Turkey demonstrated capability to ‘limit Russia’ without US or NATO - analyst

In a June 2 editorial for TRT World, SETA Foundation analyst Omer Ozkizilcik argues that Turkey has demonstrated a capability to limit Russia’s objectives in numerous conflict zones without the backing of the United States or the NATO alliance. That and Turkey’s growing military ties with Eastern Europe has Moscow worried. 

Ozkizilcik notes that Turkey and Russia have maintained working relations despite their diverging interests in several conflict zones. For example, both countries worked on joint energy projects together, and Turkey even bought advanced Russian S-400 air defence missiles. Moreover, both countries found ways to cooperate and prevent a tense rupture in relations of the kind that occurred after Turkey shot down a Russian bomber over its border with Syria in November 2015. 

However, Ozkizilcik sees signs that these working relations could face a serious challenge over Ukraine. He quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent warning to Turkey to “stop fuelling Kyiv’s militaristic sentiment.” Additionally, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned Turkey against supporting the Turkic Tartars in Ukraine, adding that Russia could potentially respond by paying “attention to similar issues in Turkey.”

These comments followed a tourism ban on Russia by Turkey, which Moscow claims was motivated by the number of Covid-19 cases in Turkey rather than by any political dispute. Nevertheless, Ozkizilcik suspects the ban is linked to their disagreement over Ukraine, noting that the last time Russia imposed tourism-related sanctions was during the low point in relations following the bomber shootdown. 

Russia strongly opposes Turkey’s military relations with Ukraine, fearing that it could enable Kyiv to replicate similar Turkish-backed battlefield victories of the recent past. 

“Turkey’s ability to stop Russia in Syria, Turkey’s success in reversing the military balance of power in Libya against Russian-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar and the crucial role Turkey played in Nagorno-Karabakh are not just military victories; they have become a model to limit Russia without the help of the US,” Ozkizilcik wrote. 

He cites several other examples in which Turkey could not rely on the support of either the United States or the NATO alliance. Consequently, Turkey relied on its capability to build its own armed drones and wage effective military campaigns. It also extended cooperation with Ukraine, which helped it produce the new Akinci drone, the successor of the battle proven Bayraktar TB2.

Ozkizilcik suggests that Eastern European states are reaching a similar conclusion that they, like Turkey, cannot entirely depend on NATO. In the meantime, Turkey’s actions in recent years demonstrate an alternative way. 

“Having seen that it is possible to limit Russia without the help of the US or Western European states, Eastern European states are showing more and more interest in the Turkish model,” Ozkizilcik wrote. “Therefore, it is no coincidence that Poland decided to purchase the TB2 Bayraktar drones. Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania and Baltic states are further potential candidates.” 

While Russia wants to maintain its status quo with Turkey, “the inspiration Turkey provided for Eastern European states is something new to the Russian calculation.” 

In response, Russia is sanctioning Turkey, although Ozkizilcik doubts that it will deter Ankara. 

“After time, Moscow will see that sanctions do not work and will be forced to make a tough decision to either risk an unwanted confrontation with Ankara or to continue playing according to the unwritten rules governing Russia-Turkey brinkmanship.”