All carrots, no sticks in Russia’s game with Turkey

Russia needs Turkey to be reliable and flexible, hence the increased cooperation and promises

Maria Dubovikova
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Thawing ties between Russia and Turkey have puzzled the international community. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Russia’s Vladimir Putin his “dear friend” while Putin welcomed Erdogan to Konstantinovsky Palace in Russia’s cultural capital Saint-Petersburg, which is also Putin’s native city.

The leaders held talks for more than two hours while the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in November 2015 did not seem to hinder the discussion. Putin did make a hasty remark about the incident, but just once and it was vague at best. It seems to me that both sides are publically declaring support for the allegation that the downing of the Russian Su-24 was committed by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish US-based Islamic scholar who is opposed to Erdogan. It seems as though both sides are blaming Gülen’s supporters in order to maintain Russia-Turkey relations. Seven months of cold relations and traded accusations have culminated in a fishy scenario of welcoming smiles and diplomatic olive branches.


Russia needs Turkey to be reliable and flexible, hence the increased cooperation and promises

Maria Dubovikova

Ankara highly appreciates Russia’s position on the failed coup in Turkey as well as its position on the widespread purges that followed the failed attempt. Russia’s position of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of other countries makes it a very reliable ally for many states which are not seen as paragons of Western-style, clichéd, democracy. According to reported rumors, the Russian intelligence service notified Erdogan about the coup shortly before the dramatic events that plunged the country into turbulence, the consequences of which are still unclear. Additionally, Putin was among the first of the world’s leaders to call Erdogan and express support.

Concerning issues

However, Turks should not be so enthusiastic about the apparent amelioration of ties as they still face a plethora of issues. The drastic decline in Turkey’s tourism revenue has already contributed to a significant deficit in the balance of payments, damaging the already weakened economy.

Tourism plays a significant role in the economy of the country and the number of foreigners visiting Turkey dropped by over 40 percent in June. A substantial hit seems to be coming from Russian tourists who are visiting the country less and less, which is detrimental considering Russia is Turkey's second largest tourism market. By some estimates, Russian tourism in Turkey collapsed by more than 90 percent in the first half of 2016 due to a Russian-issued travel ban following the downing of the jet.

However, even when the ban was lifted and tour operators received the all clear to book package deals to Turkey, it seems Russians are still not enthusiastic about returning to their once beloved Turkish beaches. Thus it seems a Turkey that has been weakened by the coup, purges and dramatic changes in its system needs Russia more than ever.

The view from Russia

The view from Russia, however, is different. The Russian position in Syria has weakened and it is not as confident as it previously was. It seems that Russia has started to lose control over the situation and made some miscalculations. Why else would Putin ask Russia’s parliament to grant him permission to return a significant military contingent back to the Hmeymim base.

Russia needs Turkey as an ally in Syria. The countries have established a joint committee to coordinate their activities in Syria. This committee consists of intelligence, military and diplomatic representatives from Russia and Turkey. Furthermore, both sides have agreed to set up a direct military line to hedge against any future incidents between their aircrafts in Syrian airspace.

Russia needs Turkey to be reliable and flexible, hence the increased cooperation and promises. However, I do not believe all the promises will be fulfilled at once but, rather, over time. Russia will use its promises as carrots to force Turkey to comply, giving the Turks a taste every once in a while, but always holding the carrot just out of Turkey’s grasp.


Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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