Summary: 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.
Analysis
Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis
by Ian O. Lesser
May 6, 2014
Washington, DC • Berlin • Paris
Brussels • Belgrade • Ankara
Bucharest • Warsaw • Tunis
OF F I C E S
Analysis
Introduction
It is emblematic of the complex
Turkish calculus on Ukraine that
while Ankara refuses to acknowl-
edge Russian sovereignty in Crimea,
Turkish Airlines still fies to Simfer-
opol. Ankara has many reasons to
prefer an arms-length approach to the
crisis in Ukraine, and the even more
consequential question of Russian-
Western relations. Turkey’s decade-
long preference for 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 fray well before the crisis
over Ukraine. Today, the approach may
no longer be sustainable, as a series
of competing domestic and external
policy interests present Ankara with
difcult choices. 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 transat-
lantic partners.
Critical but Uncertain Relations
with Moscow
Turkey’s economic relationship with
Russia has been of vital importance
to the country’s commercially driven
external policy, and has helped fuel
a dynamic economy over the last
decade. Since the 1990s, Russia has
been Turkey’s leading individual
trading partner, a reality driven largely
by energy trade. Natural gas imports
from Russia now account for some
60 percent of Turkish requirements.
Recent Turkish energy investments
in Northern Iraq, imports from Iran,
and proposed new interconnectors
could ofset this dependency over the
coming years. So, too, might Turkish
participation in the production of gas
from new fnds in the Eastern Medi-
terranean, although these are some
years away under the most favorable
estimates, and will depend critically on
the resolution of disputes with Cyprus
and Israel — both far from obvious
developments. Turkey’s troubled EU
candidacy also complicates Ankara’s
ability to contribute to and beneft
from any EU-wide steps toward energy
diversifcation. For the moment,
Ankara has very limited means to
escape from its substantial dependence
on Russian gas exports, including tran-
sits through Ukraine. In this respect,
Turkey is in much the same position as
some of its leading European partners.
Analysis
2
Analysis
Ankara’s economic stakes go well beyond energy security.
Turkish frms are signifcant providers of goods and services
to Russia, notably in pharmaceuticals and construction,
and there has been considerable cross investment in real
estate. At a time of deepening concern over the stability
and growth of the Turkish economy, Turkish businesses,
including banks, are highly exposed to the consequences of
economic sanctions against Moscow and economic insta-
bility in Russia and Ukraine. As a matter of general prefer-
ence, Turkey has been unenthusiastic about sanctions as
an instrument of policy, whether toward Iraq in the 1990s
or toward Iran. Indeed, Turkey itself has been the object
of 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 Turkey was
an integral element in the European security equation for
hundreds of years, and variations on the “Eastern question”
played a considerable role in European afairs from the 18
th

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 frictions, despite
occasional diferences (e.g., the sale of Russian arms to
Cyprus, and Russian suspicions of Turkish involvement
with separatists in Chechnya). By most accounts, Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Vladimir
Putin have had a very cordial relationship. Indeed, critics
of Turkey’s prime minister ofen accuse him of adopting
Putin’s authoritarian style. Tat said, major diferences over
Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria have cast a
chill over the relationship. 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.
In a more fundamental sense, relations between Turkey and
Russia have benefted from some common characteristics.
Te Soviet and Kemalist traditions, in particular, shared a
high degree of sovereignty consciousness, a declared attach-
ment to non-interference in the afairs of neighbors, a sensi-
tivity regarding borders, and an essentially conservative
approach to foreign policymaking. Both countries could be
described as status quo powers in the Kissingerian sense of
the term. Over the last decade, both Ankara and Moscow
have moved quite far from this traditionally cautious, risk
averse posture — dramatically so in the case of Russian
behavior in Georgia, and now in Crimea and Ukraine. From
a Russian perspective, Turkish activism in the Middle East
and Eurasia must also seem a departure from past practice,
especially on Syria. For Turkey, the Ukraine crisis raises the
troubling prospect of Russia as a rogue state, rather than a
predictable if sometimes difcult geo-economic partner. If
Turkey and Russia are, at base, long-term strategic competi-
tors, this competition has very diferent implications when
caution is no longer the order of the day in foreign 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 signifcant factor in
Turkish foreign policy. It is now an essential part of the
equation in policy toward Syria, Northern Iraq, and of
course, Armenia and Cyprus. For some time, Turkey has
had vocal lobbies engaged in debates over Bosnia, Kosovo,
Chechnya, and the defense of ethnic Turks abroad — from
Turkmen in Northern Iraq to Uyghurs in western China.
Te force of populism, nationalism, and religious identity
on the contemporary Turkish scene gives this Turkic factor
a strong resonance in public and elite opinion. Te outlook
for the Crimean Tatar community has already emerged as
one of the drivers of Turkish interest in the Ukraine crisis.
If the community comes under further pressure from 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.
Analysis
3
Analysis
ment will fnd 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 of a fundamen-
tally changed strategic relationship with Russia will have
special implications for Turkey as a NATO ally confronting
multiple sources of risk. First, the current crisis under-
scores the return of hard security challenges on Turkey’s
borders. In some respects, Ukraine is simply the latest in a
series of crises that have undermined Turkey’s sof-power
approach to its neighborhood. Long before the events in
Kyiv, Ankara faced chaos in Syria, the spread of proxy wars
in the Levant, the unresolved nuclear dispute with Iran,
and a still simmering threat from PKK (Kurdistan Workers
Party) insurgency and terrorism. Now Turkey also faces an
escalating security challenge in the Black Sea. But Ankara
may have a hard time balancing its desire for reassurance
and deterrence vis-a-vis an assertive Russia with its desire to
avoid confrontation with Moscow.
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. Te Turkish public and many elites remain highly
suspicious of U.S. and European policy toward Turkey
and its region. Te prime minister and key fgures in the
ruling party have done little to dispel this climate of 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
Turkish firtation with Eurasian (read Russian) alterna-
tives, and the rather non-aligned tenor of the recent Turkish
foreign policy discourse. Allied deployments of Patriot
missile batteries to reinforce Turkey’s air defenses on the
Syrian border have garnered little praise in Turkey. Te
possibility that Ankara may opt for a Chinese supplied air
defense system in preference to U.S. and European — and
Russian — suppliers has not been well received in NATO
circles. Ultimately, Turkey has important stakes in the
NATO security guarantee, but the Ukraine crisis makes
clear that a good deal of maintenance is required in Turkey’s
strategic partnerships.
Tird, and more positively, the Ukraine crisis is likely to
drive NATO strategy and planning in directions Turkish
strategists will prefer. Tere is already less pressure for
further NATO enlargement, at least beyond the Balkans,
and closer attention to the credibility of Article V commit-
ments to existing members. As NATO heads toward a crit-
ical summit in September, there is likely to be less interest
in expeditionary missions and more interest in territorial
defense, broadly defned. At base, Turkey takes a relatively
traditional approach to NATO policy, and a Ukraine-driven
posture will also serve the Turkish interest in addressing
tangible security risks on its own borders. Tat said, 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 manage-
ment.
“Bridge or Barrier” Redux
Te crisis in Ukraine, and the prospect of a more confron-
tational relationship with Russia confronts Turkey with
a series of difcult choices in multiple policy arenas. Te
issues, from energy security to sanctions, from defense
posture to the interests of ethnic Turks abroad, are chal-
lenging in their own right — all the more so as they come
at a time of economic and political stress for the country.
To 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.
Analysis
4
Analysis
About the Author
Ian Lesser is Executive Director of the Transatlantic Center, the Brus-
sels ofce of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where
he also directs foreign and security policy programs across GMF. Te
opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent the
views of GMF, its staf or directors.
About GMF
Te German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens
transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges
and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by
supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic
sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business
communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic
topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed
commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF
supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded
in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-proft organization through a gif from
Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF
maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition
to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has ofces in Berlin,
Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF
also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s
current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular anal-
ysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and
intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish
observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www.
gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database.
gmfus.org/reaction.
calls into question the European security order writ large,
Turkey is very likely headed for a sharper debate about its
own strategic position and role in transatlantic security
arrangements. Is Turkey returning to its traditional role as a
barrier in relation to this and other sources of risk? Over the
last decade or more, Turkish strategy has aimed at avoiding
these geopolitical conundrums by putting Turkey at the
center of regional afairs. Te Ukraine crisis suggests that
the window for this approach is closing rapidly.

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