Russia and Turkey have a very long relationship that was shaped throughout history. Their relationship involves both conflict and cooperation. Their relationship was shaped by the geopolitical and historical aspects of the region. Their relationship with the west has also created constraints as well as opportunities. The developments in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus greatly determined the bilateral relationship between Russia and Turkey.
We can trace their relationship back to the times of the Ottoman empire which was shaped by the balance of power politics. Russia and Turkey began to have a diplomatic relationship in 1492 when they started ambassadorial contacts. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottomans did not give much importance to the Russians, but after the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the gradual rise of the Russian empire in the late seventeenth century, their relationship started to change, which altered the balance of power.
The Ottoman Empire fought twelve wars with the Russian Empire from 1676 to 1878. In most of the wars, the Ottomans were defeated by the Russian Empire. The Ottoman Empire was portrayed as the sick man of Europe by Russian Emperor Nicolas II because the Ottomans faced economic instability, and after World War I, we saw its disintegration. This picture has shaped the image of the Ottomans in Europe for a long time.
After the outbreak of World War I, both the Russian and Ottoman empires collapsed, but the Russian territory was intact after the Bolshevik revolution. The Bolshevik was considered anti-west and an internationalist regime. Turkey considered their place among the civilized nations of the west but both countries were having several engagements to counter the west-dictated international order, especially in the economic domain. In the interwar period, a constructive and balanced relationship was shaped by the 1925 signing of the Soviet-Turkish Treaty of Friendship and Neutrality.
Russia-Turkey Relations During the Cold War
After World War 2, the international order was divided between Capitalism and Communism. During the Cold War, the relations between the Soviets and Turkey were not good because Turkey was aligned with the west. The Soviets wanted to revise the status of the Turkish straits and deploy the Soviet military in the region. This demand led to distrust between Turkey and Russia and shaped Turkey's foreign policy during the cold war.
Turkey considered the Soviets a threat to the territory and sovereignty of their soil and they aligned themselves with the Euro-Atlantic community and become part of NATO in 1952. During the Cold War, their relations had not improved as Turkey was moving more toward the west. A normal relationship formed between the two countries when Nikolai Tikhonov, the Soviet prime minister, met with Turgut Özal, the prime minister of Turkey, and signed two agreements to increase the energy trade and cooperation in 1984. Turkey made agreements to buy Soviet natural gas, and many private and public companies established trade relations with Turkey.
Post-Cold War Relations
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the world became unipolar, and the Turkish elite considered communism to no longer be a threat to Turkey. After the market reforms of 1990, Russia's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by more than half. The Russian military strength was lost, and the Russians' living conditions worsened. Some factors hampered the foreign policy of Russia like Inflation, Infrastructural weaknesses, legal confusion, and political uncertainties. These factors gave Turkey a chance to exert its influence in the region, and the geopolitical competition between Russia and Turkey also increased in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the post-Soviet geographic environment.
The west encouraged Turkey’s influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus and it is considered a challenge to Russia’s regional interests. Turkey also made an influence the transformation of the gas pipeline from Central Asia.
Gradual Transformation From Competition To Cooperation
In the era of the 1990s, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was declining and there was distrust between the two countries the political elites were thinking of confrontation between the western alliance and USSR, but they were also facing difficulties in finding their place in the International System and instability in their borders. The instability in Central Asia, Caucasus, and the Balkans hindered the relations between these countries and the inability to find a common ground. Russia’s relations with Turkey were not good because Russia considered Turkey a tool in the hands of western power and they are trying to minimize the influence of Russia in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey lost its strategic importance in the eyes of the west, because of the existential threat to the west that is USSR disintegrated and the west didn’t want Turkey to check on the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Turkey started to look for some areas where it again become an important actor.
In the 1990s the political elites were gradually moving from confrontation to cooperation when both countries made gas agreements. After the Cold War, there were certain areas where both countries were pushed towards cooperation and trust. Both countries came close to trade gas agreements and this chance has strengthened their cooperation and bilateral relations. Both countries were fulfilling their interests by trading in gas. Turkey got the gas contracts and it improved their economy on the other side, Russia got a transit partner for Turkey to supply its gas to the European market.
They were looking for areas where both actors would benefit mutually. The broader political elites of both countries looked for a meaningful approach. Mutual interdependence and economic cooperation had occurred in other areas like construction. In Russia, the road-building technologies of Turkey became famous and In Turkey, Russian infrastructure-building objects were welcomed like factories, channels, dams, and nuclear plants.
We have seen that cooperation occurred between the two countries in the 2000s but the lobbying among the economic group hasn’t increased. Most of the researchers pointed out that politics has a great influence on the control of business in both countries. It's more about the political decision than the economic cooperation which shapes the bilateral relations between the two countries.
In Turkey, leadership has a great influence on shaping foreign policy and it includes the personal interest of the leader. In both countries, foreign policy decision-making is influenced more by the leader. The Heads of both countries are considered significant actors who define the bilateral relations but this relation lacks deeper institutionalization despite the agreements signed in the 15 years. Ankara and Moscow are struggling to make their bilateral relations more stable. The rate of progress is slow, as we witnessed their cooperation started in the 1990s but the High-level Cooperation Council had established in 2010.
Before Erdogan and Putin came to power there was a rapprochement between Turkey and Russia in 1997-1998, and both Ankara and Moscow give up on Chechen and Kurdish issues and worked on other political questions. It shows that the cooperation has increased but it was not solely the will of the leadership.
Eurasianism And Other Groups of Influence in Russia–Turkey Ties
Eurasianism means Russia neither belongs to Asia nor Europe but is an indigenous entity shaped by its history, culture, and economic system. The idea of Eurasianism also shapes the bilateral relations between both countries. There are some commonalities and differences between both countries regarding the idea of Eurasianism. Both countries consider Eurasianism a common desire that would shape their relations ideologically. Furthermore, both countries consider Eurasianism to counter the West and resist pressure from the western liberal democracies.
There are some differences between both countries in the idea of Eurasianism. In Russia, Eurasianism is considered an ideological tool to increase Russia’s influence by keeping the local societies under Russia’s guidance. For Turkey, especially for the anti-imperialist politicians, Eurosianism is a way to challenge Turkey’s dependence on the west and take Turkey closer to non-Western Countries.
The Role of The West And Third Countries In the Dynamics Of Bilateral Relations
Russia and Turkey have bilateral cooperation over the nuclear plant and gas pipeline, and it has improved their negotiating positions with the European Union. Due to economic cooperation between both countries, the economy of both countries has improved, which brought them improved negotiating positions with the U.S. and European Union. Russia wanted to detach Turkey from the Western alliance and most experts said that Turkey denied being part of the western sanction imposed on Russia in 2014.
Both countries wanted to increase their influence in the region and global politics but the bilateral relations would be affected by these transformations. Turkey has less room for action in Central Asia without the backing of Western powers. Ankara can balance out the Russian influence by soft balancing and expanding NATO-Turkey cooperation like in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Turkey is also increasing its navy capabilities due to the Russian military build-up in the Black Sea.
The Central Asian leaders also have a role in the bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey. The leaders are required to mediate between the two because of their cultural affinity to Turkey and their reliance on Russia.
The relationship between Turkey and Russia has been a combination of competition and cooperation, and rapid political and economic developments are also shaping the foreign policies of both countries. The Political and economic connections, political dialogue, and consultations between the government are not enough for full-fledged relations between both countries. Turkey is planning to leave NATO despite their interests in Europe and the United States. The historians considering the historical legacy pointed out that, Turkey neither would prefer nor afford to leave the Western security and political structures.
Turkey’s harmonization with the West is not against the interest of Russia. Turkey’s interrelation with the U.S. and Europe would be good for the foreign policy of Russia. Turkey and Russia have cooperated over the Syrian conflict and also the ceasefire of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict both countries negotiated and resolved the issue considering their bilateral relations intact. It can currently be seen in the Russia-Ukraine war that, Turkey has shown its desire to mediate the war and make relations intact with both countries.
Picture Credit: SETA
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