Iran factor in the future of Turkey-Russia relations

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In contemporary times their perspectives on regional issues and their relations with other countries influence bilateral relations of regional powers. This shapes regional balance and the future of regional issues, alliances and continuity of hostilities can be predicted from this perspective.

Seen in this context, when we look at the future of Turkish-Russian relations, attitudes of these regional powers toward the current political issues in the Middle East, South Caucasus and Central Asian regions should be considered. There have always threats to Turkish-Russian relations and this fragility has put future of economic relations and energy projects in danger.

It can also be claimed that although the normalization of Turkish-Russian relations can be seen as a usual thing, building close relationship for the long term is still far from reality. There are conflicting interests of these states in Syria, in Iraq, on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and on almost all regional issues.

The normalization of relations between Turkey and Russia from last June do not eliminate fragility of relations. Although there are developments on constructing of common energy projects at bilateral meetings of Turkish and Russian officials but there is little sign of serious consensus between these countries on regional political process, more concretely on Syrian issue.

It is obvious that Turkey and Russia support territorial integrity of Syria. But there remain unanswered questions on Bashar al-Assad’s fate, role of PYD in future political processes in Syria, opposition groups enjoying support of Ankara.

Russia and the PKK

One of the most important issues that make clash of interests between Turkey and Russia is Russia’s attitude toward PKK terrorist group and its Syrian extension PYD. Namely, last February, the media highlighted expression of one of Russian officials about PKK and PYD, in which he stated that Russia does not recognize PKK and PYD as terrorist groups.

PYD is also the strongest ally of Washington in Syria, although Ankara, which is a NATO member and an important ally of Washington, sharply criticizes Washington’s support of PYD. Ankara prefers to deliver its arguments to Russian side as much as diplomatically, which is a sign of interests of Ankara to re-build its relations with Russia.

However, it is obvious that if processes continue in such a way, it will be more difficult for both Turkey and Russia to provide political progress. Today, relations between Ankara and Moscow not only at polemic level, but also at functional level are not at desired level.

Furthermore, Russia still does not remove visa requirements from Turkish citizens. Additionally, after killing of Russian envoy to Turkey, no one has been appointed as Russian envoy to Turkey. There are also difficulties related to Turkish exports to Russia, which many experts claimed that Ankara’s moves toward normalization mainly based on economic dynamics. Russia still keeps restrictions on Turkish agricultural exports to Russia.

The Iran factor

Another factor that influences Russia-Turkey relations is the Iran factor and Russia’s strategic relations with Iran. It is clear that Russia and Iran has strong alliance in Syrian issue. Furthermore, Iran tries to weaken the power of Gulf countries and Israel by using Russia’s increasing influence in the region.

While on the one hand, the rise of Iran in the region intensifies Turkish-Iran competition, on the other hand strengthening of Russian-Iran alliance in the region, shifts Turkish position to be closer with the Arab countries in the region. This contributes toward a sharp separation of regional political interests of Ankara and Moscow.

The superficiality of Turkish-Russian rapprochement can be seen as the last move of the US. Namely, after the US bombing of Syrian air base, Russia strongly condemned it and called it a violation of international law, while Ankara supported it and expressed its preparedness for any cooperation with Trump administration.

In conclusion, it can be predicted that the difficult period awaits Ankara and Moscow in their bilateral relations. Turkey will be more focused on regional issues after the Presidential referendum, which is scheduled for April 16.
Bayram Aliyev is Faculty Member of Political Science Department at the Western University of Azerbaijan.