Turkey’s relationship with Russia has had its fair share of ups and downs lately. And as disconcerting as it may be for its allies in the West, the latest rekindling is not at all unexpected.
After a loaded geopolitical couple of years, with a common battle ground in Syria, it makes sense for the two countries to come to some kind of terms. It is not an easy cooperation – Russia and Turkey have very different objectives in Syria, especially where it concerns Bashar al Assad’s regime.
But another thing they have in common is their recent frustration with the West.
Putin’s Russia was, of course, always a loose cannon, with the whole Crimea-sanctions-recrimination situation presenting an extra excuse for conflict.
When it comes to Turkey, the 2016 coup attempt created a number of questions about the country’s future trajectory and its leader’s ambitions. This amiability between Erdogan and Putin offers an uneasy answer.
Turkey remains a NATO member and a candidate for EU accession, at least in name. However, President Erdogan’s political choices show no intention of actually go through with it, although he will happily use it when it suits him.
Erdogan sees the situation in Syria as a chance to settle some old scores with the Kurds and for that he will work with states that don’t share his ultimate goals.
Russia and Iran want Assad to stay, but Turkey does not. Bashar al Assad, as did his father, allowed the Kurdish guerrillas to operate from Syrian soil in an attempt to curb Turkish expansionist policy in the border area between the two countries, and that is something that Turkey doesn’t forget.
Russia and Iran want Assad to stay. For the former it guarantees that the status quo will remain as is, giving it access to the Mediterranean. For the latter Assad presents a steady partner and ally in its fight against Sunni countries and Israel.
Erdogan accuses the west at any chance he gets, but it will be interesting to see how much he will push when some inevitable conflict will arise in Syria between Turkish and US forces and their partners.
However unpredictable, Turkey still has an essential role in NATO and Europe. But with so many open rifts, and with Erdogan under pressure at home, it’s anyone’s guess what could push him over the edge, creating a crisis in Syria or, in a more extreme scenario, along its other border, in the Aegean.
If nothing else, this convergence between Putin and Erdogan looks like a broadening alliance of the autocrats of our world. Along with China, anti-Democratic forces seem not only to be on the rise, but also working together. If the West is to hold on to its predominance, it should definitely take notice.
Featured Image Courtesy of Dorian Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons