FIGAROVOX/MAINTENANCE – In the book “Russia-Turkey. A challenge to the West?”, Isabelle Facon, Russia’s defense specialist, discusses the complex relations between these two states that, despite often differing interests, foster in their friendship to guarantee their power against the West.
Isabelle Facon is the Deputy Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research. A specialist in Russian foreign and defense policies, he chaired the seminar “Geopolitics of Eurasia” at the Ecole Polytechnique. He directed the book Russia-Turkey. A Challenge to the WestEd. Past Composites, April 2022.
FIGAROVOX. – How, despite their differences in many fields (Syria, Armenia, NATO), have Russia and Turkey been able to maintain a privileged relationship?
Isabelle FACON. – First of all, the good personal chemistry between the two presidents has its share. Putin and Erdogan are both followers of ambiguity, and present it as an asset in interstate relations, making it possible to overcome disputes and obstacles. In fact, every time the differences you mentioned in your question, which we can add in Libya, threaten to reach the point of crisis, the two Heads of State meet or talk to each other, seeking an agreement to overcome it. while noticing the ongoing misunderstanding.
Erdogan and Putin also agreed on their brutal treatment of the opposition and the image of the strong man they planned, both at home and on the international scene. A turning point in the closeness between the two presidents is the support Putin expressed for Erdogan after the failed coup in 2016 as Western countries, for their part, criticized the major crackdowns that followed this event in Turkey.
Right or wrong, and clearly with very different historical contexts, the two countries considered the West to have rejected their desire for harmony and unity.
What is the role of the West in the current convergence between Moscow and Ankara?
So this is another major point of convergence between the two countries. Right or wrong, and clearly with very different historical contexts, the two countries considered the West to have rejected their desire for harmony and unity. They also believe that Western partners are not paying attention to their security interests as they think about it – for example the Kurdish question for Turkey, NATO’s escalation for Russia. Turkey, like Russia, is interested in the idea of a less Western-centric multipolar world, in which regional powers are seen to value their role.
But the anti-Western posture is clearly more “massive”, more structural in the case of Russia (which sees itself as a global power) than Turkey (which wants to expand its influence. but on different regional scales). So, if for Russia we are in questions of principle, in the worldview, for Turkey, we are in something that is probably more conjunctural, more fluid because it is more “negotiable”, and it could consist of a fragility of bilateral relations. This is probably the reason why the Russians have been trying, over the past decade, to involve Turkey in economic cooperation with a strategic scope, creating long -term dependence (nuclear, energy, etc.).
What regional geopolitical benefits will Russia and Turkey derive from their friendship? (Common desire to control the region without Westerners, Black Sea, Mediterranean)?
The rejection of Western policies is finally seen as a common goal in every one of the cinemas – Syria, Libya, Caucasus – where the interests of Ankara and Moscow are even far from fully converging: to marginalize Western countries, showing a reduction in their authority. on the international scene. In Syria, it is expressed in the format of Astana (Russia-Turkey-Iran). During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020, the Minsk group (where France and the United States, along with Russia, co-chair) were less active and the ceasefire agreement was led by Russia, in consultation with Turkey.
Against the backdrop of European tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey considered it useful to be able to demonstrate a capacity for coordination with Russia, strengthening its presence there in recent years. As for Moscow, it wants to emphasize the spirit of cooperation that governs its relations with Ankara on the Black Sea. Turkey, as the book explains, positions itself in the Black Sea as a coastal power rather than a NATO member, looking to oppose the projects of Alliance members pushing for a more marked presence of it. This, of course, applies to Russia.
Turkey obviously wants to express its usefulness to various actors in the context of the war in Ukraine, which has upset many balances, and to derive from it a more regional and international aura.
Turkey has improved its relations with kyiv, reaffirming its support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, condemning the annexation of Crimea and promoting Ukraine-Turkish arms projects. What were the consequences of the Ukraine war on relations between Russia and Turkey?
Before the war, Turkey’s relationship with Ukraine was one of the most complicated points seen from Moscow even if we talked about it in a muted way. Russian officials have repeatedly criticized arms cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine. Turkey also participated in kyiv at the first summit of the “Crimea Platform”, hosted by Ukraine in August. As long as this policy is not clearly part of a NATO strategy with respect to Ukraine, Moscow can accept the development of Ukraine-Turkish relations. But when Russia complained, before the war in Ukraine, about improving cooperation between it and NATO countries, and if it above all focused on the role of the Americans or Britain, it also had Turkish drones. in mind. describes themselves in favor of the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 to the detriment of its ally Armenia.
For now, Turkey gives the impression of maintaining its Russia-West balanced posture: it condemns the invasion, closes the straits of warships, but it does not take sanctions against Russia, continues to work with it in the field of economics, and seeks. to pose as a mediator. It all depends on what Turkey wants to get out of this opportunity that the war in Ukraine possibly represents: to continue its game of balance between Westerners and Russians as in recent years. ; or improve his relationship with his NATO allies? It seems that the first option dominates this point – don’t forget that Turkey is very dependent on Russia for the economy (energy, tourism, etc.), which is the concern of one author of our book. It seems to want to impart its usefulness to different actors in the context of this war that upsets many balances and to take from it a more regional and international aura (and to make people forget. in his economic crisis?).
To what extent do the desires to expand their respective influences constitute the limitations of their political and economic cooperation? How will their relationship improve?
So far the two actors have played in the same theaters, sometimes there is more or less serious conflict. But their order of priorities is different. For Turkey, it is the Middle East and the Mediterranean, while Russia’s foreign policy remains supported by maintaining its weight in the former Soviet space. This could change if Turkey becomes more enthusiastic in this space that Russia claims is its sphere of influence. The book shows that at present, Moscow is increasingly holding a hand in the face of Ankara’s desire to develop its presence in Central Asia in the name of a historical, linguistic, cultural kinship … In the Caucasus, we see it. with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020, tensions could rise.
Above all, with the war in Ukraine, one wonders if Turkey, a member of NATO, will be able to continue for a long time in its line of embodying a transactional nature in which it plays the Russian card in its negotiations with his Western partners, and the anti-Western card in his balance of power in Moscow. Could it be if Russia is an enemy of the Alliance today?
Proper relations with Turkey are viewed by Moscow as an asset related to many major strategic issues.
“The impression has always been that Turkey is more or less ahead in the game you write in conclusion. How can this imbalance be explained? Why has Russia shown so much patience with this unpredictable ally?
What we have in mind in saying this is that on the international scene, and especially in its relations with Western countries and some of its neighbors, Russia has recently never shown much flexibility, with a behavior that is often hurtful, if not aggressive. In this context, Russia’s apparent diplomatic effort to find the points of agreement with a Turkey that has no hesitation in setting its rhythm and its interests offers a remarkable difference! That is why proper relations with Turkey are regarded by Moscow as an asset related to many strategic issues.
The issue of Black Sea-Mediterranean theater is key, as I said before. Russia continues through the priorities: Turkey is not a convenient ally of Syria (where it has benefited, for now, from Russia’s retreat involved in the war in Ukraine), but it is acceptable, as long as it stays in “good line” in the Black Sea, an archi-strategic zone for Moscow!
Turkey is a member of NATO. However, one of the main goals of Russian foreign policy in recent years has been to divide in every way this alliance it sees as strong militarily but weak politically. Hence the efforts to quickly complete the contract for the sale of the S-400 anti-aircraft system. What we show in the book is that one of the reasons Ankara is working to improve its relations with Moscow is perhaps its view that its allies in the West, because of the crises that NATO is going through, don’t have to be big assistance in the event of a problem in Russia, and that it is appropriate to manage and strengthen this relationship as well as the possibility of autonomy. Turkey has fought almost fifteen times with Russia, knowing what to expect from its ambitions and the falls that are likely to cause it!