Modern Diplomacy
Russian-Turkish Relations - Fragile but Flexible
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On October 7, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion, titled “A New Model of Relations Between Russia and Turkey in the Crisis of the International Order”. The moderator of the discussion, Andrey Sushentsov, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, said that Russia and Turkey are an example of complex interaction between partners amid the new conditions and have provided an example of sovereign goal-setting in an international environment full of conflict. In his opinion, the nature of these relations is determined by the personal diplomacy of Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have managed to build a constructive dialogue.

Maxim Suchkov, director of the MGIMO Institute for International Studies of the Russian Foreign Ministry, developed the formulation of the American diplomat Richard Haas, who said that Turkey is an ally for the United States, but not a partner, and noted that for Russia, on the contrary, it is a partner, but not an ally. In Russia, there are no inflated expectations associated with Turkey's behaviour as an ally, but the awareness of the strategic partnership is pushing both Moscow and Ankara to constantly search for a balance of mutual interests, he believes. According to Suchkov, in relations with Turkey, Russia is guided by three principles: 1) to understand issues of fundamental importance for Turkey's security; 2) in advance, but without unnecessary noise, indicate the red lines and discuss acceptable corridors; 3) use the mistakes of Turkey's other partners, especially the United States, to "play in contrast". The researcher also pointed out that relations between Turkey and Russia are both fragile and plastic. The common denominator, in his opinion, is that Russia sees Turkey as a resource for strengthening its strategic sovereignty, and Turkey sees in Russia  an instrument for increasing its authority as a great power. “As long as this common denominator remains, there will be more plasticity in relations than fragility,” Suchkov concluded.

Hüseyin Bagci, president of the Turkish World Policy Institute, acknowledged that there have been ups and downs in relations between Turkey and Russia, but added that this does not negate the special relationship between Turkey and Russia and strong contacts between the leaders. According to him, Russia remains the most important partner for Turkey - as a neighbour, as a source of oil and gas, as a partner in the field of nuclear energy and as a partner in the tourism industry. “Neither now, nor in the future, do I expect Turkey to oppose Russia. Therefore, it did not implement the EU and US sanctions,” he said. “In recent years, the more problems Turkey has had in relations with the US and the EU, the better the Turks have understood Russia.” Speaking about the Ukrainian crisis, Bagci emphasised that Turkey is trying to be equidistant from both sides and take the position of a mediator in the conflict.

Grigory Lukyanov, a researcher at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, stressed that, in addition to the personal factor and current interests, the foundation for the agreements between Russia and Turkey was the presence of an institutional basis for the two countries, on which leaders can rely. This institutional basis is a strong backlog in the field of economics and trade, as well as in the field of education and cultural information. The information spaces of Russia and Turkey are very open to each other, despite the language barrier, he says. He also named financial interactions and population movement between the countries as important factors, provided not only by the will of political leaders, but also by the needs of the market, the needs of the people themselves. Thus, the aforementioned plasticity is rather not an immanent property of relationships, but the result of many years of work, Lukyanov summed up.

Turkish political analyst Hasan Selim Ozertem also pointed to the importance of the economic partnership. At the same time, he noted that for a long time, against the backdrop of deepening economic relations, political issues were perceived as something separate. This led to the crisis of 2015, which was overcome with a lot of effort. After that, in 2016, the parties moved to a new stage, in which economic cooperation was combined with cooperation on regional crises, such as in Syria. In this regard, he suggested that the role of leaders in relations has grown precisely because in 2015 the power of institutional structures was not enough to cope with the crisis. However, relying on the personal factor, it makes the relationship fragile, so now we are talking about the transition to a third phase, which involves the search for an institutional framework. The SCO Samarkand summit reflected this.