Russia, Turkey: A Reduction in Tensions - September, 2008

Political analysts at Stratfor think Ankara's recent maneuverings in the Caucasus, including Gul's appearance in Yerevan, was done independent of Moscow. The Turko-centric perspective of theirs contain a lot of inaccurate presumptions as well as a good amount of wishful thinking; such as Russia being expected to "concede" to Turks. What an obsurd proposition. Putting aside for a moment many of the serious obstacles that exists for developing better relations between Armenia and Turkey, the other main flaw in Stratfor's analysis was the strange suggestion that Turkey is by-passing Russia in an attempt to win over - Armenia? Does the analysis take Armenia's strategic partnership with Russia into consideration, or the simple fact that Moscow more-or-less controls politics in Yerevan?


Russia, Turkey: A Reduction in Tensions


Events have indicated that Moscow has decided to take a softer approach with Turkey. Whether this works depends on how much Russia is willing to concede to the Turks in the Caucasus, and how much patience Turkey has for further Russian moves against the West.


Recent developments suggest the Russians have at least temporarily decided to go easy on the Turks. How long this cooling down of tensions will last will depend on how much tolerance Ankara has for further Russian aggression. The Aug. 8 Russian invasion of Georgia naturally precipitated a standoff between the Russians and the Turks. Turkey, a NATO member with a historic foothold in the Caucasus, was not happy to see the Russians taking aggressive action in the region — especially action that cut off the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and hurt Turkish energy revenues. The Turks reminded Moscow of the risks of angering Ankara by permitting a NATO naval buildup in the Black Sea in late August. The Russians promptly responded by holding up a large amount of Turkish goods at various Russian border checkpoints to put the squeeze on Turkish exports. But as Stratfor pointed out, the Russians were playing a very risky game in provoking Turkey. As the gatekeeper to the Black Sea, Turkey is NATO’s key to cutting to the Russian underbelly with the Western alliance’s superior naval forces.

The Turks have recently gone on a diplomatic frenzy to reassert their influence in the Caucasus and undermine Russian power in the region, even going so far as to engage longtime foe Armenia. In the Middle East, the Turks are just as busy talking to the Iranians and keeping the Syrians close to keep the Russians from meddling too close to Turkey. Turkey still has a range of options — from restricting Russian disruptions of the transport of Russian energy through the Black Sea to riling up ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation — at its disposal should the Russians push Ankara too far. And so it appears the Russians have chosen to placate the Turks for the time being. Two recent developments point in this direction. First, the previously mentioned trade spat between Turkey and Russia reportedly was resolved Sept. 18. According to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Hayati Yazici, Turkey and Russia signed a protocol bringing an end to the “customs crisis.” Second, Turkish newspapers reported Sept. 19 that Ankara and Moscow have signed a $100 million agreement for 800 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). For years a crucial Cold War ally of Washington, Turkey has a military heavily outfitted with U.S. — and to a lesser extent Western European — hardware. The international ATGM market is fairly broad, and Ankara’s more traditional suppliers also have late-model ATGMs available for sale. In other words, there is no clear military need for Turkey to get these ATGMs from the Russians. While the deal is not unprecedented (the Turks field a great many Russian-built BTR-80 wheeled armored personnel carriers), it is somewhat anomalous for Turkey to be signing big defense deals with Russia against this revived Cold War backdrop. It is not yet clear which ATGM the Russian arms monopoly Rosoboronexport will deliver to the Turks, but Moscow does offer an ATGM system for the Russian-built BTR series. If that system proves to be the one just purchased, it would make Russia the logical choice — if not the only eligible supplier.

But at this point, given what we know, this is another instance in which all obstacles seemed to have suddenly melted away. Above all else, we notice the timing of this arms deal. While it appears that Turkey is entertaining Russian offers for cooperation, this apparent respite could prove to be short-lived, depending on Russia’s next moves. With hints of the Russians already making moves in the Middle East through covert activity in Lebanon and talk of arms deals to the Iranians, the Turks (along with the Israelis) are on guard. Moreover, the Europeans are quite intentionally playing up the idea that Turkey is central to NATO strategy against Russia, and that Turkish-European relations must be protected at all costs.

For Turkey to take any big steps in smoothing over things with Russia, it will expect Moscow to cede significant influence to the Turks in the Caucasus. This is particularly true in Azerbaijan, where Turkey’s foothold is the strongest and where it can access Caspian Sea energy reserves. For Turkey to have direct access to Azerbaijan, it must bring Armenia under its wing. From the Russian point of view, however, this could prove to be a nonnegotiable point. As much as the Russians do not wish to get drawn into a geopolitical battle with the Turks, Moscow has a strategic need to consolidate its influence in the Caucasus. Turkey will have a difficult balancing act to play in the coming weeks and months, as conflicts will inevitably arise between its commitment to NATO and its separate dealings with Russia (Turkey’s largest trading partner). Russia, meanwhile, will carefully weigh the risks of offending Ankara as it plans its next moves against the West.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

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