Turkey has too many eggs in the Russian basket
I should note first of all that it is certainly in the interests of both countries for Turkey–Russia relations to develop in a healthy balance. I do not agree with the idea that developing bilateral ties with Moscow is categorically wrong.
However, our relationship with Russia is slowly turning into a situation where Moscow holds an obvious upper hand and dominates ties.
The most important problem is this: Russia sees Turkey as a market to which it can sell oil, natural gas, nuclear energy and S-400 missiles worth billions of dollars. It uses strains in Turkey’s relations with the European Union and the United States as a trump card in order to make these strains permanent.
Meanwhile, the difficulties of Turkish investors in Russia, the treatment shown at borders to Turks visiting Russia, high visa fees, the problems of companies exporting to Russia, and the problems of truck drivers are all ongoing.
It is often said that Russian tourists are the backbone of Turkey’s tourism sector, but the very cheap prices that Russian travel agencies impose do not leave much space for Turkish tourism.
The situation is the same in Syria
In Syria, while Russia has given the impression at the Astana and Sochi summits that it is cooperating with Turkey, it is worth noting that Moscow has been acting even more closely in line with the interests of Bahar al–Assad.
In just the last few days the forces of Russia and al-Assad have repeatedly bombed opposition forces including the Free Syria Army, supported by Turkey. Idlib, which was declared a ceasefire zone in Astana, is currently a target of the militaries of Russia and al-Assad.
A Russian ship full of bombs and armaments used during these operations recently passed through Turkish straits en route to Syria.
In these circumstances 40 Syrian opposition groups, including those supported by Turkey, recently declared that they will not participate in the upcoming Russia-sponsored Syrian National Congress.
This development should have been seen as an important one in normal circumstances, but Russia could not care less. That is because Russian President Vladimir Putin sees only al-Assad and the United States - which controls Syria’s north and west via the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) - as interlocutors. He sees the other opposition groups as expendable and replaceable.
Following the statement of the 40 opposition groups, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the Movement of Syria’s Future party.
It is worth recalling that this party, which was set up in Egypt, is supported by the United Arab Emirates, which has been targeting Turkey recently.
Other groups that Russia promised would participate in the congress, despite Turkey’s reaction, are the armed Kurdish groups that control Syria’s north.
What’s more, despite promises made by Moscow to Ankara, al-Assad has only ramped up his actions of late.
I have long argued that Turkey should not break its ties with the U.S. in Syria and should not put all its eggs in the Russian basket.
Turkey needs to settle on a strategy on Syria that corresponds to the realities and that is open to cooperation with all countries related to the issue. Otherwise it will find itself squeezed between Russia and the United States.