Russia's relations with Turkey and its President Recep Tayip Erdogan have been on prominent display in recent weeks. Vladimir Putin met with Erdogan on his visit to Tehran on July 19, 2022, and Erdogan brokered and will help police an agreement allowing the flow of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea that will alleviate food shortages. In an article written the day after the meeting in Tehran, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs wrote a column claiming that Turkey and Iran were a priority area for Russian foreign policy now that ties with the West have been effectively severed. Lukyanov claimed that Russia had to invest in the neutral countries because even if they had not sided with the West, it did not mean that they necessarily sympathized with Russia. The appeal had to be based on their self-interest and the knowledge that ties with Russia were profitable for them.
Pavel Feldman, Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Forecasting of the PFUR, (Peoples' Friendship University of Russia) believes that Putin has a more ambitious agenda in his relations with Turkey. In an interview with Ekaterina Lazareva in Ura.ru, Feldman terms the relations no less than a "second front" against NATO (a goal that Russia previously expected China to play with regards to Taiwan). Putin is enticing Erdogan into leaving NATO for the sake of leading an alternate power center, together with Russia, China and Iran.
The Lukyanov article and the Feldman article follow below:
Putin meets with Erdogan in Tehran (Source: Ria.ru)
Fyodor Lukyanov believes that Turkey has skillfully transformed itself into an "indispensable nation", justifying the importance that Russian foreign policy accords it.
"The [July 19, 2020] meeting in Tehran is important both in terms of its dimensions, as cooperation within the framework of the 'Astana Triangle' (Astana Format) and as bilateral talks. The talks on Syria are necessary because they have not taken place at this level for a long time, yet the problems there have not disappeared. The three States represented at the talks continue to play key roles in the Syrian process. It’s indicative that the threatening statements about an ‘impending’ [Turkish] military operation on Syrian territory, which were heard from Ankara in recent weeks, have not yet materialized.
"Recep Erdogan appreciates engagement with the Astana format partners and is more cautious in deeds than in words. The question of interest to everyone in the region is whether Russia is losing interest in Syrian and generally Middle Eastern affairs by focusing on the Ukrainian direction? After all, if that happens (either because of a different Russian policy, or a lack of resources) a vacuum will emerge, fraught with renewed cataclysms (dissimilar to those of the past decade, as the [political] landscape has changed), but, perhaps, no less devastating.
"There is no basis for assuming that Moscow has different plans for Syria. To the contrary, the developments in Europe emphasize the importance of a strategic presence in the Mediterranean. This conclusion was also confirmed at the Tehran meeting. Overall, the crisis around Ukraine certainly dictates the agenda of all talks, especially when Turkey is involved. The latter has skillfully presented itself as 'an indispensable nation,' as [former US Secretary of State\ Madeleine Albright once put it, on a broad range of topics.
"For example, everyone’s attention is focused on the export of grain from the Azov and Black Sea ports; Ankara took a center stage on this issue. The list goes on. At the bilateral level, both Iran and Turkey represent the most important states in a very important area for Russia right now: the south. Here precisely enters the topic of priorities and isolation (or its absence). Until recently, the most important relationships for Russia were with the West (i.e., with the US (in the realms of geopolitics and strategic stability) and with the EU (economically, culturally and also a bit geopolitically).
"Well, those relations have essentially ceased, as Russia put forward its very firm conditions, that were not accepted and consequently ties were severed, including those that seemed almost unbreakable. Everything was simplified into a direct and open confrontation, including military (or a military-technical confrontation at the minimum). It’s strange to speak of isolation, because confrontation doesn’t provide for anything else. Contacts are necessary at best to reduce risks, nothing more. In these conditions, the rest of the world, with which Russia is not in active conflict, takes on a qualitatively different significance. A struggle is being effectively waged over it. For the West it is essential that the non-Western states join the boycott of Russia. Moscow needs the very opposite. And currently this direction is precisely the undisputed priority [for the Kremlin]. The West has failed to attract any country outside its own community to join the anti-Russian coalition. Do not delude yourself into believing that everyone who is not with them is automatically with us. Different states have different views and rationales, but the fact remains that other countries aren’t prepared to follow in the footsteps of the US and its allies.
"First of all, because they follow their own interests, and those interests, for a great many of them, imply interaction with Russia in various areas of politics and economics.
"Interestingly, during the period when the West was Russia’s main interlocutor, the conversation periodically returned to 2,5%, i.e. to the Russia’s share in the world economy, thus, making it gently clear that with all due respect a power with such economic indicators cannot expect special treatment. It’s a different matter, for example, in China's case...
"The West has failed to involve any country outside its own community in the anti-Russian coalition
"The math is different in relations with the non-Western world. They know that the country’s role in the international system is not measured by formal indicators. And the aggregate potential of a state is made up of a set of material and non-material factors, which is exactly what Russia has, and of various kinds. For the partner-states (whose interests can be quite diverse) there are aspects of interaction where Russia is needed and useful for all of them. Hence, the absence of isolation, because it’s simply not beneficial to the others. And if the West, for its own political reasons, is prepared to tolerate this disadvantage, others don’t see why they should restrict themselves."
Fyodor Lukyanov (Globalaffairs.ru)
In the following interview, Pavel Feldman asserts that reinforced military-technical, economic and political ties between Moscow and Ankara could trigger NATO's collapse and the creation of a new center of power that will exclude the US and the EU countries.
The Kremlin has announced that the topic of military-technical cooperation is sure to be on the agenda of talks between Russian and Turkish presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan [respectively], scheduled for the 5th of August in Sochi. Why is Turkey becoming our partner in the military-industrial sphere?
The military-technical cooperation between the two countries has been quite intensive in the past: Turkey was buying air defense equipment from Russia, in particular - “S-400” systems. Now there are discussions on Russia’s proposed purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles [hereinafter - UAVs] from Turkey. Such a deal could indeed take place. Provided it’s a high-quality, state-of-the-art product, nothing would prevent Russia from taking it into service. Especially as Turkey is not an unfriendly state to us, and it’s open to this kind of purchase.
But this is strange: Turkey is, after all, a NATO member-state, while the latter has proclaimed Russia to be its enemy...
It certainly looks very strange from an international politics perspective. NATO member-states usually don’t make this kind of deals with Russia. Besides, Russia has cemented its image as the biggest arms exporter, and in this case, it’s going to buy [arms]. However, there are different military schools and different intellectual centers in the modern world that are capable of manufacturing high-tech equipment and armaments. It makes sense at this stage to use the services of Turkish partners, provided they, in turn, are willing to do so.
Is Putin doing this for some specific political purpose? Or is it a matter of technical development?
The economy, politics and the military sphere are now integrally connected with each other. Russia, by intensifying its ties with Turkey, draws it into its sphere of influence and, along with Turkey, establishes an independent power center that is largely autonomous from the influence of Western states.
Again, this is strange, considering Turkey is part of the North Atlantic Alliance, but it has a special place there and always claims to have a slightly different stance from that of its older Western comrades, above all Washington.
Erdogan is not afraid of becoming the only obstacle to the Scandinavian states’ entry into the NATO bloc. His uncompromising, sometimes resolute nature makes him a special partner for Russia.
By the way, will Putin – Erdogan meeting have any impact on the process of admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO?
Certainly, it will have an impact, as it gives Erdogan self-confidence. It doesn’t mean that he perceives Russia as a country ready to support him militarily or politically at any time. But, Erdogan, as a politician able to engage in a dialogue with both the Russian president and the leaders of major Western countries, is starting to feel like a real figure in international politics.
And such a figure cannot be pushed around regarding the issues on which he fundamentally disagrees with his Western partners. Erdogan can once again block Finland’s and Sweden’s accession.
And he isn’t deterred or persuaded by the “carrot and stick” used by other NATO member-states. Therefore, yes, relying on cooperation with Russia, in a way even blackmailing his NATO partners with the possibility of rapprochement with Moscow, he will act even more boldly and defiantly.
Is Russia benefiting from this?
Of course. We can say bluntly: as NATO has proclaimed us a threat and its enemy, any problems that appear in the enemy’s camp and that weaken it are to our advantage. The thing is not that Sweden and Finland won’t join NATO and strengthen the bloc, but that serious contradictions are looming within NATO, the “fault lines” are appearing, along which the bloc may break up altogether. All the more so, because there are already complaints from some Western powers about it.
These forms of local problems accumulate, and eventually quantity transforms to quality, strategically weakening our adversary, and this corresponds to Russia’s national interest.
Do you see any contradictions in Russia’s military-technical cooperation with a NATO member-state?
Turkey’s geopolitical position shouldn’t be forgotten, as it controls the entry of NATO ships into the Black Sea. It’s advisable for Russia to develop any contacts with this sort of partner, as long as it doesn’t contradict its national interests. In this case, there are no contradictions. On the contrary, both sides are likely to be the winners. And it will be interesting to observe how the collective West will react to this. I believe we should expect hysteria in Washington and Brussels about this in the near future.
[Such a scenario] will be a thorn in the side for the Alliance, it’s a problem: they are unhappy that they have a member-state, whose leader can take such an uncompromising stance. This contradiction between Ankara, Washington and Brussels is perpetually growing and setting off sparks in their relations.
I think Erdogan himself would be ready to withdraw from NATO, when he realizes that there is an alternative center of power in the world to join or even to lead it along with Russia, China and Iran. This makes Turkey an important strategic partner for Russia.
Are there any risks for Russia from such a partnership? From the common man’s perspective, it looks like Erdogan is friends with Moscow, but at the same time he is friend with its adversaries, Brussels and Washington. It doesn’t add up...
The main risks are with Turkey’s special exceptional stance on Crimea and the southern regions of Ukraine. Turkey’s Ottoman Empire ambitions haven’t been forgotten. Therefore, one gets a sense of doublethink, when unfriendly statements are being made on part of Turkey against the backdrop of the deepening of our relations, in [discordant] harmony with the direction of these relations. Be that as it may, Turkey is one of the few countries in the world which enjoys a true sovereignty.
A sovereign state can have different stances on various issues. And Putin understands that. In some ways our positions coincide, in other ways they diverge. The main thing is that we benefit from this cooperation and that NATO is not strengthened in no way on account of our military cooperation.
Can this happen?
No. This won’t happen, since Turkey is a special member of NATO. In the long term, Turkey will leave NATO, thanks to the establishment of such a venture with Russia as drone manufacture. This would be a momentous development for both the Alliance and for Russia.
You’ve mentioned alternative centers of power. The conventional wisdom is that Russia is creating an alternative center of power with China. You talk about a Russo-Turkish center, maybe Iran as well. Does any of these options have an edge from Russia's point of view? What is the overall political significance of this process?
It would be more correct to talk about not of specific centers, but of an incipient movement of states that disagree with the US-centric world order. Individually these centers are not that strong economically, but upon consolidating, they would represent a very serious force. They have developed quite impressive production capacity, while their combined GDP and population size are truly impressive.
The accumulated joint potential is comparable to that of the collective West. In this context, we are talking about the “BRICS” member-states. However, Iran is also becoming a serious center not only of Islamic spiritual life, but also one of the leading powers in terms of a military-industrial complex. This has the potential of reshaping not only the situation in the Middle East, but in the world in general. It’s not surprising that ties between our countries are intensifying so much.
The unfolding events are not just a global, historical pivot to the East, but a pivot in general towards the entire non-Western world, which is open to dialogue, and which doesn’t adhere to the policy of sanctions.
Can the growing Russo - Turkish ties be regarded as an interim victory for Putin in his confrontation with NATO and the collective West?
Erdogan has a very developed sense of intuition. He understands quite well, who has the real power in today’s world. If he in a dire situation against the backdrop of the Russian military special operation in Ukraine, cooperates so closely with President Putin, it means that it’s obvious to him that Moscow has very serious potential. Otherwise, such a clever, typically oriental leader like Erdogan wouldn’t be interacting with Putin.
Meaning, he understands that Putin is a stable leader, who enjoys the support of the citizens in his country, and this makes him a valuable partner. Therefore, yes, it can be perceived as some form of statement concerning Russia’s strong influence and the strong position that Putin has in the domestic and foreign policy arena.
Pavel Feldman (Source: Mk.ru)