When it is orthodox vs orthodox, interests come ahead of principles
According to a report in The New York Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of Russian leader Vladimir Putin that “she was not sure he was in touch with reality,” and was “living in another world.”
Listening to Putin’s statement on Ukraine earlier this week, one could easily jump to that conclusion, as he was not at all convincing in explaining the occupation of Crimea by Russian forces. But that would be a wrong assumption, because he seems to be very much connected to the world, calculating that his actions in Ukraine would not have serious consequences.
After all, who is going to challenge Russia? The United States? From its first days in power the Obama administration made it clear that it does not want to pick a fight with Russia. Washington is in no mood for a Cold War-like dispute, especially in Russia’s “near abroad.”
Who else is left? Europe? The European Union? At that point we need to look at Angela Merkel, the EU’s de facto leader. Like Obama, Merkel does not want to pick a fight. So far she has had a businesslike relationship with Putin. After all, Russia is Germany’s biggest supplier of energy. But it’s not just Germany; many European countries are dependent on Russian gas. Some argue that there is interdependence between Russia and its Western customers - that Russia needs Europe just as much as Europe needs Russia. But in the short term, Europe is more dependent on Russia than vice versa. (This, by the way, might prove the right time for Europeans to rethink their position about supporting pipelines that will carry Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to the continent via Turkey.)
In addition, economic ties between Europe and Russia are apparently not limited to energy. According to political analyst Ben Judah, there is a lot of Russian money in several European capitals such as London, Rome, Paris and Berlin.
And when it comes to the motivations of Russia’s move in Ukraine, is anyone surprised? Ukraine is strategically much more important than Georgia. After Russia’s intervention in Georgia in 2008 over the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have large ethnic Russian populations, were we expecting Russia to just watch Ukraine “slide” away to Europe? Or it would simply let go of Crimea, where its Black Sea fleet is based?
After all, what perhaps we are seeing is a readjustment of borders after the demise of Soviet Union, whose internal borders were designed by the principle of “divide and rule.” Crimea had been a part of Russia and was given to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, who had Ukrainian roots. Who would argue today that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will return to Georgian sovereignty? Who, other than Azerbaijan, remembers that Nagornho Karabakh is under Armenian occupation?
Some might recall certain principles, such as respect for the people’s will, non-interference in internal affairs and the inviolability of borders. But principles are bound to remain on paper if you don’t have anyone around to implement them.
So everything I have written so far is based on realpolitik, and this could perhaps explain the relative lack of reaction to the events from Turkey. It could also provide an answer to the Ukrainian ambassador to Ankara, who told daily Cumhuriyet that Ukraine was trying to understand why Turkey has not condemned Russia’s move.
When it comes down to orthodox vs. orthodox, it seems that national interests based on realistic analysis forms the basis of Turkey’s foreign policy, in contrast to the emotional, ideology-tainted policies based on “principles” that the current government has endorsed in the Middle East.