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Turkey is no longer a flank but a wagon by Russia

Turkey and Russia are countries that geographically and culturally straddle both Europe and Asia. They are historical rivals, relationships between the two countries will always contain a degree of uncertainty. With current geopolitics and tectonic waves in the International relations made both countries “suspicious partners” with more pragmatic economic relations that are less logical politically in whole

Turkey and Russia have witnessed the violent fall of monarchical governments in the early twentieth century, and the radical social, political and economic changes that occurred as a result. Both countries experienced waves of economic and political reformations (liberalization) in the 80s and early 90s. Both countries have witnessed a “conservative resurgence” tide, usually emanating from economic and political difficulties shared by both countries during the ‘Turbulent 1990s.” In both Russia and Turkey, conditions gave birth to strong and charismatic leaders and political parties such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) and Vladimir Putin and ‘United Russia’ into power. Both leaders’ survival kit is heavily depend on populism, religious activism and military might and rules under their belts to garner their controversial vote through nationalistic grounds.

Turkish foreign policy in many dimension refashioned and narrowed toward an ideological context rather than a geopolitical projection. Turkey behaves as an “Ex-landlord”, an inheritor of Ottoman legacy, with claims and domineering attitudes without diplomatic courtesy. The best description of Turkish Foreign policy after 2015 is to generate Neo-Ottomanism rhetoric to galvanize the socially stratified and politically polarized Turkish population at home, a pragmatic ambition on its sensitive geopolitical tier with heavy polemical language outside. It can well put that way, internal cohesion through external conflicts turned into a popular parlance for recent years. That means, cultic and self-presumed leader is polished by masses fed by demagogy.

In order to have a look at the Turkish foreign policy evolution up until Erdogan era, there are three main orientations meet us at the threshold of Turkish foreign policy door and these three Ideological orientations in Turkish Foreign Policy have been reshaped during Justice and Development party’s (AKP) leadership, are evolved in its course throughout their history, focusing on and for every aspect of the Turkish foreign policies when it matters on Regionalism, the three main ideological constructions contested are Kemalism, Neo- Ottomanism and Eurasianism. Briefly, these three have grounds, grassroots foundations, representatives, and future in Turkish society. Unlike to first two, Eurasianism is a quite new as seems saving boat.

With a decidedly mandatory doctrine of secularism, Kemalist ideology has been seen the sole guarantor of secularism and republicanism in Turkey. Reformist but conventional Kemalism has been upheld by the military–bureaucratic elites, it is more western aligned with educated cadets in West and it promotes a liberal agenda, indebted those tenets to, it was constructed after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk claimed to be modern Turkey’s father for his leadership and military background constellations during the fight for the independence of Turkey in 1923 that underlined Turkey stance with “peace at home, peace in the world” in his official quote. Let’s not go away without pinpointing the reality of the political parties aligned with Kemalism, as bureaucratic and organizational focus policies created reactive to JDP today.

Neo-Ottomanism constitutes a counterbalance to Kemalism, Neo-Ottomanism which proclaims that Turkey belongs to the Islamic orbit, namely the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa. It is mostly idealized by conservative and politically Islamist parties, shares common values with Islamic group in Middle East and who traces Ottoman Empire legacy in the former Ottoman regions. Neo-Ottomanism foreign policy structure and architecture was designed by Ahmet Davutoglu former professor and Prime Minister, is being used as a geopolitical leverage. In his word, “Turkey is not a bridge between Asia and Europe, it is a center” to disclose where and far beyond Turkey must be.

Euro-Asianist perspective and new the Turkish Foreign Policy

The Turkish modern Eurasian orientation is imported, proposed, and advised by Alexander Dugin in Russia. Remember that, Dugin was one of the first foreign visitors to Turkey after failed coup attempt, guest of Dogu Perincek who is the leader of Vatan party in Turkey, which translates motherland in English, with mixed fractions composed of ultranationalists, leftists then conservatists by now. Euro-Asianists are opposed to the western countries and values that embody and seek to align with Russia, China. Surprisingly, they are staunch supporters of the AKP and Erdogan, especially after July 15 coup attempt, their fork paths merged and ideologies are joined. They also received surprising levels support from Russia. The clear demand that Turkey should leave NATO, more rapprochement with the Russian-led security union and economic union. They believe that the crisis Turkey find itself emanate from the west. To Euro-Asianist perspective, Turkey Foreign policy is no longer a western oriented, rather it is more hybrid with Neo-Ottomanist and Eurasianist. However, to recent development, Turkey inclined toward more political Islamism as it is promoted through educational institutions, budgeting lion share of Religious Affairs, publications, and rebranding national and religious symbolism tells us that regime is in progress of change toward Islamic oriented.

While discussing where Turkey is heading to, many observers and experts point to one fact that:
Turkey and Russia’s recent relationship represents a good example of a sidelined western oriented country sliding into the Euro-Asianist orbit. This chameleon politics urging to fit in Eurasia shoes will have geopolitical consequences especially on South Caucasus, mainly on Black Sea Security.

Turkey and Russia differ on global security, both hold membership in opposite union of security, Russia with OOCD, Turkey with NATO. As such, they have completely distant views on the security issues. Political and strategic divergence is evident between Turkey and Russia with Russian near abroad policy inviting a strategic wall, which is an obstacle to Turkey in the region. Turkey’s silence on Crimea’s annexation by Russia, and the deployment of Iskander Missiles in the Black Sea may pose a stop sign for Turkey in the Caucasus region. Turkeys South Caucasus vision has been lacking, and confined with economically mainly through the east and west transportation and energy corridor opportunities. Opportunities and pragmatism policies seem to be defined and pushed by northern neighbor and historical regional rival, Russia. Turkey lost its historical privilege to connect with the kin communities in the region, especially with the Crimea, with its Tatar population.

On the other side, there is a new page on Turkey-Russia economic alliance. Turkey foresees that pouring Russian oil and gas to E.U through its land will -give leverage, like Syrian refuge- to turn the country into a hub, rather than a stopover, so Turkey would benefit from the marketing of transit of oil. When it is needed it will be utilized as an instrument to brandish to Europe and Balkan’s countries. Those energy projects advised by Russia may not be win-win situation for Turkey, but benefiting for Russia. Other projects include the first Nuclear facility, the Akkuyu Nuclear Plant in Turkey, planned to generate and produce electricity and the renamed Turkish Stream to route Russian oil and gas to the EU remain on the ground with a critical question on ‘who’ benefits most from the Russian proposed and backed projects.

Russia economic priorities and interests stride far beyond the Soviet space, linking to the Balkan, and to Europe. Russian-Turkish economic relations should be read between lines that Russia uses Turkey for economic relations, but this marriage seems saving the day for Turkey and it is very fragile to break up in any foreseeable time. Because International system doesn’t buy sob story anymore, you either have to be realistic or take chasm in regionalism as a pragmatic leverage, Russia does this in great extend to twist Turkey arms. Turkey’s dream to be an energy hub between the Middle East and Europe since the 1990s indicates Turkey with Russia will consolidate that ambition, thus, naturally Turkey must play cards with Russia on the South Caucasus that is to say, in case of Caucasus, Turkey is no longer a flank but a wagon by Russia, Turkey also is not a counterbalance to Russia in Caucasus, Russia doesn’t have an alternative in its peripheral regions.

Turkey’s recent skirmish with west does not contribute to region South Caucasus

During the Cold War, Turkey was a provider of security on the Black Sea, but the geopolitical security shifts as NATO-supported Georgia and Ukraine head towards future full membership to NATO, as Russia sees that as a threat for its expansion into Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and South Caucasus where Russian near abroad policy reach. South Caucasus countries, especially Georgia by pushing through liberal values, engagement with the Euro-Atlantic process, and with high level diplomacy with neighbors on good track so far, should not be eroded and derailed by Turkey’s diplomatic and intense political crisis with Western countries. Turkey’s recent skirmish with west does not contribute to region, reversely it obstructs

Euro-Atlantic institutions and assist Russian ambition even further. In prospect, the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia made blatantly obvious its opposition to Georgian NATO engagement, its military involvement in the Donbass region of Ukraine, and the Crimea annexation are Russia’s clear messages to West and countries defined in Russian “Near Abroad” policy.
Turkey’s geopolitical imperatives, prudence prognosis dims away as it solely relinquish on domestic politics, which makes it seem indistinct. Turkey’s engagement on South Caucasus will slow down, or be restricted to economic benefits. If there is an economic dynamism, then Turkey will be there, benefiting from it. Secondly, Turkey will be disinterest, or lack commitment to resolving ongoing conflicts, as a matter of fact, Turkey has shown less interest in the resolution process during and on conflicts such as Nagarno Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Osetia, Crimea.

Turkey continues to be silenced on conflict zones as TUR-RUS economic relationship intensified. Furthermore, Turkey’s approach on Georgian secessionist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia is ambiguously unclear; holding no broker ability in OSCE, Minsk Group for Nakarno Karabakh, and no feasible intermediary role in Donbass, Crimea and breakaway regions in Georgia can be elucidated that economic benefits with Russia forces Turkey into an ambivalent game and predicate the future of cooperation in the region, because Turkey is losing its balance ability against Russia in Black Sea and risking western military support.

Since Turkey is not the same Turkey as in 1995, Turkey will ask pro-western and reform oriented Georgia to be embroiled in its fight with the west or will ask to join or form economic and security block along with Russia and central Asia countries. Economic platforms are not savior for increasing regional integration and decreasing instability, each countries is to constitute the rule of law, democratization, transparency and human rights will bring stability, lessen conflicts, and maintain territorial integrity and economic prosperity among South Caucasus countries.

After Turkey and Russia seemingly ally against West, Western countries should establish re-engagement policies with bilateral and multilateral collaboration in south Caucasus. This is more significant than South Caucasus engagement with the West. At this point Georgia is the only country which carries the potential and capacity to fully integrate into Euro-Atlantic civilizational orbit. Georgia should diversify its economic and trade relationship with EU countries, to change the discourse of bandwagoning imperatives. United States and Europe should prioritize fast track policies for Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine Euro-Atlantic engagement.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.

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