alliance towards the West. However, this was short-lived due to the breakdown of Turkey’s bid for EU membership and the Turkish-U.S. tensions over the wars in Iraq, spurring a new turn to Russia. Their mutual resentment toward the West has strengthened Turkish-Russian rapprochement. This anti-Western inclination has fueled the growth of Turkish-Eurasianism, which has gained sway in foreign and domestic policy, influencing Ankara’s pivot toward Moscow. Moreover, Russia and Turkey have expanded economic ties, particularly shaped by energy. However, the latter also supported the Western-backed oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, an alternate to Russian export routes. Yet, Turkey was one of the the first NATO members to buy Russian arms. Also, Moscow was Ankara’s top trading partner, while Turkey was a significant market for Russian gas exports.
Readers get an overview of the deep-rooted sour relationships between Moscow and Ankara as the article, tracing centuries of rivalry, presents the reality that Russia and Turkey have had a long, fraught relationship defined by war and geopolitical competition irrespective of their differences. However, it is an issue of concern because nothing guarantees that this balanced mutual relationship will suffice if either Putin or Erdogan exits leadership.
Promoting democracy, peace, and human rights is vital. However, they feel that the adversarial approaches used to a/dvance this objective seem counter-productive. For instance, their support for conflicting sides of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over the contested Nagorno Karabakh territory creates an additional layer of risk to the skirmish. Indeed, their shared suspicion is profoundly entrenched, and their differences are numerous. Nonetheless, the Turkish and Russian regimes have successfully compartmentalized their association, integrating competition with robust cooperation across diverse areas.
The article is a requisite guide to the relations between Moscow and Ankara. Once a loyal ally strengthening NATO’s southern border, the report features how Turkey has gradually drifted towards the West. It notes the past hostile relationship between these countries, emphasizing their unique way of managing their differences. Yet, it claims that Ankara’s pivot east does not seem forthcoming. On the contrary, it continually competes for supremacy with Moscow while its interests in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea collide. Hence, it is paramount to evaluate the several concerns that can powerfully destroy their shared relationship. For instance, apprehensive of Russia’s amplified naval capability and South of Crimea’s influence projection, the article claims that Turkey has pursued a superior position for the Black Sea’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Again, the U.S. Turkey relations deteriorated after the 2011 Arab uprisings. Ankara had extremely overrated Washington’s pledge to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator. Instead, ousting Assad favored Erdogan’s Islamist agenda of installing a government-affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. This aspect aroused concern in Russia, afraid that uprisings would empower extremists and erode Russian influence. Indeed, Turkish and Russian interests clashed most aggressively in Syria, resulted in shooting down SU- 24 Jet. First in 1952 by a NATO member.
Consequently, Russia suspended the Akkuyu and TurkStream projects in Turkey, imposed punitive sanctions against the latter, and harassed Turkish entrepreneurs and banks in Russia. Conversely, Turkey blocked Russian ships from using its Straits to transit and accused Moscow of detaining its vessels at Russian ports.
The article insinuates the U.S. may continually perceive Ankara as a bulwark against Moscow. However, such notions are farfetched – given that Erdogan is still the leader. Indeed, both countries benefit from the cooperation. They consider economic ties as the reason for the Turkish-Russian rapprochement, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the relationship has helped buffer against the increasing Turkish-Russian geopolitical rivalry across multiple regions and regions. Besides, the article emphasizes that their rejection of the post-Cold War liberal worldwide order makes their cooperation advance their revisionist geopolitical plans. Turkey has achieved autonomy from the West by strengthening its ties bond with Moscow. For the Kremlin, it is clear that the Turkish drift backs Russia’s well-established efforts to destabilize NATO.
This alignment mirrors domestic factors as neither reprimands the other for her kleptocracy or domestic shortcomings. Although the ties have their positive side, the article exposes another side whereby a large swathe of the governments’ elite castoff liberalism and allied visions that founded their nations’ national identity and their West’s strategic vocation. The article associates Turkey’s “Eurasianist” faction and Erdogan with shunning the West and prioritizing its ties with non-Western powers, including Russia, driving enhanced alignment between both nations. However, this scenario seems to facilitate vital political cover for Putin’s kleptocratic and authoritarian regime, which threatens the U.S. as it undermines the values and interests of free societies. Indeed, these autocratic governments liaise effectively irrespective of their unresolved differences.
Putin and Erdogan’s capacity to bargain and reinforce their influences without involving the West is remarkable. For example, the Russian-brokered decision to end the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict demonstrates this characteristic. However, Ankara’s increasing dominance in a region previously under Russia’s substantial influence is undeniable. Consequently, this outcome could trigger Turkish-Russian rivalry in the Caucasus. Turkey’s drive to expand its supremacy in the Caucasus after the Soviet collapse by tightening its relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia is becoming a reality. However, Turkey’s ambitions have perturbed Russia because it has signed an Armenia treaty, pursues close ties with the country, and dreads interference near abroad. Alert to such apprehensions, Ankara proceeded with caution and restrained from intervening during the first Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict in the 1990s. As a result, Ankara appears to be a powerful passive force whose presence then challenged Moscow, foreshadowing greater Turkish-Russian competition and rivalry in the South Caucasus.
What scared Moscow is becoming a reality as Ankara is no longer passive and silent. For instance, following its alliance agreement with Azerbaijan in 2021, Erdogan asserted that he might launch a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. Kremlin did not hesitate and responded that it pays undivided attention to deploying any military infrastructure near its borders and is ready to protect its interests and ensure its security. Erdogan’s determination in his ambition to establish an army contingent in Azerbaijan is unstoppable. For instance, he appointed senior service officers to several Azerbaijan-allied positions and the resultant military exercises in Nakhchivan and near Moscow’s Lachin Corridor, which stirred concern in Russia. There may be an escalation in the Azerbaijan-Russian tensions if Baku rejects the continuation of Moscow’s peacekeeping mandate by 2025, possibly giving Turkey the chance to maneuver for superior influence in the Caucasus. Paradoxically, Ankara’s augmented influence may strengthen Russian-Turkish relations. Turkey and Russian acknowledge the need for their collaboration to achieve the regional transport and economic networks as already envisioned. Indeed, Moscow’s analysts agree that closer engagement with Ankara will help avert further Azerbaijan-Armenian struggle, manage their competition in the Caucasus, and defuse the NATO influence’s threat in the region.
Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea is essential for defending its southwestern border and projecting its power in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. This region has been the basis for Turkish-Russian and Western-Russian competition and a rare silver lining in Turkish-Western relations, presenting opportunities for deeper cooperation. Turkey has persistently resisted further expansion of NATO’s Black Sea presence by balancing between the West and Russia. For instance, Ankara conducted the Black Sea naval exercises with Moscow in 2017 and 2019, demonstrating its continued balancing act. Similarly, Erdogan has taken a fine line vis-à-vis Ukraine, making little noise during annexation, afraid of infuriating Moscow besides opposing the Ukraine-associated Western sanctions against Russia.
Indeed, the shared energy infrastructure projects and economic interdependence offer powerful incentives for Ankara and Moscow to manage their constant geopolitical differences. However, Turkey’s growing role as a transit state for Russian gas alongside its efforts to minimize reliance on Russian supplies may level the playing field to some extent. Besides, Ankara’s diversification efforts could weaken the capacity of economic relations as a reinforcing element for Russian-Turkish ties, perhaps deteriorating the relationship further. These could happen in the tourism industry, bilateral trade, investment and construction, natural gas, energy cooperation, and nuclear. For instance, Turkey has sought more profound engagement with multiple non-Western international organizations where Russia dominates. This drift mirrors the former’s disappointment with the European Union accession and general hostility toward the West. Moreover, it reflects the emergence of Turkey’s Eurasianist camp and its desire for firmer rendezvous with what it perceives as highly significant alternative power epicenters that might enable it to balance its dependence on the West. These non-Western institutions include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Eurasian Economic Union, and BRICS.
The article divulges that what scared Moscow is becoming a reality as Ankara is no longer passive and silent. For instance, following its alliance agreement with Azerbaijan in 2021, Erdogan asserted that he might launch a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. Kremlin did not hesitate and responded that it pays undivided attention to the deployment of any military infrastructure near its borders and is ready to protect its interests and ensure its security. Erdemir et al. portray Erdogan’s determination in his ambition to establish a military contingent in Azerbaijan. For instance, he appointed senior military officers to several Azerbaijan-allied position and the resultant military exercises in Nakhchivan and near the Moscow’s Lachin Corridor stirred concern in Russia. The authors predict an escalation in these Azerbaijan-Russian tensions if Baku rejects the continuation of the Moscow’s peacekeeping mandate by 2025, possibly giving Turkey the chance to maneuver for superior influence in the Caucasus. Paradoxically, Ankara’s augmented influence may strengthen Russian-Turkish relations. Erdemir et al. notes that Turkey and Russian acknowledge the need for their collaboration to achieve the regional transport and economic networks as already envisioned. Indeed, the article affirms that Moscow’s analysts agree that closer engagement with Ankara will help avert further Azerbaijan-Armenian struggle, manage their competition in the Caucasus, and defuse the NATO influence’s threat in the region.
The article summarizes that Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea is essential for defending its southwestern border and for projecting its power in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Erdemir, A., Ciddi, S., & Hardie, J. (2021). Collusion or Collision? Turkey-Russia Relations Under Erdogan and Putin: Washington, DC. FDD Press, 5-60.