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Turkey: Regional Events Pose Stress Test for Deepening Ties with Moscow

From being Cold War adversaries, Turkey and Russia have taken significant steps in recent years towards deepening their economic and political ties, to the point that some Turkish pundits started describing their relationship as a "strategic alliance." Trade between the two countries has blossomed (although much of it is in the form of Russian gas flowing into Turkey), while Ankara and Moscow have also agreed to scrap visa requirements for one-month-long stays.

But recent events regional events, which have found Ankara and Moscow taking divergent views, are putting the budding relations between Turkey and Russia to the test. Russia's heavy investment in Greek Cyprus has not gone unnoticed by Ankara. But an even greater challenge is being posed by the uprising in Syria and Moscow's continuing support for the Assad regime. As analyst Ziya Meral writes in a recent piece for Bitterlemons-international.org:

....just as the so-called "Arab spring" has soured the budding romance between Syria and Turkey, there are underlying anxieties over how long Turkey can keep calm about Russian involvement in Syria.

From the Turkish point of view, Russian interests in Syria are thin. A small symbolic naval base, seemingly lucrative yet limited arms sales, and assertion of the usual bravado of "standing against colonial western interventionism" are no compensation for what Russia stands to lose through its dangerous Syria policy.

In contrast, for Turkey, what happens next in Syria represents more than a distant humanitarian crisis. With a lengthy land border between the two countries, the implications of a large-scale refugee influx, the potential of a prolonged civil war, all the ills that come with having a failed state as a neighbor, and the possible spillover of Syrian unrest into Turkey, the Syria question is a top foreign policy concern for Turkey.

The AKP government adopted a strong public stand against the Assad regime and burned bridges painstakingly built since 1999 as soon as it became clear that the Assad family would not pursue reforms and stop its violence. Turkey embraced great economic losses in the process, but it has stuck to its position that the Assad regime must go and championed many of the international initiatives against the regime.

Will Turkey soon adopt a similar bold stand against Russia, which has direct culpability in the deaths of thousands of innocent Syrians?

While Meral believes that Ankara will ultimately continue on a path that maintains "quiet and friendly" pressure on Moscow, a further eruption of violence in Syria could very well drive an even larger wedge between Turkey and Russia, while any Turkish involvement in a possible military operation in Syria also has the potential of impacting the two countries' ties.

Meanwhile, for more reading on Turkey and Russia, take a look at this interesting German Marshall Fund report on the two countries' understanding of the concept of Eurasia and where their interests in that region mesh and clash.

Turkey: Regional Events Pose Stress Test for Deepening Ties with Moscow

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