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Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis

Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis

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This policy brief explores the relationship between Turkey and Russia.
This policy brief explores the relationship between Turkey and Russia.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on May 06, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Over the longer-term,
a more competitive and confict-
prone relationship between Russia and the West will test the foundations of recent Turkish foreign policy. It will also test Ankara’s cooperation with transatlantic partners. First, the current crisis underscores the return of hard security challenges on Turkey’s borders. Second, the crisis in relations with Russia comes at a time of considerable unease in Turkey’s relations with NATO partners, many of which are not on the same page when it comes to Syria and other questions of deep concern to Ankara. Third, and more positively, the Ukraine crisis is likely to drive NATO strategy and planning in directions Turkish strategists will prefer.
 Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis
by Ian O. Lesser 
May 6, 2014
W󰁡󰁳󰁨󰁩󰁮󰁧󰁴󰁯󰁮, DC • B󰁥󰁲󰁬󰁩󰁮 • P󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁳 B󰁲󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁥󰁬󰁳 • B󰁥󰁬󰁧󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁥 •
A󰁮󰁫󰁡󰁲󰁡 B󰁵󰁣󰁨󰁡󰁲󰁥󰁳󰁴 • W󰁡󰁲󰁳󰁡󰁷 • T󰁵󰁮󰁩󰁳
It is emblematic o the complex urkish calculus on Ukraine that while Ankara reuses to acknowl-edge Russian sovereignty in Crimea, urkish Airlines still flies to Simer-opol. Ankara has many reasons to preer an arms-length approach to the crisis in Ukraine, and the even more consequential question o Russian-Western relations. urkey’s decade-long preerence or a zero-problems approach in relations with neighbors has paid particular dividends in rela-tions with Russia. But this approach to policy across the Black Sea was starting to ray well beore the crisis over Ukraine. oday, the approach may no longer be sustainable, as a series o competing domestic and external policy interests present Ankara with difficult choices. Over the longer-term, a more competitive and conflict-prone relationship between Russia and the West will test the oundations o recent urkish oreign policy. It will also test Ankara’s cooperation with transat-lantic partners.
Critical but Uncertain Relations with Moscow
urkey’s economic relationship with Russia has been o vital importance to the country’s commercially driven external policy, and has helped uel a dynamic economy over the last decade. Since the 1990s, Russia has been urkey’s leading individual trading partner, a reality driven largely by energy trade. Natural gas imports rom Russia now account or some 60 percent o urkish requirements. Recent urkish energy investments in Northern Iraq, imports rom Iran, and proposed new interconnectors could offset this dependency over the coming years. So, too, might urkish participation in the production o gas rom new finds in the Eastern Medi-terranean, although these are some years away under the most avorable estimates, and will depend critically on the resolution o disputes with Cyprus and Israel — both ar rom obvious developments. urkey’s troubled EU candidacy also complicates Ankara’s ability to contribute to and benefit rom any EU-wide steps toward energy diversification. For the moment, Ankara has very limited means to escape rom its substantial dependence on Russian gas exports, including tran-sits through Ukraine. In this respect, urkey is in much the same position as some o its leading European partners.
Ankaras economic stakes go well beyond energy security. urkish firms are significant providers o goods and services to Russia, notably in pharmaceuticals and construction, and there has been considerable cross investment in real estate. At a time o deepening concern over the stability and growth o the urkish economy, urkish businesses, including banks, are highly exposed to the consequences o economic sanctions against Moscow and economic insta-bility in Russia and Ukraine. As a matter o general preer-ence, urkey has been unenthusiastic about sanctions as an instrument o policy, whether toward Iraq in the 1990s or toward Iran. Indeed, urkey itsel has been the object o periodic U.S. and European sanctions, principally over the Cyprus dispute. In the toughening Western debate over economic as well as political sanctions on Moscow, Ankara is unlikely to be in the vanguard.Geopolitical competition between Russia and urkey was an integral element in the European security equation or hundreds o years, and variations on the “Eastern questionplayed a considerable role in European affairs rom the 18
 century through World War I. But in contemporary terms, and even during the Cold War, relations have enjoyed a wary stability. In the post-Cold War period, Ankara and Moscow have largely avoided serious rictions, despite occasional differences (e.g., the sale o Russian arms to Cyprus, and Russian suspicions o urkish involvement with separatists in Chechnya). By most accounts, Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan and President Vladimir Putin have had a very cordial relationship. Indeed, critics o urkey’s prime minister ofen accuse him o adopting Putin’s authoritarian style. Tat said, major differences over Russia’s support or the Assad regime in Syria have cast a chill over the relationship. But or the degree o economic interdependence between the two countries, Syria would almost certainly be a much more prominent irritant in urkish-Russian relations. In a more undamental sense, relations between urkey and Russia have benefited rom some common characteristics. Te Soviet and Kemalist traditions, in particular, shared a high degree o sovereignty consciousness, a declared attach-ment to non-intererence in the affairs o neighbors, a sensi-tivity regarding borders, and an essentially conservative approach to oreign policymaking. Both countries could be described as status quo powers in the Kissingerian sense o the term. Over the last decade, both Ankara and Moscow have moved quite ar rom this traditionally cautious, risk averse posture — dramatically so in the case o Russian behavior in Georgia, and now in Crimea and Ukraine. From a Russian perspective, urkish activism in the Middle East and Eurasia must also seem a departure rom past practice, especially on Syria. For urkey, the Ukraine crisis raises the troubling prospect o Russia as a rogue state, rather than a predictable i sometimes difficult geo-economic partner. I urkey and Russia are, at base, long-term strategic competi-tors, this competition has very different implications when caution is no longer the order o the day in oreign policy.
Domestic Politics and the Tatar Issue
Under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) govern-ment, and with progressive changes in civil-military rela-tions, public opinion has become a significant actor in urkish oreign policy. It is now an essential part o the equation in policy toward Syria, Northern Iraq, and o course, Armenia and Cyprus. For some time, urkey has had vocal lobbies engaged in debates over Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, and the deense o ethnic urks abroad — rom urkmen in Northern Iraq to Uyghurs in western China. Te orce o populism, nationalism, and religious identity on the contemporary urkish scene gives this urkic actor a strong resonance in public and elite opinion. Te outlook or the Crimean atar community has already emerged as one o the drivers o urkish interest in the Ukraine crisis. I the community comes under urther pressure rom the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea, the Erdoğan govern-
But for the degree of economic interdependence between the two countries, Syria would almost certainly be a much more prominent irritant in Turkish-Russian relations.
ment will find it hard to ignore their plight, especially with presidential and general elections on the horizon.
A Pivot to Euroatlantic Security?
Te crisis in Ukraine and the prospect o a undamen-tally changed strategic relationship with Russia will have special implications or urkey as a NAO ally conronting multiple sources o risk. First, the current crisis under-scores the return o hard security challenges on urkey’s borders. In some respects, Ukraine is simply the latest in a series o crises that have undermined urkey’s sof-power approach to its neighborhood. Long beore the events in Kyiv, Ankara aced chaos in Syria, the spread o proxy wars in the Levant, the unresolved nuclear dispute with Iran, and a still simmering threat rom PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) insurgency and terrorism. Now urkey also aces an escalating security challenge in the Black Sea. But Ankara may have a hard time balancing its desire or reassurance and deterrence vis-a-vis an assertive Russia with its desire to avoid conrontation with Moscow. Second, the crisis in relations with Russia comes at a time o considerable unease in urkey’s relations with NAO partners, many o which are not on the same page when it comes to Syria and other questions o deep concern to Ankara. Te urkish public and many elites remain highly suspicious o U.S. and European policy toward urkey and its region. Te prime minister and key figures in the ruling party have done little to dispel this climate o suspi-cion. Indeed, the rhetoric about interest rate lobbies and Western hands behind the recent corruption scandals has spurred transatlantic concern about Ankara’s commitment to relations with Washington and Brussels. So, too, has the urkish flirtation with Eurasian (read Russian) alterna-tives, and the rather non-aligned tenor o the recent urkish oreign policy discourse. Allied deployments o Patriot missile batteries to reinorce urkey’s air deenses on the Syrian border have garnered little praise in urkey. Te possibility that Ankara may opt or a Chinese supplied air deense system in preerence to U.S. and European — and Russian — suppliers has not been well received in NAO circles. Ultimately, urkey has important stakes in the NAO security guarantee, but the Ukraine crisis makes clear that a good deal o maintenance is required in urkey’s strategic partnerships.Tird, and more positively, the Ukraine crisis is likely to drive NAO strategy and planning in directions urkish strategists will preer. Tere is already less pressure or urther NAO enlargement, at least beyond the Balkans, and closer attention to the credibility o Article V commit-ments to existing members. As NAO heads toward a crit-ical summit in September, there is likely to be less interest in expeditionary missions and more interest in territorial deense, broadly defined. At base, urkey takes a relatively traditional approach to NAO policy, and a Ukraine-driven posture will also serve the urkish interest in addressing tangible security risks on its own borders. Tat said, urkey is likely to be less enthusiastic about an expanded NAO naval presence in the Black Sea, where urkish sovereignty concerns run deep, and where Ankara (with Moscow) has generally taken a dim view o external security manage-ment.
“Bridge or Barrier” Redux
Te crisis in Ukraine, and the prospect o a more conron-tational relationship with Russia conronts urkey with a series o difficult choices in multiple policy arenas. Te issues, rom energy security to sanctions, rom deense posture to the interests o ethnic urks abroad, are chal-lenging in their own right — all the more so as they come at a time o economic and political stress or the country. o the extent that the ongoing crisis in relations with Russia
Turkey is likely to be less enthusiastic about an expanded NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, where Turkish sovereignty concerns run deep, and where Ankara (with Moscow) has generally taken a dim view of external security management.

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