Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Turkey today, accompanied by 10 ministers, for a very important visit. The visits to Turkey by Russian leaders, particularly those like Putin who retransformed Russia into a global power after the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, are so important that all others capitals are alerted by them.
What really alarms those capital cities are the geopolitical calculations, regardless of the impact on global markets that major commercial partnerships, energy issues and defense cooperation between Turkey and Russia might have.
Of course, it is not strange when those that debate Turkish-Russian relations limit the debate to conjectural commercial partnerships and not to lasting geopolitical realities. This is because Russia is Turkey’s largest trading partner. The volume of trade between the two countries is estimated at US$ 100 billion. A potential market valued at US$ 2 trillion exists. We are also talking about major energy-based equations that could shape the maps of global power sharing. Russia is the country that is the center of the energy balance between East and West. It is carrying out gigantic energy projects, particularly in Asia, that are worth US$ 10-20 billion.
However, it is necessary to debate Turkey and Russia’s situation in the context of another and a more permanent topic, apart from the importance of commercial relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the mindset prevalent in Turkey of focusing on the short term does not allow for such debates.
Following the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the plan was for Russia to be confined to an even narrower space and forced into a corner after a second process of disbanding in the region. This was one of the most vital aims of the unipolar super century project, with the United States at the forefront. This failed to materialize though. Russia prevented this second disbanding from happening, and furthermore, succeeded in reproducing a new imperial discourse and strength.
This situation was perhaps the most important development that led to the calculations for a unipolar world going astray. The issuing of a political challenge against the projects of the 21st century by Asia’s rising economies, and this stance by Russia, proved that the Atlantic axis would not shape the 21st century. The equation changed and new regions, new basins of economic and political power began to be created.
Turkey, during this period, while remaining within the Atlantic axis, started its search to expand its maneuvering space. Turkey’s political intelligentsia, which was aware of these global axial shifts, went through an incubation period. Turkey managed to read the global situation well during this period, and laid the foundations to develop a road map. While remaining a part of the Western axis, it would enter into partnerships with its neighbors, growing markets and rising power bases. Thereby, it would enter an era of comprehensively opening up to the world, facing up to its own weaknesses, and trying to be present in all areas of a multipolar global system.
Turkey succeeded in accomplishing this. It attained major success with its extra-national partnership projects. However, the members of the axis that Turkey was part of did not want it to make such strides and sabotaged these regional projects through hard-hitting interventions. These developments need to be debated in length and in depth, but let us focus on the present and current issues.
In recent times, Turkey and Russia have made two vital geopolitical interventions. Both these interventions turned the West’s calculations on its head, and are of the nature that reflects both countries’ past and their former imperial sensitivities. Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Ukraine, whereas Turkey rocked the traditional balance of power in the Middle East with its theses and interventions with regard to Syria.
In opposition to the interventions made by both sides, Turkey rejects Russian theses regarding Ukraine, and Russia rejects Turkish theses regarding Syria. But in reality, both these interventions are of the type that change the rules of the game when it comes to the calculations made by the Atlantic Alliance. Regardless of the extent to which these two matters result in crises between Ankara and Moscow, they are faced with Western intervention through sanctions.
Russia is paying a heavy price in an economic sense. Even if it is known that it will come to nothing, the embargo results in major losses for Russia. However, to Moscow, this situation is not related to economics, but is based entirely on historical and geopolitical calculations. The same applies for the West.
It seems implausible to threaten Russia with economic sanctions, given that it is a resource-rich country. Let aside the long term, Russia is rich in resources to the extent that it could sustain both Russia and the world. It is said that Siberia alone has enough resources to sustain three empires.
If this is the case, then this geopolitical showdown between the West and Russia will continue to reveal itself in other forms. This is because the mindset of the Russian state and its imperial history will force it to strengthen, and remain at the core of matters. Any other situation would mean that Russia is once again destabilized and rendered ineffective.
Turkey is going through a similar phase. Turkey’s new perspective on the Middle East and the region does not favor the traditional centers of power. The only way for Turkey to shut the chapter of the 20th century and become a core power lies in refreshing its historical political memory bank and making use of the common regional wealth. This rattles the centers of tutelage.
Turkey’s approach on Syria had a major impact on the rules of the game and played havoc with the calculations of the core countries, which are its allies. Those countries feel the need to prevent these two interventions by Turkey and Russia.
This is because both these countries, apart from just these interventions, have in a way issued a challenge through their political mindset and discourse, which is independent and means that they will determine their futures on their own.
The real equation is this politically upright stance that has changed the rules of the game. Based on this perspective, a lot of effort will be exerted, and is already being exerted, to disrupt close ties between Turkey and Russia.
Moving in accord with historical reflexes also brings the conflict areas between the two countries into the open. Both countries are well aware that they will experience serious problems amongst themselves in the long term when geopolitical calculations come into play.
But for now, the fact that both these countries have an independent discourse and point of view results in the constant updating of global power-sharing maps and helps both to gain in power and strengthen their positions.
Turkey’s Syria project alerted the West and caused it concern. The birth of a new power and actor will primarily cause discomfort to the West. Even if it seems that Russia is uncomfortable about it, it is the United States and Europe that don’t want to be faced with a new and powerful Turkey.
The direct interventions in regard to who leads the country that we have been faced with during the last two years, such as Gezi and Dec. 17, can be evaluated within this context. The most vital threshold that Turkey faces during this period is the reconciliation process. They should be denied the space to carry out a new and very dangerous intervention. The political intelligentsia, aware of this, is expending maximum effort on the reconciliation process.
Turkey’s domestic political trends, their restructuring, the methods of attracting society’s attention and shaping its perceptions, and even the shaping of the media, will to a large extent be shaped on the basis of the reconciliation process. The points of resistance in the media and societal and political circles can be eroded one by one…
While the Ukrainian issue strengthened the centralist viewpoint in Russia, the Syrian issue is nourishing the centralist viewpoint among Turkey’s political intelligentsia. It is more or less known what this means for both countries. This is the source from which the discourse of “authoritarianism,” which is being spread on the orders of others, arises in Turkey.
During the Cold War period, human rights were a tool of imperialistic intervention. Now authoritarianism has been transformed into a discourse of intervention. Whereas, there exists no country more authoritarian -- where the extreme right is on the rise, where the footfalls of fascism can be heard, and authoritarian laws on states of emergency are made -- than the countries that fuel such discourse.
In this aspect, Turkey is far freer than many other European countries. While those countries have gone into their shells in the past decade, Turkey has expanded freedoms to the widest possible extent.
What I am trying to say is that Turkish-Russian relations are not just about the economy and energy. The common areas and conflict areas that exist between the two countries should be analyzed well. In my opinion, the biggest partnership between these two countries is not commercial growth but the return of both countries to making their own geopolitical calculations.
What I am trying to say is that in my opinion these are the areas that it is necessary to conduct a debate on. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not Putin, and Putin is not Erdoğan. Far in excess of attempts to find personal similarities between them, it seems that some capitals are really frightened.