The Warming of Turkish-Russian Relations: Motives and Implications

Article excerpt

Abstract: Relations between Turkey and Russia have taken significant turns for the better in the past several years, culminating in the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow in December 2004 and followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's reciprocal trip to Ankara in January 2005. How can we begin to account for this rather sudden warming of relations between Turkey and Russia, and what does this mean for the region? These questions can perhaps best be approached from the perspective of the larger regional landscape of issues whose substance and potential resolution are of particular importance to Turkey and Russia. These can be conveniently parsed into matters of (1) mutual economic and financial advantage, (2) regional security concerns, and (3) domestic political considerations. The present improvement of relations between Russia and Turkey has unfolded in the context of Turkey and Russia's simultaneously complex and somewhat conflicted orientations toward the Western world in general, and post-Soviet increase in U.S. global influence in particular. In any case, the improvement of Turkish-Russian relations will significantly alter the geopolitical landscape of Eurasia for the foreseeable future.

Key words: Chechnya, Eurasia, European Union, Recep Erdogan, Russia, terrorism, Turkey, Vladimir Putin

**********

Relations between Turkey and Russia have taken significant turns for the better in the past several years, culminating in the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow in December 2004, and followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's reciprocal trip to Ankara in January 2005. This was the first time a Russian chief of state had paid an official visit to Turkey. (1) The latter meeting was timed, perhaps not coincidentally, to occur just before the European Union summit meeting in Brussels, which included the perennial matter of Turkish membership on its agenda. Although those visits are significant in their own right, they are emblematic of a larger significant shift in each country's disposition to the other, and in some respects are symptomatic of shifting political orientations in their domestic and international politics. As Shireen T. Hunter asserts, "Turkish and Russian officials increasingly refer to their respective countries as two great Eurasian powers, indicating that the Turkish and Russian versions of Eurasianism need not be competitive. Rather, they can be complementary." (2) This article explores the contours of this changing landscape with an eye toward identifying and critically analyzing alternative interpretations of the reasons for the emergence of a more cooperative set of relations between Turkey and Russia. It also does so from the perspective of the implications for democracy in each of these countries and the region more generally.

This remarkable turn toward greater cooperation between Russia and Turkey calls for commentary on several grounds, not least of which is the long history of suspicion, studied alienation, and overt military conflict between the two countries. As Lesser notes, "[d]espite the fact that Turkey no longer shares a border with Russia, Ankara still continues to view Russia with concern. A long tradition of Russo-Turkish competition contributes to Turkish unease, and reinforces more modern worries about Moscow as a geopolitical competitor and a source of regional risk." (3) That unease, however, appears to be giving way to substantial change. Improved relations between these two significant powers will certainly shape the contours of domestic and foreign politics in Eurasia well beyond each country's current regime. (4) This is already evident in terms of rapidly expanding trade (from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to approximately $10 billion in 2004, and projections of $25 billion by 2007), (5) something akin to a military detente (if not rapprochement), an increasing measure of regional cooperation in attempted conflict resolution, and perhaps most demonstrably, diplomatic exchange. …