March 29, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9862

Russian Political Commentator Rostovsky: The Fighting In Ukraine Is a Goldmine For Turkey's Erdogan

March 29, 2022
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9862

Given Russia's relative diplomatic and economic isolation, the Russian press plays up those countries that have retained close ties with Moscow. One of the most important countries on this list is Turkey.

This can take the form of highlighting an anodyne statement by Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin that Russia's security concerns deserve a hearing.[1] Likewise, in these gloomy days, a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusoglu that Russian businessmen and oligarchs are welcome to come to Turkey provided they adhere to Turkish law is newsworthy.[2] Then we have the man in the street technique where a reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda can happily report to his readers about Turkish sympathy for the Russian position and that the Turks despite American pressure would not feud with Russia. Our correspondent concludes: " I wandered around the port area until it got dark, in hopes to meet a Turk, who would say a word against Russia, but I had no luck.[3]

Moskovskiy Komsomolets senior commentator Mikhail Rostovsky approaches Turkey's position in terms of realpolitik. Turkey by refusing to take sides in the conflict has boosted its political standing with all sides, and can aspire to play the role of the mediator. It can hope for economic gains by supplanting the Western firms that have abandoned the Russian market.

Rostovsky ruefully notes that Russia will have to make many sacrifices in its quest to restore its strategic position. Turkey just has to sit tight and smile at everybody. If Russia achieves success Turkey will meddle in its affairs; if things turn sour, the indispensable friend Erdogan will be dictating terms to Russia.

In these days when criticism of Russian policy carries the danger of being fired or worse, the praise for Erdogan's political acumen can perhaps be seen as veiled criticism of those, who put the fickle Erdogan in the driver's seat.

Rostovsky's article follows below:[4]

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusoglu stands between his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts Dmytro Kuleba and Sergey Lavrov, highlighting Turkey's mediation role in the conflict. (Source:

"To predict the further development of the crisis in and around Ukraine means digging my own 'professional grave,' as an analyst. The situation is too malleable, too fluid, too dependent on millions of random circumstances, as well as the effect of millions of human factors superimposed on each other. However, as it’s known, there are exceptions to every rule.

"The first group of those, who will emerge the winners (or rather have already emerged) from the Ukrainian conflict is apparent even at this moment. These are the states that, on the one hand, have made the decision in principle to remain above the fray, and on the other hand, have sufficient resources and safety margins to adhere to this position despite powerful external pressure. The most striking example of such states is Turkey.

"As I began writing this text, I conveniently came across a saying of the iconic Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho in social networks, 'Absolute freedom doesn’t exist. There is only freedom of choice. And once you make a choice, you become a hostage to your decision.'

"What a narrow-minded people live in Brazil (and, if you get my hint, not only in Brazil). One can make the choice not to make a choice and, as a nice bonus, to receive almost absolute political freedom.

"Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim, Kalin said this weekend, 'We understand the feelings and stances of other states (with regard to Moscow - MK). However, we believe that we must maintain open contact with Russia.

"If everyone burns bridges with Russia, who will talk to them? Turkey should main open communications channels with Russia, and try to understand Moscow's security concerns. What a reasonable and balanced stance this is! How pleasant it should be to the Russian ear (and how beneficial for Turkey itself).

"By assuming this position, President Erdogan dramatically increased his 'political capitalization.' He remained 'in good standing' with the West and stayed hand-shakeable in Russia. Wide diplomatic (who else among the socially and geographically close neighbors of Russia can honestly compete for the mediator’s role between Moscow and Kiev, Russia and the West?) and economic opportunities (provided Western companies, constrained by political restrictions, voluntarily withdraw from the Russian market, then who can prevent Turkish business, free of similar restrictions, from taking the suddenly vacant niche?)

"The Ukrainian crisis has become for Erdogan a 'gold mine' that he could never have dreamed of before. It’s not customary to compare Turkey and Russia. We have vastly different cultures and traditions. But if we were to go counter to this tendency, it would quickly become apparent that politically we have a great deal in common.

"Much like Russia, Turkey suffered a 'seismic' political shock in the early twentieth century, losing its status as the center of the empire and becoming a victim of various predatory foreign invaders. Like Moscow, Ankara suffered a second political shock at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, trying to integrate itself seriously into the West. However, it found out that it isn’t allowed to go further than the [the West’s] hallway.

"Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. But it applied to join the European Economic Community (thus us the way the EU was called back then) back in 1987 and is still waiting for a positive reply (it’s unlikely the country will receive one in the foreseeable future.

"We have two powerful Eurasian states with an equally damaged sense of national pride. And here's the paradox that we end up with: Russia's current decisive attempt to restore its violated strategic dignity gives Turkey a similar opportunity. There is, however, one tiny difference.

"For the sake of the present stage of 'rising from its knees' Moscow had to (and still will have to) make enormous sacrifices. However, Ankara doesn’t have to sacrifice anything. It only has to wait patiently, smile to everybody, mouth wise words to everybody, maneuver elegantly between other world power centers and play on their contradictions no less elegantly.

"Why did I put 'to wait patiently' at the top of this list? Because, in terms of long-term political strategy, this is the most important thing for Turkey right now. Erdogan, as everyone knows very well, is a leader with large geopolitical ambitions and geopolitical appetite. Provide him with freedom and the opportunity, and he will gladly get his hands on the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and even on Crimea and other Russian lands. But Erdogan has more common sense than NATO leaders (it's bizarre to write that about a politician known for his eccentric policy, but this is the fact of the natter). In previous years [the NATO leaders] have been stubbornly meddling and ignoring the fierce warnings from Moscow to 'stop now!'

"The Turkish leader acts according to the principle 'Cross the stream where it is shallowest.' By demonstrating a very important friendliness for Russia now, Erdogan strives to meddle into our affairs as deeply as he can, to become 'an indispensable partner' for Moscow.

"After that, everything depends on how successful Russia's current geopolitical strategy will be. Should that success be great or at least moderate, Turkey will maintain its balanced political line. But Erdogan himself, I suspect, would welcome a different scenario, in which he could say 'woe to the defeated!' and start inter alia dictating his ultimatum conditions to us. That's the kind of 'understanding and reliable partners' Russia has now. And, unfortunately, no others are in sight."


[1], March 27, 2022.

[2], March 26, 2022.

[3], March 19, 2022.

[4], March 20, 2022.

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