And the Russians have reached the warm waters…
The Turkish leadership’s extremely vocal and harsh criticism of the West makes Turkey appear in the eyes of an international observer as a highly anti-Western country. While some of the policies of the U.S. and the European Union are to be blamed for the rise of anti-Westernize in Turkey, there was always a lack of trust toward the West ingrained in Turkish psyche.
On the other hand, there was always a similarly deep-rooted distrust toward Russia as well, but by contrast, the seemingly close cooperation between Turkey and Russia as well as the Turkish leadership’s sensitivity over avoiding any criticism of Moscow in front of the public hides this historic suspicion toward Moscow.
While the anti-Westernize is partly a legacy of the Sevres Treaty, which saw the seeds of fear among the Turks that the West always wants to divide Turkey into pieces, the roots of mistrust from Russia can be traced back to Turkish fears over Russia’s wish to reach “warm waters.”
Who stands in front of Russia’s outreach to warm waters? Turkey. That’s why Turkish governments have always been very sensitive about the meticulous application of the Monteux Treaty, which provides safe passage to Russian ships.
Ironically, Russia today stands as a country that has realized its centuries-old dream of reaching the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Not only has it consolidated its presence in Syria via its military bases, it started Sept. 1, which is marked as World Peace Day, its first ever joint force military drills in the Mediterranean.
During the drill, which will last until Sept. 8, Russian ships and planes will hold missile-firing and gunning exercises, according to Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Korolev. This will be the first time for Russia to hold such joint force exercise in its modern history, said Korolev. And for the purpose of ensuring the safety of shipping and flights, the areas covered by the drills were declared dangerous for navigation and flights in advance, according to statements made by Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement that the drills are not related to the state of affairs in Syria can only be explained by typical Russian sarcasm. At any rate I am sure Ankara is well aware that this is about the imminent attack planed by Syrian regime forces to take Idlib.
Obviously Russia did not occupy Turkish lands to reach the warm waters, but it did not have to. And its consolidated military presence in the Mediterranean certainly weakens Turkey’s hands vis-a-vis Russia.
As Bashar al-Assad is resolute on taking back Idlib, Turkey is unfortunately facing the risk of humiliatingly being chased out from the region. The ongoing talks with Russia and Iran are actually going to determine the level of humiliation.
Turkey has been trying to prevent the attack by underlining that this will lead to a terrible human tragedy, as regime forces will not bother separating civilians from fighters. Separating civilians from fighters however hasn’t exactly been an attribute of Russian strategy while struggling against opponents as we have seen in Chechnya.
Humanitarian concerns and a possible influx of additional refugees toward Turkey will be the least of Russia’s concerns.
The only reason why Russians would appear to appease some of Turkey’s concerns would be their wish to keep the divide between Turkey and its Western allies.
In other words, Turkey is worth listening to by Russia as long as it is part of the Western alliance. Otherwise, what tools does Turkey have to dissuade Russia from encouraging the Syrian army to attack Idlib? Especially when it has been encircled by Russia from the north and the south?
If Moscow proves to be insensitive to Turkey’s worries and if we witness a catastrophic human tragedy in Syria that will also further increase the burden on Turkey in terms of hosting refugees and checking on jihadists, one would expect these would have consequences in terms of Turkish–Russian cooperation in every field.