Turkey’s Syria bargain with Russia
It is very difficult to provide a complete analysis of Turkey’s relations with Russia. Numerous contradictory factors shape these relations. Interestingly, as interests broaden and deepen, contradictions intensify. Hence, the difficulty in understanding which factor has currently gained priority and which has become strategically more determining.
We can look at some prominent aspects of Turkey-Russia relations. First of all, there is an attractive area of interdependency which is becoming more influential in various fields like economy, the nuclear plant issue, energy, trade and tourism. This interdependency is currently worth $35 billion and it is expected to reach the $100 billion threshold. In other words, we should expect the interdependency to increase. The second aspect is the asymmetric character of the relations favoring Russia, especially in light of Turkey’s energy dependency. Finally, the improvement of economic relations does not guarantee harmony in other areas, as is obvious from the Syrian case.
Russia’s take on the Syrian conflict is different from that of Turkey. There are many reasons for this difference. Firstly, there are the military advantages enjoyed by Russia due to Syrian geopolitics. Russia does not want to lose these advantages due to both military and historical/psychological reasons. Secondly, Russia is not happy with the strengthening of radical Islam in Syria, especially as the news of Caucasian jihadists fighting in Syria spreads. Thirdly, the chronic crisis in the Middle East is always good news for Russia. For a country whose future depends on gas and oil exports, conflict in the Middle East means a “good price.” Finally, as the discourse of democracy and human rights trigger the fault lines in the Middle East and creates uncertainty for many countries, there is a serious risk that a multiethnic and multireligious country like Russia is also prone to such chaos. Therefore, Russia can delay, if not prevent, the unfolding of the Syrian conflict, considerably increasing the cost of the conflict for the West. Indeed, this is exactly what Russia is doing.
Although Putin claims that his country is not Syria’s lawyer, Russia continues to support the regime psychologically, diplomatically, militarily and by providing intelligence. Of course, Putin had a long conversation with the Turkish side regarding Syria to change attitudes. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that he can buy new arguments such as promises of continuing advantages in military bases in the future Syria regardless of who comes to power. After all, promises matter, but the question of who’s making these promises equally matters.