Turkey not drifting from West with closer Russia ties - analysis

The rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow should not be regarded as Turkey’s drift away from the West towards Russia, rather the two countries are making necessary compromises over challenging issues to sustain bilateral ties, journalist Andrei Isaev said in Modern Diplomacy on Thursday.

Turkey and Russia pursue their own national interests, which coincide only partially, and isolate areas of conflicting interest in order not to spoil overall relations, Isaev said citing expert opinions. 

Present-day Turkey sees itself as a multi-regional leader but without any foreign policy preferences, and for Ankara multi-facetedness in foreign policy remains a challenge given the lack of economic and political resources, Isaev said.

Therefore, there is no need to equate the trend towards Turkey’s distancing itself from the West with a drift only towards Moscow, the journalist said. 

Despite deep historical hostilities, Turkey’s economic relations with Russia have strengthened following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, the Turkish government has worked on forming friendly relations with Russia, while also trying to expand its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasia. 

The start of the civil war in Syria was a test for Turkey’s “zero-problem” policy with neighbours, as Moscow supported the Bashar Assad government and Ankara backed the rebels. The relations between the two countries nearly collapsed after Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian SU-24 warplane near the Syria-Turkey border in late 2015. 

But since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly apologised for the incident and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Turkey during the July 2016 coup attempt, the two countries have worked on mending and extending ties by establishing the Astana process with Iran to solve the conflict in Syria and by forging partnerships in energy and the defence industry.  

Russia’s role in the entire spectrum of Turkish foreign policy priorities has become even more important, Isaev said. 

Even though many Western analysts view the Russian-Turkish rapprochement as situational and time-serving, Russia is demonstrating ever more trustworthiness, if not as an absolute ally, then as a reliable partner in all areas, he said.