The trend of unstable ups and downs observed in Turkish-Russian relations in recent years continues today. Although the interests of these states collide on most regional issues, the restrained and pragmatic approaches of the leaders, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, prevent different interests and conflicts from turning into confrontation. When tensions between the parties reach uncontrollable levels in many areas, especially in Syria, a meeting of presidents is convened, and even if the problems are not resolved, they are at least postponed or some mutual understanding is reached. We are at a time when the conflicting interests of the two countries are beginning to increase tensions in relations.
Turkey’s intervention in the post-Soviet space, in particular, the rapid deepening of the military aspect, along with the political and economic aspects of cooperation with Azerbaijan and Ukraine, has been viewed with concern in Moscow in recent months. Moscow has recently conveyed its position to Baku on military exercises with Turkey in various parts of Azerbaijan. Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said this, but did not mention what their position was. Most likely, we are talking about joint Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercises in the Lachin corridor, ie very close to the posts of Russian peacekeeping forces, as well as in the Caspian Sea. It is possible to feel that Russia is dissatisfied with these exercises. As is known, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has stated that the exercises with the participation of Turkish soldiers in the Caspian Sea contradict the Convention on the Legal Status of the Water Basin. The Russian side also probably shares Iran’s concerns.
The development of the Turkish-Ukrainian strategic partnership is also met with dissatisfaction in Moscow. As is known, Ukraine is preparing to purchase a new batch of “Bayraktar TB2” strike drones from Turkey. In Turkey, Ukrainian servicemen are taught how to use these drones. In the near future, Turkey will open a training center in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military will continue to learn the secrets of drone technology in their country from Turkish experts. The construction of two “Ada”-type corvettes for the Ukrainian Navy in Turkey is also planned. The preparation of an agreement on a free trade zone between the two countries is in the final stage. With this intergovernmental agreement, the Turkish-Ukrainian partnership will rise to a new level. Ankara’s position on the annexation of Crimea is also unequivocal. Turkey was represented at the inaugural meeting of the Crimean Platform in Kiev in August at the level of Foreign Minister and is one of the co-founders of the organization. Finally, Ankara’s statement that it rejects the September 17-19 elections to the Russian State Duma in Crimea was met with serious discontent in Moscow.
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, and Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary, made a statement on the issue today. Zakharova said that Russia won`t ignore Turkey’s statement:
“Turkey is well aware that Crimea is a sovereign part of the Russian Federation, and it is also well aware that we never ignore such statements. We draw the appropriate conclusions, which is not in the interests of bilateral relations.”
Peskov also said it was unacceptable for Ankara to consider the elections in Crimea illegitimate:
“We do not accept such statements and we openly tell our Turkish colleagues about it. Crimea is a matter of our diametrically divided positions. We regret Turkey’s position and hope that in time Turkey will change it by showing political will and simply respecting the truth and reality.”
One of the journalists asked Peskov if Turkey could be considered a friendly country if it did not recognize Russia’s borders. In response, Peskov said that Turkey is a partner of Russia and the existence of differences does not hinder the development of bilateral relations and interaction on a number of regional issues: “This interaction must continue. We hope that sooner or later we will be able to work together with the Turkish side on the issues that caused the disagreement, explain our position and bring the positions closer.”
Currently, the tension is rising in Syria’s Idlib region. In recent days, Russian military aircraft have been launching a series of strikes against armed groups close to Turkey. The bombings took place very close to the Turkish border, as well as to the Turkish military contingent in Syria. It is not a secret that the Assad regime is preparing for a military operation to retake Idlib. Bashar al-Assad’s surprise visit to Moscow last week and his meeting with Putin are said to be related to this. At the meeting, Putin cited the illegal military presence of some countries in Syria as a major problem. It is not a secret that he means the United States and Turkey.
Ankara is seriously concerned about these processes. Because the Idlib operation will create another influx of refugees to Turkey, which could explode the existing dissatisfaction with refugees in the country. About 3 million people live in Idlib. The influx of such amount of people into Turkey could completely destroy the already declining ratings of President Erdogan and the AK Party government. In addition, the operation will endanger the lives of Turkish soldiers in Idlib, and the country’s leadership will likely be forced to order their return. This could be another blow to President Erdogan’s reputation. For these reasons, Ankara considers the attack of Assad regime forces on Idlib unacceptable. Fearing a new wave of refugees, the European Union has a parallel view with Turkey on this issue.
All these issues are expected to be discussed at a meeting between Putin and Erdogan in the coming days. As they say, the meeting is over.
Translator: Gulnara Rahimova