How Could Russia-Turkey Tensions Impact the Unstable Caucasus?
Moscow, Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall

Tensions and misunderstandings in Russian-Turkish relations have influenced the diplomatic balance of the Caucasus region, although it would be a mistake to believe that either country is building ‘axes’ of influence.

On May 13, the Valdai Discussion Club presented its analytical paper “Russian-Turkish Relations and Security Issues in the Caucasus Region.” Sergey Markedonov, the author of the paper, associate professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club programme director and Vladimir Avatkov, director of the Center of Oriental Studies, International Relations and Public Diplomacy, took part in the presentation.

Markedonov said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s reactivation in March led to some changes to the paper itself, because it was the first time during the conflict when Turkey officially backed Azerbaijan. Markedonov pointed out that “Turkish fingerprints” in the conflict were noted by many, but it was not the reason to step up conspiratorial overtones around it. He also said to stay away from thinking that Turkish influence caused the conflict, although the measure of its support likely affected the strategic thinking in Baku.

“It’s not a direct order from Ankara. The fact that Azerbaijan itself uses the Turkish factor is clear when it comes to negotiating positions,” Sergei Markedonov stressed.

But, how did Russian-Turkish relations affect the Caucasus region, in general? Over the past two decades, Russia and Turkey were able to build up trustworthy economic relations, but when it came to politics due to the incident with Russian plane, the structure of these relations turned out to be unviable.

“I feel much safer when it comes to overflight incidents over the Baltic with Russians and Americans than I do about a similar incident between Russian and Turkish planes over the Black Sea,” Andrey Sushentsov said.

Discussing the souring of relations between Russia and Turkey, Sushentsov noted that Russia was unprepared for November plane incident, first of all, because of the difference in views on the culture of mutual relations. He added that one cannot exclude that both countries would face a few similar incidents before gaining a mutual understanding, although this is a rather unpleasant process of rapprochement.

Markedonov also noted that treating anti-American rhetoric in Turkey as pro-Russian would be a mistake. “Mr. Erdogan had quite a bit of anti-American rhetoric, but that didn’t make it pro-Russian. <…> This is also a lesson that can be taken from Russian-Turkish relations,” Markedonov said.

Speaking on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Avatkov said that, no matter the odds, he remains a popular leader, and Prime Minister Davutoglu’s resignation should not be seen as a rejection of this or that foreign policy direction.

Much of the discussion focused on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Markedonov, It is difficult to assess the role of the CSTO in resolving the conflict because it is too early to expect breakthrough success of most integration projects in the post-Soviet space.

"Our countries are building their national identities. The process is still not completed. In these conditions, talking about some sort of effective integration work is not possible", Markedonov said.