Turkey, Again…

I missed last Saturday, but what do you expect? A man deserves a vacation. I was busy getting burned on the beach. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, the ghost of Atatürk nearly burned down the Erdogan regime.

And here I find myself talking about Turkey, again…

But Politics makes strange bedfellows. The situation in Eastern Europe and the Middle East is getting increasingly murky for the United States. The calculus is shifting in Russia’s favor. Why is this? In the wake of the coup, a few trends stand out.

MILITARY: Perestroika

A good politician rewards his supporters. We all learned the word “spoils system” in 5th grade social studies, but we scarcely discuss the grittier, brutal opposite of this (although we see it plenty in Game of Thrones). A good politician punishes his foes.

The military went all in. They lost. Treason is not viewed lightly, especially by a regime such as Erdogan’s. There will be consequences. The Russian word for restructuring is perestroika.

Turkish-Russian military relations have been mercurial, having gone from Turkey downing Russian aircraft to renewed cooperation following an attack in Istanbul. This coup, coming off the heels of a major upswing in relations, may secure the future for continued cooperation. New leadership will obviously be placed with Russian cooperation in mind. Interests compound in both personal finance and international affairs.

Not only is this a massive victory for Russia, but it is a massive defeat for NATO. Officers and soldiers friendly to NATO will likely be purged, and who knows if they will be replaced with others favoring NATO. Top officials in NATO may dislike seeing their counter-parts in Turkey being displaced, with working relationships uprooted. Turkey’s position in NATO has always been somewhat precarious due to the fact that Turkey’s main rival, Greece, is also in the alliance, so who knows where the future will take the alliance.


Another alliance will likely be shocked, albeit one that Turkey is not a member of. Turkey’s flirtation with the European Union will likely be put on ice. Erdogan has been talking recently of re-instituting the death penalty, perhaps believing it will ensure a more thorough perestroika. Membership in the E.U. is contingent on many factors, one of which being that the perspective member ban the death penalty. Bringing it back would dash hopes of Turkey joining the E.U. for at least a generation. Hell, the fact that Erdogan is even bringing it up may be a sign that he seeks to orient his country away from the E.U.

Only a few months ago Turkey was making deals with European states over refugees, and many saw this as a stepping stone into E.U. membership. Now Turkey seems to have lost interest? What has changed? Well, we remember Brexit don’t we? Obviously the loss of one of its key great power members has tarnished the E.U. With talk of other states leaving, Erdogan likely has de-prioritized membership. Ironically, the first major aftershock of Brexit may not be states leaving the Union but rather states deciding not to join after all. Was the Euromaidan crisis all for nothing? Is the dream of European integration dead?

Russia would love to see this! Encouraging and supporting Erdogan would be an excellent way to further weaken the E.U., but it would also have implications for NATO as well. Remember, interests compound. Distance from NATO and the E.U. would only reinforce each other. Turkey is one of the few members of NATO not in the E.U., and it therefore presents an interesting opportunity to Russia. With enough leverage, it may be possible to pry Turkey away from NATO. It would require quite a bit of influence, but it is doable for Russia at this point.

IDEOLOGY: The Sovereign Democracies

Needless to say, Russia’s and Turkey’s national ideologies will further mesh as well; if he didn’t already, Erdogan undoubtedly now shares Putin’s emphasis on legitimate, sovereign government over rebels.

The buzzword for Russian ideology is “sovereign democracy.” Russia claims to be a democracy (and in many ways it is) but it falls short for many. In defense, Putin constantly asserts that Russia has a right to carry on democracy as Russia defines it. Far removed from the cosmopolitan neo-liberalism that dominates the West, Russia is a champion of the rights of the sovereign state. This reveals itself in Russia’s anti-democratic trends, in censorship, in the assassination of journalists, the suppression of gays, and in support given to governments abroad, such as Syria, against rebels.

Sovereign democracy as a concept also helps Putin sleep at night. Traumatized by Chechen secession and the Color Revolutions held on Russia’s doorstep, Putin seeks to maintain order. Whether or not his fears are valid, they seem to influence Putin’s policy making. The events in Turkey will likely only reinforce Putin’s thinking.

Meanwhile, those same events will likely draw Erdogan to draw the same conclusions as Putin about the priorities of the state. The ideology of “sovereign democracy” demands the survival of the state against threats within and influences without, and it would serve as a convenient smokescreen for Erdogan to hide behind. Erdogan already has shown strong statist tendencies, and they are reaching a nadir in the wake of the coup. The death penalty may be returning, meanwhile the military is being purged (other institutions are sure to follow).

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but ideology may further unite Russia and Turkey, while only putting greater distance between Turkey and the West.

I have done my best to separate the major trends I predict as much as possible but it is impossible to separate them. As political scientists we have to look at the micro level, but we also have to keep in mind that with states everything combines into a fiery, capricious whole. It is difficult to analyze which way politics may carry states, but it is easy to isolate a few themes and, from there, see how these themes interact to product overall trends in foreign policy. Right now, the dominant trend in Turkish-Russian relations is increasing intimacy.


Brexit and Turkey

Russia finds itself in a bold new opportunity-filled Europe after an eventful week for Europe. The Brexit vote on June 23rd and the fateful attack on Istanbul on June 28th both have important political ramifications for Russia, and they will certainly change the calculus in Europe and the Middle East.

Brexit: Russia 1, Europe 0

I honestly did not think that British voters would opt to leave the European Union, but it seems as if the anti-globalisation sentiment is more serious than Trump’s campaign would indicate. By a slim margin voters chose to have Britain leave the E.U. While the details of the divorce will take a brief while to sort out the message was absolutely clear. Britain is out! The economic fallout from the Brexit seems to have resolved itself but the situation is anything but stable. Britain’s departure is a sign of the times: nativism is on the rise. What other countries might leave or attempt to leave next?

This is a significant blow to the credibility of the E.U., and it can also be construed as a defeat for the United States. The U.S. openly enjoys a “Special Relationship” with its former colonial overlord. British and American foreign policy generally complement one another, enabling the U.S. to indirectly impact E.U. policy. Without the British connection, the U.S. will be able to exert less influence on Europe. Britain and America are still tied to much of Europe through NATO however, so it would be foolish to think of the U.S. as out of the picture.

Regardless of what alliances remain, a major anti-Russian voice has left the E.U. Some major nations in the E.U., such as France, have been somewhat sympathetic to Russia, and it is possible that detente may take place. The European Union is still resentful of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, and they even reaffirmed the sanctions against Russia about a week after the Brexit vote, but the future is filled with possibilities! With economic strains between Britain and the E.U. emerging, some European countries may find it easier to turn to Russia. Personally I do not believe that sanctions will survive much longer. Russia and its territorial claims to Crimea would greatly benefit from a normalization in relations.

It is too early to say whether or not the E.U. will disintegrate. I think that the E.U. can function fine without Britain. But Russia can certainly apply increased diplomatic pressure to the most vulnerable nations to encourage them to depart. Successful efforts at splintering the E.U. would possibly have ramifications for NATO’s cohesion as well, and breaking apart the Western monolith would be a huge boon to Russian power.

Turkey: The Enemy of my Enemy…

Months ago Turkey shot down a Russian plane in Syria that had violated Turkish airspace. This week Turkish PM Erdogan apologized to Russia over these events. Diplomatic relations have resumed, and there is talk of Russian-Turkish cooperation.

Unfortunately the bridge of renewed relations was built out of tragedy. A devastating attack on the Ataturk airport in Istanbul has strengthened Turkey’s resolve to combat terrorism. It doesn’t matter who might have perpetuated the attack: terrorism must go. International incidents and politics must be set aside in the name of survival. Russian foreign minister Lavrov has used this argument before in numerous instances, and now Russia is making good on its promise by setting aside any bad blood over losing a plane and engaging with Turkey. While Brexit only leaves room for Russia to act, the events in Turkey have led to a direct renewal of Russian involvement in the region.

Could the terrorist attack have been prevented? This is always a major concern after an attack. Seeing that the terrorists in question are from Russia (various news reports label them as either Chechen or Dagestani), I think the case could be made that had Russian-Turkish relations never been severed it is possible that the attack might have been stopped. There are no guarantees of course, but information sharing is often the most effective counter-terror tool. Cooperation between Turkey and Russia would have enabled greater information sharing, thereby enhancing the security of Russia, Turkey, and beyond.

A lack of information sharing is not just a Russia-Turkey problem, it is also very much a Russia-NATO problem. The operations of the NATO-Russia Council were unilaterally suspended by the latter party in protest of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The NRC aimed to enhance cohesion and information sharing for the goal of combating terrorism and crime. The NRC’s suspension shows that the West prioritizes politics over security. There is more talk of cooperation between Russia and America in the fight against terror, but talk is cheap. Hopefully though the major players will understand this and firmly commit to cooperate. In the interim, I welcome any cooperation between Russia and the individual members of NATO.


Recent Russian international affairs have been mercurial and capricious, with constant reversals and changes. This past week has shown that Russia’s approach to Europe and the Middle East will still be wrought with upheaval. Luckily for Russia, Putin is a pragmatist extraordinaire. When fate offers its hand, Russia takes it. It is important to remember that these events are not independent of one another. Together, they may compound to greatly enhance Russia’s fortunes. Russian-Turkish detente grants Russia some leverage against NATO, while Brexit may just leave the E.U. hamstrung. As usual, Russia is far from being cornered.