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Turkey: Is Ankara Trying to Tame the Russian Bear?

There is an odd little detail at the back of a 1928 statue depicting Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, standing in Istanbul's central Taksim Square: found among the adoring crowd of figures surrounding Ataturk, a group dominated by children and peasants, are two stern-faced men with stars on their bronze lapels. They are two Red Army generals Mikhail Frunze and Kliment Voroshilov.

A gesture of gratitude for Bolshevik support during Turkey's independence war, the two stand as a testament to a brief and almost forgotten rapprochement between two former empires and neighbors that spent much of the 19th and early 20th centuries as bitter enemies.

These days, following more than a half century of Cold War confrontation, Russia and Turkey have struck up a friendship so close that some are comparing it the Franco-German turnaround after 1945. Others say it symbolizes Turkey's slow drift away from the West.

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Nicolas Birch specializes in Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.

Turkey: Is Ankara Trying to Tame the Russian Bear?

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