Russia-Turkey relations: time for decisive move


Russia-Turkey relations: time for decisive move

Эксперты МГИМО: *Аватков Владимир Алексеевич, к.полит.н., Кочкин Михаил Валерьевич

The time for Russia’s decisive move on the Turkish front has come. However, the tight geopolitical situation and the certain shortage of some foreign policy resources require careful calculation of each step.

Russia has found an excellent opportunity to strengthen its positions in Turkey amid the aggravating domestic political instability in the republic. The turmoil in Turkey arises from the impossibility to form a parliamentary coalition after the elections held in June 2015 and by the failure to cope with foreign policy problems, above all with the spreading terrorism and the mounting migration stream from Syria and Iraq.

At the same time, the domestic and the external crises have become so closely intertwined that separating them seems impracticable. In particular, if we take the problem of combating terrorism, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu noted at the press conference in the UN on September 28 that Turkey was confronting a three-sided terrorist threat consisting of ISIS (external force), Kurdish Workers' Party and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front embracing theMarxist-Leninist ideology (domestic forces).

From the standpoint of social problems, the situation here is similar. The complicated demographic situation stemming, first and foremost, from the high unemployment rate among the youth has been further aggravated by the arrival of two million Syrians and 200,000 Iraqis to the Turkish territory. Turks, who used to welcome them with a sense of dignity, demonstrating to the world how much they cared about other Muslims, are now insisting on formation of safe zones on the territory of Syria for accommodation of refugees.

The rickety situation in the country is even more deteriorated by the preparations for the snap elections of November 1 and the existence of the interim government in Turkey, which makes state-level foreign policy planning practically impossible. It has already surfaced into Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak’s statement that signing an intergovernmental deal on construction of the first leg of the Turkish Stream project would most likely be postponed until the formation of a new Turkish government.

In this context, it seems quite logical for Turkish authorities to request support from other states. The question is whom will Turkey appeal to.

Against this backdrop, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s one-day visit to Moscow in late September should seem like a positive sign. The results of the visit cropped up on the day following Erdogan’s return to Turkey, when the president noted after a festive morning prayer, in response to journalists' questions, that Bashar al-Assad could stay at power in Syria during the transitional period. Such stark change in the Turkish president’s rhetoric points to certain influence from Russia and the first steps towards settlement of the crisis in Syria.

Nonetheless, the positive changes were no longer visible at the session of the UN General Assembly, which was attended by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. At the press conference on September 28, he said that Assad was culpable for all the developments Syria had gone through, for the deaths of people and the flow of migrants to Europe, and that no solution for the Syrian problem could be found as long as Assad stayed at power. Davutoglu praised President Obama’s speech and his insight into developing states and democratic regimes.

Thus, certain discrepancies between the two political leaders on Turkey’s most crucial issue are in plain view. However, it seems that the cause of that is not in the differences of the politicians' outlook (although it plays a certain role, because Davutoglu has always been a more pro-West politician, while Erdogan shows a more independent standing). In large part, it is a result of Turkey’s strive to stay between the opposing parties and try to yield certain benefits from each one. For Russia, it means that the current situation offers a chance to woo Turkey to take its side.

Howbeit, considering the current reality, Russia should not act the way it used to. The elections on June 7 showed that the Turkish society is shifting from the traditional classification of voters according to the Islamist/Laicitist principle. The social structure is complicating, resulting in, for instance, emergence of the People’s Democratic Party, which atypically for Turkey represents interests of ethnic and social minorities: Kurds, Armenians, LGBT and others. Russia used to focus on collaboration with one party at a time, but this approach is no longer effective. Dialogue has to be conducted with every political force in order to have different opportunities in exerting influence on such important state for Russia as Turkey.

Moreover, an unexpected political issue arose in the Russia-Turkey relations in September. The countries approach it with a common stance. At the press conference in New York, Davutoglu eulogized Barack Obama’s speech, although he remarked that it missed the Palestinian problem. Simultaneously, Moscow is actively engaged in solving the Palestinian problem, as seen in the negotiations between President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 23.

Therefore, the time for Russia’s decisive move on the Turkish front has come. However, the tight geopolitical situation and the certain shortage of some foreign policy resources require careful calculation of each step. Russia has already demonstrated the ability to act in such circumstances.

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Источник: Valdai International discussion club
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