Since Russian troops entered Syria in 2015, relationship in the West-Turkey-Russia triangle has attracted close attention of politicians and political observers specializing in international affairs. Recently, interactions between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have become one of the main topics of political analytics.
This interest is explained by the fact that for almost the entire history, Russia and Turkey were rivals and enemies, fighting wars involving other states, including Great Britain and France, as it happened in the Crimean war. However, in recent years Russia and Turkey have built relationships that in the eyes of the Western and even Russian political scientists and politicians, look unusual, strange, ambiguous, but at the same time, as many note with surprise, effective and bringing positive results for both Moscow and Ankara.
Unity of opposites or Modern political dialectics
NATO is waging hybrid, officially undeclared war with Russia on the side of Ukraine. Turkey is not just a member of NATO, it has the largest and most powerful army among NATO members, second only to the United States. From the very beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey actively helped Kyiv, primarily in supply of weapons, including Bayraktar drones that played significant role in the first months of the war. Russian troops had to shoot down hundreds of Bayraktar drones (by November 3, 2022, Russian troops shot down 2,414 Ukrainian drones, mostly supplied by NATO countries, including Turkey).
And yet, Putin and Erdogan regularly communicate by phone and meet, not as enemies, but as partners. It was Erdogan who initiated and organized the peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow in March, as well as the grain deal in July, and then its resumption in November 2022. No negotiations in Istanbul would have even begun if Putin had not given Erdogan his prior consent, and also did not define the scope of possible agreements during preliminary negotiations with Erdogan personally.
Since the start of Russian military operation in Ukraine and imposition of sanctions against Russia by NATO countries, Turkey has not only refused to join those sanctions, but has sharply increased its trade turnover with Russia: over the nine months of the war in Ukraine, Turkey’s trade turnover with Russia has grown by 200%, losing the first place only to India that increased trade with Russia by 350%.
However, Turkey is not the only NATO country that, in violation of the Western sanctions against Russia, has dramatically increased trade turnover with Moscow. If the United States reduced its trade with Russia by 35% and the UK by 80%, Germany reduced its trade with Russia by only 3%, and Belgium that supplies liquefied gas to the UK, increased its trade turnover with Russia by 81%, and Netherlands by 32%. Someone needs to pay the sanctions fees and someone has to profiteer!
Photo: Change in the volume of trade of different countries with Russia (data for October 2022)
Turkey is actively expanding its influence in the former Soviet states in Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey’s influence in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan is growing rapidly, reducing, and in some countries already surpassing the Russian presence in the economies of these countries. Ankara is also becoming influential player in politics in those regions.
And yet, no one noticed open conflicts between Moscow and Turkey. The Kremlin is not taking tough action to limit the growth of Ankara’s influence in the post-Soviet space. In fact, Putin allows the expansion of Turkey’s influence in the countries of the former USSR.
Putin and Erdogan not only meet as partners, but in the event of aggravation of the situation in those regions, they act to avoid aggravation of Russian-Turkish relations, preventing uncontrolled development of the situation.
Turkey is important member of NATO, but Ankara purchased Russian S-400 air defense systems, despite anger from the US and NATO. Turkey has been striving to join the EU for many years, but at the same time it is building its energy and economic security on the basis of cooperation with Russia. During the war in Ukraine, Turkey agreed to build second nuclear power plant by Russia, as well as new gas pipeline under the Black Sea, Turkish Stream 2, that will allow Russia to replace the damaged pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2. That will allow Turkey to become the largest energy exporter and gas hub in Europe.
For many years, Germany was the main European gas hub. That to a large extent allowed Germany, using cheap gas from Russia as source of energy and raw material for industry, to become industrial giant and locomotive of the EU. Back in the summer of 2020, Germany paid 15 times less for gas to Russia than it has to pay now. Turkey has chance now to become industrial and energy locomotive of Europe for the coming decades.
So, what’s going on? What is behind the Putin-Erdogan partnership phenomenon? How can the development of Russian-Turkish relations influence the development of international relations, including between the West, NATO and Russia? Who is Erdogan in the West-Turkey-Russia triangle: mediator or independent player? What place in Europe and the world can Turkey occupy if it continues to maintain “strange relations” with Russia that some Russian media called “new neutrality”?
Turkey’s place in the future world order
The confrontation between Russia and China, on one side, and the West, on the other side, began as struggle against dominance of the United States and for equality in international affairs, but — and I have been writing this since 2020 — this struggle, inevitably and regardless of the plans of the Kremlin and Beijing, had to be transformed into struggle for new world order based on equality of the leading powers, centers of world civilizations.
Culture and historical experience, spiritual traditions and moral values that create social capital of nations, their creative potential, in the modern world play increasing role and have become the main factors in their economic development and maintaining social stability.
With the growth of influence in the world economy and politics of China, India, Russia and the weakening of the dominance of the West in the modern world, attempts to build new world order based on the interaction and development of major civilizations became inevitable. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping started talking about the need to create that kind of new world order in early 2022.
The West resists these attempts, believing that the world order built on the principles of Western democracy not only ensures the dominance of the United States and its allies, but is also the most effective system of international relations that meets interests of the world. The confrontation between the West, on the one hand, and group of civilizations led by Russia and China, is growing, and more and more countries openly or covertly begin to support the idea of restructuring international relations.
The new world order, according to the group of rebels, should be built not so much on competition and rivalry, and balance of political and economic interests, but on equality and guarantees of the strategic security of civilizational formations.
World civilizations will have to create rules and laws on the basis of moral principles and values, embedded in all traditional religions, that will oblige the world leaders to perform not as just competitors and rivals, but as partners.
All world civilizations should have equal rights, including the right to independent social and economic development in accordance with their special civilizational principles and values, culture, worldview and spirituality, faith and the traditional system of social and economic relations. It is on that basis of equality, equal security and traditional moral values and principles that relations between civilizations should be built.
The dominance of one civilization in the world — be it Western, Chinese, Russian or Indian – that differs from others is unacceptable.
Regardless of awareness of state leaders, of how they formulate their understanding of situation, of how and by whom that ideology of civilizational partnership has been developed and formulated, the above-mentioned ideological principles have become the basis for uniting political, economic and military efforts of Russia and China, as well as other states that openly or quietly and covertly support the rebels and also claim to be the centers of world civilizations.
Russia and China are supported by Iran, India, the Arab world, by Southeast Asian, Latin American and African countries that do not have rigid allied obligations to the USA and Europe. Most importantly, they have one more, «quiet», ally among NATO members — Turkey.
Restoration of the Turkic civilization
Turkey not only understands what Putin and Xi are proposing, but also supports their plans, acting as intermediary and as bridge between Russia and the West, primarily Europe in economic field and NATO in military.
Turkey is also striving to take its place in the future Supergroup of World Civilizations, and for several years now it has been striving not only to expand its zone of influence, but to unite the Turkic peoples into political and economic union that can restore Turkic civilization with Turkey as its center.
Ankara considers the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, and even some regions of Russia, as territories for possible re-creation, expansion or construction of new Turkic civilization.
Putin and the Kremlin do not believe that spreading of Turkish influence in these regions poses strategic threat to Russia’s interests. It seems that Erdogan and Putin reached understanding that civilizations may not be confined and limited by state borders, that they can spread and cover territories of other countries, including those that do not have common borders with the civilizational center, but most importantly, zones of influence of other civilizations.
It seems that Ankara and the Kremlin have come to the understanding that Russian and Turkic civilizations can spread to the regions of settlement of Russian-speaking and Turkic peoples, their decussation, interacting and developing, exerting positive mutual influence without creating irreconcilable contradictions.
Restoration of the Turkic civilization will allow Turkey to significantly strengthen its position not only in the Caucasian region and Central Asia, but also in Europe and in the world. Turkey sees its chance in taking position of the leading military power in Europe that has the largest army, as well as allies in Asia, and the economic locomotive with access to all energy and raw materials provided by Russia and Central Asia.
Turkey can also soon use the demographic factor in Europe. There are currently 4 million Turks living in Germany alone. Rising numbers of immigrants from Asia, including those of Turkic origin, allow Turkey to create pro-Turkish political organizations in Europe in the near future that can influence the outcome of elections and have significant impact on the policy of the EU.
Having created its own civilization, becoming the organizational and ideological center of the Turkic world, having received mandate to represent the interests of Turkic peoples round the world, Turkey will be able to legally get its place in the SuperGroup of World Powers, where the most important issues of world will be resolved.