6 reasons Russia and Turkey will struggle to become strategic partners

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 9, 2016.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 9, 2016.

The Russian-Turkish rapprochement obtained during the Aug. 9 summit in St. Petersburg must not engender unrealistic expectations and excessive illusions. There are still many problems and serious contradictions in relations between Moscow and Ankara for there to be, as some commentators are already saying, a "strategic alliance" between Russia and Turkey.

1. Syria

The primary problem is the diametrically opposed position of the sides on the Syrian conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to have him overthrown. In this sense nothing has changed.

Ankara also has not stopped backing Syrian opposition units, those who are now advancing on Aleppo and who are being bombed by Russia's air force. We should not forget that it was the contradiction on Syria that had led to an unprecedented crisis in bilateral relations after the downing of the Russian bomber in November 2015. These contradictions persist.

2. The Kurds

The second problem is also related to the Syrian civil war – the Kurds. For Ankara the Kurdish units in Syria who are fighting with the Islamist radicals are opponents, separatists and accomplices of the "terrorists" from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, against which Erdogan is waging a war. For Moscow the Syrian Kurds are potential allies. Moscow has also traditionally had special relations with the Turkish Kurds, whom it does not consider enemies.

3. Nagorno-Karabakh

The third problem is related to the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, now in its third decade. With all its measured statements and equidistance, Moscow is perceived in the world as Armenia's potential ally, since they are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. As for Turkey, it does not even try to show objectivity and impartiality. Ankara is unequivocally on Baku's side.

4. Competition in the CIS

The fourth problem concerns the post-Soviet space. Ankara has good relations with the Turkic republics of the former USSR (besides Azerbaijan, there is Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan) and for Moscow is thus a geopolitical competitor. A special and painful issue is Turkey's penetration into the "brotherly" Turkish-language republics of the Russian Federation.

5. Anti-Kremlin elements in Turkey

The fifth problem regards the fact that organizations that are openly hostile to Moscow (Crimean Tatars and those from the North Caucasus) are active on Turkish territory without any restrictions. They are supported by many influential diasporas. Therefore, even if he wanted to remove this irritant in relations with Russia, Erdogan would encounter serious opposition inside his country.

6. Lack of trust

The sixth problem is the crisis in trust. Moscow no longer publicly speaks about the incident with the downed Russian plane. But it has not been forgotten. Just like the hostile statements made by Turkish officials, including Erdogan, immediately after the incident have also not been forgotten. It would have been strange if after the destruction of the Su-24 Moscow had not come to certain conclusions about the Turkish government's reliability and predictability.

Finally, there is a seventh problem: the current rapprochement, in a significant way, is forced. The West perceives Moscow, and as of recently Ankara, cautiously; it is distancing itself from them. In such a situation the attempt to find an alternative partner and break out of international isolation seems completely natural. At the same time there is no certainty that Turkey, if its relations with the US and EU normalize, will continue cooperation with Russia and realize such projects as the Turkish Stream.

That is why we should not speak about a strategic partnership between Moscow and Ankara yet. It would be better to speak of its imitation. However, in comparison to the state of an imminent armed conflict that we saw half a year ago, the current reconciliation is great progress. It gives hope that the sides are trying to solve at least some of the above-mentioned problems.

The article was first published in Russian by Kommersant.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

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