Turkey and Russia have an ambivalent relationship. Nevertheless, the government in Moscow is trying to support the leadership in Ankara. Because in Turkey there will be elections in June – and the new president should be the old one.
Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine isolated the government in Moscow in a very short time, especially in western industrialized countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not have many partners of any importance. One with whom communication still works is Turkey.
Putin and his colleague Recep Tayyip Erdogan have maintained a close relationship for years. In late 2021, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Erdogan and Putin had a “friendship relationship.” Erdogan said last November that he had a “relationship of trust” with Putin.
Erdogan then skilfully used the beginning of the war to expand his influence: When diplomatic channels to Russia were hardly open, Ankara offered to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv and is still the main player with whom both sides like to talk. High-level meetings between Ukrainians and Russians took place in Turkey: On March 10, 2022, Ukrainian, Russian and Turkish foreign ministers met in Antalya.
After almost two weeks, the delegations then negotiated in Istanbul. The grain agreement, which allows Ukrainian wheat to be exported across the Black Sea, was negotiated in July with mediation from the UN and Turkey and signed in Istanbul.
Foreign policy and energy expert Aydin Sezer confirms that the war in Ukraine has helped the Turkish and Russian leaders to come closer together. “For Russia, Turkey is like the window to the world. The relationship with Ankara is very important and valuable for the Kremlin.”
And to keep it that way, the leadership in Moscow would like to see the government in Ankara confirmed in the June 18 elections. According to Sezer, Putin understood “that it is in Russia’s interests that a leader like Erdogan governs Turkey”.
Moscow has therefore recently tried several times to support the incumbent Turkish government. For example, the Russian state-owned company Gazprom deferred Turkey’s debts from the gas purchase. Russia is not doing this “just like that”, but in its own interest, a Turkish diplomat emeritus, who wishes to remain anonymous, told DW.
And in October, Putin suggested Turkey could be made into a so-called energy hub. That would mean that Russian gas would be delivered to European consumers via Turkey – a win-win situation for both presidents.
Political and economic support from Russia has become all the more important for the survival of Turkey’s ruling AKP party because it has difficulties with the EU and the US, international relations expert Hande Orhon Özdag emphasized in an interview with DW.
Disagreements and tensions between Turkey and the West have existed for several years. Both Turkish-European and Turkish-American relations have deteriorated.
“The Ukraine war has provided the AKP with an opportunity to deepen economic ties with Russia because it does not participate in US and EU sanctions.”
Putin made two important things possible for Erdogan: “Political popularity through the grain agreement and economic support in connection with gas.” And that is exactly what the AKP needs before the elections, because their popularity with the electorate is decreasing.
It is by no means certain that the political situation in Turkey will remain as it is. Erdogan wants to be confirmed in office in the presidential elections.
But the polls don’t suggest an easy win – the opposition could actually win and bring a change in leadership to the country after more than 20 years.
In Russia, on the other hand, the Erdogan government has a good image, says Turkish political scientist Ümit Nazmi Hazir, who conducts research in Moscow. “Putin and Erdogan have had a relationship that has existed for twenty years. The two sides know each other and can communicate directly.” This would make it easier for both to assert their concerns.
If the opposition were to win the elections in Turkey, that would also go against Russian interests, according to Hazir, because the new government might be more democratic: “Then Russia’s ability to steer Turkey will decrease. You will then have to talk to several players.”
However, there is also potential for conflict and differences of opinion between Moscow and Ankara. For example, both countries are involved with their own soldiers in the Syrian war and support enemy groups.
Russia has traditionally been the Syrian regime’s main ally, and Turkey has backed elements of the Syrian opposition, such as the Free Syrian Army, while at the same time taking military action against Kurds in northern Syria.
However, it is becoming apparent that the two countries could come to an understanding. After years of harsh rhetoric against Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan has now softened his tone. Turkey announced that it wants to hold peace talks with Syria soon, and Russia will also be there. “First our three foreign ministers will sit together and then we, as the three leaders,” read the statement on Thursday, January 5.
However, many observers are skeptical about the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey. Ankara is interfering in Moscow’s sphere of influence, says Hazir. And the Eastern Europe expert Zaur Gasimov from the University of Bonn adds that Erdogan has begun “to play a much more active policy in the post-Soviet space and in the Middle East”. Coming to terms with this is not easy for Russia.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Gasimov concludes: “The Kremlin does not see Turkey as an ally. In Syria, in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and in Libya, the Kremlin has completely different goals than Turkey. The Kremlin sees Turkey more as a rival partner.”
Cooperation: Gülsen Solaker
Autor: Burak Unveren
Desirable as a Ukrainian victory would be, a Russian loss could have drastic consequences and destabilize the entire region. But how does Russia even define a war defeat?
The Ukrainian secret service repeatedly intercepts telephone calls from Russian soldiers. Now the Ukrainians are revealing a conversation between a Putin fighter and a friend. In it he confesses to war infirmity of the worst kind.
The original of this article “Putin helps Erdogan to achieve two important successes on the way to the Turkish elections” comes from Deutsche Welle.