Turkey’s value for Russia is in her deep ties with the West

Recent summits between Turkey and Russia in Ankara on April 3-4 once again stirred debates in Western media over the course Turkey is currently taking in its foreign policy engagement in broader region. Deepening cooperation in energy sector with two mega projects like Turkish Stream and Akkuyu NPP on the way and the S-400 deal may serve as an indication that Turkey is willing to recalibrate its relations with the West in favour of more dialogue with Russia who is increasingly accused of devising plans to break transatlantic solidarity and luring Turkey into challenging its own ties with West and Europe. The truth is that Turkey’s value for Russian diplomacy is in its status as an intrinsic part of the Western world.

To understand how Russia has been approached Turkey, we should look at Turkey from the point of view of Russian interests. Historically, on multiple occasions Turkey and Soviet Union used bilateral ties to balance pressures of European powers and to increase its own negotiating positions vis-à-vis Europe. Wherein status of each as a legitimate participant of all discussions over European affairs was at the very foundation of bilateral dialogue between Moscow and Ankara.

Today, Russia views Turkey as well embedded in international and Western regimes where Turkey respects international norms of diplomatic conduct. Russia seeks to legitimize its foreign policy initiatives in the region through international law, its relations and cooperation with Turkey serve to reinforce this approach: Russia not only was eager to devise international declarations like Moscow document aimed at stabilization in Syria with Turkey, it also tried to secure Syrian state’s status as a sovereign entity through cooperation with Turkey and Iran. Another demonstration of interrelation between increasing cooperation between Russia and Turkey is that latter’s status as legitimate international player may be found in Moscow’s official stance on Turkish military operation “Olive Branch”: giving a green light to a move enable Russia to get concessions from Turkey on other fronts, while Russian diplomats were sure that operation wouldn’t end up with territorial annexation.

Moreover, it is Turkey’s NATO membership that may encourage Russia to consider cooperation in critical political and security matters. In times when East European states ring the bell and call upon NATO to face Russian military threats, Russia finds perfect avenue for controlling the weather inside the alliance through Turkey. Bilateral dialogue over S-400 purchase and ensuing debates over threats Russia may pose to NATO security mechanisms serves to create favourable and cooperative political environment. Russia has been approaching Turkey with S-400 precisely because of Ankara’s central role in security arrangements of NATO.

Turkey’s connections to the European Union and broader relations with Europe contribute to Russian efforts to engage Turkey as well. Once accepted as a legitimate partner in resolving regional issues, such as refugee crisis, Turkey offers through its status a good diplomatic channel to legitimize Russia’s own projects too. Take, for example, political settlement in Syria, here we can clearly see that Russian efforts to channel the armed conflict into political contestation are supported by Turkish participation in these initiatives. Owing to its own ties and agreements with the EU Turkey may potentially bring European partners on the board contributing to stabilization of Syria, consolidation of Syrian state and to its economic reconstruction that would provide relief for refugees in Europe.

Economic ties of Turkey with Western world may play no less important role in rapprochement between Russian and Turkey. Russia is exploring ways to get its energy resources on European markets and Turkish mediation as an energy hub becomes a crucial element of such efforts. In addition, stable and developing Turkish economy mean stable revenues from energy exports for the Russian budget, constrained by Western imposed economic restrictive measures. On other hand, Turkish dynamic economy attracts European investments and makes it a perfect destination point for Russian capital. Creation of joint ventures in Turkey with Western companies may contribute to technology and knowledge transfer into Russian economy under increasing regime of Western sanctions.

Finally, for years Turkey has been investing tremendous efforts to attract foreign visitors as part of broader policy to diversify sources of the foreign currency, Ankara cherishes its status as a safe tourist destination among Westerners, including more 6 million Russian tourists expected to come this year. This status contributes to developing ties between Turkey and Russia as well, as the latter carefully ties to direct touristic torrents into more safe countries.

Against this background, assumptions that Russia is trying to persuade Turkey to abandon the West seem a little too exaggerated. An isolated Turkey, who enjoys no functional relations with the West is both a dangerous asset to handle and a pernicious player to deal with over regional issues where Russian interest are at stake. Embeddedness of Turkey in the formal Western political arrangements contributes to stable relations with Russia as well. While Russia values Turkish leadership’s will to diversify foreign policy alternatives, Turkey’s value as a reliable partner stems from its status as a legitimate player in international politics with diverse ties to Western states.

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