Is Turkey jumping on the Russian bandwagon?
Erdogan’s turn toward Moscow is not without reason
Back in 1952, Turkey was admitted to NATO to save this big, strategically located country from Russian aggression. A Soviet occupation of Turkey or a possible Communist revolution at that time would allow the Soviet Union to project power in much of Africa and the Middle East.
Turkey’s single biggest security threat since then has been Russia. Ankara has attached importance to deepening its security integration with the West to check Russian power in the Black Sea and the Caucasus. Turkey is now said to be weaker than at any point since the 1950s in the face of Russian domination in the region but surprisingly it feels much more secure.
Since 1568, the Ottoman Empire and Russia fought 12 wars. Nine of them were over controlling the Crimea. In 2014, however, Russia annexed the Crimea. Except mildly-formed condemnation, Ankara was largely silent. Controlling the Crimea allowed Moscow to project power across the region, given the fact that almost all of Russia’s shores are frozen nine months a year.
Russia’s growing dominance
Since the capture of the Crimea, Russia has significantly increased its military presence in the Black Sea. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Russia for turning the Black Sea into its “internal lake.” In August, the Russian army chief highlighted that its Black Sea fleet is now stronger than Turkey’s navy and that it is capable of striking the Bosphorus straits.
Many countries around Turkey – Syria, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus – are Russian allies. Russia is shoring up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by deploying a significant military presence in areas close to Turkey. All this comes at a time when the relationship between Russia and Turkey’s chief ally, the US, are in its worst form in 40 years.
Turkey is jumping on the Russian bandwagon, increasing cooperation from military to trade and looking to Moscow to advance its interests in the regionMahir Zeynalov
There are also reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved nuclear-capable missiles close to eastern Europe. He sent aircraft carriers to the North Sea. Moscow said it would shoot down any coalition jets bombing Assad’s army.
Erdogan turns to Moscow
Normally, this would be the perfect reason for Turkey to feel insecure, deepen security ties with traditional NATO allies and try to contain and check Russian dominance. However, the opposite seems to be happening.
Turkey is jumping on the Russian bandwagon, increasing cooperation from military to trade and looking to Moscow to advance its interests in the region. While Russia threatens the US over Syria, it promises intelligence sharing to Turkey.
Since the failed military coup attempt on July 15, President Erdogan and Putin have met three times and talked on the phone four times. The Russian army chief even visited Turkey in August for the first time in 11 years.
Turkey is looking forward to resuming Russian help in constructing a nuclear plant in Akkuyu while assuring Russia that Turkey is a safe country for Russian tourists. There are even reports that Russia could open an air base in Mersin, on the heel of the Mediterranean, a development that would upset NATO.
Disillusionment with the West
Erdogan’s turn toward Moscow is not without reason. The West keeps doling out criticism regarding every step Erdogan makes. Moreover, it seems, Western reluctance to unequivocally condemn the military coup plot in July convinced Erdogan that the biggest threat to his rule is from the West, not Russia.
Turkey does not fall in Russia’s geographical orbit as the post-Soviet nations do. When Georgia sought NATO membership in 2008 or Ukraine signed an EU association deal in 2014, Moscow rolled tanks across the borders. Turkey is sovereign in making up its mind whether to look to Moscow or Brussels.
President Erdogan vowed on Saturday once again that he will sign capital punishment into law – a move that would effectively end Turkey’s EU accession negotiations and a sign that Ankara is ready for this.
For decades, the EU offered values for Turkey to improve its public institutions and raise living standards. Washington was a security guarantee. Turkey, which is feeling more secure regarding Russia, could not care less about NATO and the EU. In the past few years, the US was nothing but an obstacle in Turkey’s plan to establish a safe zone in Syria and was arming Kurdish militants that struck Turkish forces back at home.
With sections of the media blaring anti-American headlines every day and US popularity at an all-time low, Turkey may get comfortable with the idea that its future lies in partnership with Moscow, not a Western bloc that lectures about human rights and democracy.
Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He was previously the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov