The two countries’ decision to lift almost all trade restrictions means that they have moved to fully restore bilateral relations, but the Russo-Turkish relationship is shallower than it may seem, Valdai Club expert Amanda Paul believes.
Ankara is eager to fully restore ties with Moscow, because the sanctions imposed by Russia after Turkey shot down its military jet in Syria caused a significant damage to the nation’s economy. But any rapprochement between the two countries will be limited, due to their geostrategical differences and Turkey’s ties to the western world, which remain strong, despite the currently tense relations, believes Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.
On May 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The meeting was focused on bilateral economic ties and efforts to cooperate on resolving the Syria conflict.
“It is natural that President Erdogan wants to fully restore relations with Russia, which is an important economic partner and a powerful and influential regional actor,” Paul told valdaiclub.com. “The sanctions imposed by Russia in 2015 cost the Turkish economy a lot, not least in the tourism sector. There is therefore a strong desire to get back to business with Russia, further deepening economic ties and moving into other areas too, hence discussions related to military and defence cooperation.”
The two countries’ decision to lift almost all trade restrictions means that they have moved to fully restore bilateral relations, but the Russo-Turkish relationship is shallower than it may seem, Paul believes.
“First, Turkish-Russian rapprochement pragmatically stems from Ankara's presently very tense relations with the West,” the Valdai Club expert said. “Second, while President Putin reportedly said that Turkey-Russia relations are fully recovered, it would be foolish to believe that Putin has totally forgiven Erdogan for the shooting down of the Russian jet in November 2015. At that time, Putin said that Turkey had stabbed Russia in the back, hence it is unlikely that Putin will ever fully trust Ankara/Erdogan again.”
In addition, the two countries’ geostrategic interests and objectives in the neighbourhood are not aligned, Paul stressed. “Indeed the roots of their geopolitical rivalry are deep. It is also a relationship in which Turkey has limited (if any) leverage over Russia. For example, Turkey would prefer if Russia did not support or work with the Syrian Kurds, which represent a significant national security threat to Turkey due to their affiliation with the PKK terrorist organisation. However, Turkey lacks the leverage needed to sway the Kremlin, so it has to accept this state of affairs. The Russians are ultimately out to secure the Kremlin’s interests and objectives and currently Turkey is more or less assisting them with this goal.”
Amid the current tensions between Turkey and the EU, Russia could try to lure Ankara away from the West as part of a broader geopolitical restructuring, but that will unlikely succeed, Paul believes. “Ultimately, Turkey has been anchored to Europe/West for decades. Its economy, trade, security are all linked to Europe and, more broadly, the trans-Atlantic Community. There is little – if anything - in Russia’s economic or military attractiveness that can compete with these realities, other than a purely political narrative,” she concluded.