In Focus | Fluctuating Turkish-Russian relations between cooperation and tension
The relationship between Turkey and Russia is a complex relationship defined by realities on the ground, despite the political contradictions between the two parties.
The joint cooperation between the two sides has escalated since the beginning of 2016, following the downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border targeted by a Turkish fighter jet. In 2020, many tensions have arisen between Moscow and Ankara which are played out in Libya and Syria.
The main reasons that led to the two sides converging and cooperating can be summarized as follows:
1- Russian ambition to find influence in the Mediterranean region, which requires coordination with the various states active in the region.
2- Russian desire to find a true international partner with whom to achieve a political solution in Syria according to Moscow’s vision. This requires working with Turkey which has the greatest influence with the Syrian opposition and its affiliated military factions.
3- Russian efforts to disturb NATO through joint action with Turkey given Turkey’s position as the advanced protection for the alliance’s southern flank.
4- The economic relations between the two countries which are vital for both in the short and strategic term.
5- The military file and Turkey’s need to obtain an advanced air defense missile system as well as build nuclear stations.
Several recent factors have resulted in the rise of tension in the relations between the two sides. The most important of these factors are:
1- Russian insistence on reaching a final solution regarding the international highways in Idlib province specifically the M4 highway which would harm Turkish interests.
2- The two countries are at odds regarding the Libyan file as Russia supports Major General Khalifa Haftar while Turkey entered a strategic alliance with the Government of National Accord. The Sirte Basin file is one of the most important points of contention between Moscow and Ankara regarding the Libyan file.
3- Turkish steps in the field of energy, specifically gas, whether exploring for energy in the Mediterranean or the announcement of the discovery of gas fields in the Black Sea. In addition to Turkey’s tendency to search for new sources of gas in Azerbaijan, Qatar and African countries.
These steps will affect one of the most important ties between Ankara and Moscow, especially after Russian gas sales to Turkey fell to their lowest level since the 1990s, reaching 42%, the equivalent of 9 billion cubic meters.
4- Ankara’s endeavor to act as a gas distribution platform for European countries which harms Russian interests as it turns Ankara into competition for Moscow on the European market.
Despite the tensions and conflict of interest at times, the two sides desire to maintain balanced relations and reduce the causes for dispute as much as possible to enable their continued cooperation due to the various economic and political motives previously mentioned.
It seems that the future of relations between the two sides and the nature of those relations is linked to several influences, namely:
1- Their ability to reach a holistic understanding concerning the Syrian file, whether in northwestern Syria or northeastern Syria and the framework of the political process. This is especially concerning Russia’s response to the future and fate of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
2- Turkey’s relationship with the United States of America and the impact of the upcoming presidential elections on the future of that relationship. It is unclear if the relationship will improve in the event Trump wins a second presidential term, given his good relationship with Erdogan or how the arrival of the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, to the White House will affect the relationship.
3- Russia’s position on the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean basin as recent indicators show a Russian rapprochement with Cyprus and France at Turkey’s expense. Russian’s final dealings on this this file will be reflected in the relationship between Turkey and Russia.
4- Russia’s dealing with Turkey’s security concerns and interests in Syria, and the extent of its intransigence or flexibility regarding the Turkish role in the Syrian file.
Unit of Analysis and Thinking - Jusoor for Studies