Now, if Putin violates back and forth Erdogan, he will score an own goal

Putin was among the first to congratulate Erdogan when he was re-elected President of Turkey in May. He called him a “dear friend”. Russia had bet on Erdogan’s election victory. There has been a close relationship between Putin and Erdogan for many years; both share a similar view of authoritarian rule and personal politics. Both countries benefit from economic cooperation. Turkey has a strong presence in the Russian construction industry, exports fruit and vegetables to Russia and the Turkish tourism industry benefits from the Russian guests. In Turkey’s energy sector, Russia is a major player. Gazprom is a major supplier of natural gas to Türkiye; Russia’s RosAtom is building a large nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, Turkey.

Conversely, Russia finds one of the last remaining European customers in the gas business in Turkey. Gazprom’s gas pipelines (Blue Stream and Turk Stream) bring Russian gas not only to Turkey, but also to Southeastern Europe. There were also business opportunities with Turkey for the Russian armaments industry. Since the outbreak of war, however, Turkey’s refusal to support Western sanctions against Russia has been particularly relevant. Significant parallel imports from Russia also pass through Turkey (albeit fewer and fewer). Turkish companies from Western countries are increasingly buying sanctioned goods and exporting them to Russia.

Geopolitical conflict between Russia and Turkey

Nevertheless, there are also geopolitical conflicts between Russia and Turkey. Both countries are pursuing conflicting interests in Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus. In Syria, Turkey has been pushing for the ouster of ruler al-Assad for many years, while Russia has supported him in crushing the armed uprising. In civil war-plagued Libya, Russia supported General Haftar and Turkey supported his opponent – ​​financially and militarily. In the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkish military support for Azerbaijan has led to a complete power shift in the region at the expense of Russia. Relations between the two countries can also be described as “controlled rivalry”.

This partnership of convenience between Russia and Turkey is now showing clear cracks. Erdogan warmly welcomed Ukrainian President Zelensky. According to rumors, Turkey will supply howitzers to Ukraine. An agreement to build Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in Ukraine has been signed. A real affront to Russia, however, was the transfer of five Ukrainian prisoners of war to Ukraine; Among them were members and commanders of the neo-Nazi formation Azov. Russia had handed these prisoners of war over to Turkey, with the condition that they would not be handed over to Ukraine.

Erdogan, Sweden and NATO

In addition, Erdogan has pledged to clear the way for Sweden’s membership in NATO. It’s not as if the Russian leadership assumed that Turkey would permanently block Sweden’s accession. Now, however, this Turkish shift in attitude is one of a series of recent moves that are viewed with suspicion in Russia. Is Turkey set to revive its rapprochement with the West? Is Turkey’s special path, which made this closeness between Moscow and Ankara possible, coming to an end?

It can be assumed that Turkey’s relations with Russia will remain important for Erdogan. The mutually beneficial relationships are too attractive. Both countries need each other. But the time when the Turkish leadership went its own way with Russia is probably over.

Classification of Türkiye as an “unfriendly country” would be an own goal

The Russian leadership downplays the new developments and sticks to the previous policy towards Turkey. Voices are growing in Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, and the Russian nationalist right calling for Turkey to be classified as an “unfriendly country.” But such a step would be an own goal for Russia. This will not happen in the foreseeable future. Should Putin’s announced visit to Turkey take place in August, the further lines of development in bilateral relations will be more recognizable.

Jean Harris

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