Turkey and Russia Soon to Renew Relations

by Robert Olson

Turkey and Israel first had to agree to exchange ambassadors so that Turkey and Russia could also mend relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will probably schedule a face-to-face meeting at the G20 summit meeting in China in September.

The main reasons for the reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, like the forthcoming restoration of ties between Turkey and Russia, are Syria’s collapse and Iraq’s fragmentation. Turkey and Israel have now agreed that they will share geopolitical strategies regarding Gaza, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. With this issue decided, both countries will be able to engage more fully on establishing their geopolitical dominance over Syria.

In order to establish that dominance, however, both Ankara and Tel Aviv have to deal with Russia, in both its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime. The major objective of Russia is to secure its geopolitical position by supporting the regime—and its Alawite, Christian, Druze, and Ismaili supporters—as well as its potential successors, with or without Assad. Russia must protect its position in Latakiya, Tartus, and Damascus if it is to remain a strong eastern Mediterranean power and not be confined to the Black Sea.

Russia may also be interested in exploiting oil and gas deposits in Syria’s Economic Exclusion Zone as would any regime or entities in Syria that seek Russian support. This could be done in cooperation with Turkey and Israel.

Russia might be able to play a significant but not a major role in Syria’s final disposition. After all, Russia faces various global challenges in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, not to mention vexed relations with the EU and the United States. It also suffers various weaknesses in the Middle East that will impede any challenge to the strong geopolitical postures of Turkey and Israel in the unfolding developments in the wider Middle East.

Because of the fragmentation of Syria, Israel will move inexorably to annex the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Russia and Turkey will likely acquiesce. Russia will do so because it needs Israeli support on a host of issues. Turkey’s major geopolitical concern is not Gaza, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights but its dealings with Israel over oil, gas, avionics, missiles, nuclear programs, trade, and tourism. Israel can supply a host of weapon systems, research, and intelligence to Turkey in its fight against Kurdish nationalist movements that the U.S. might not want to supply. And Israel will accept Turkey’s emerging position in northern Syria and its war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) along with its armed force, the People’s Protective Units (YPG).

Both Israel and Turkey want good relations with the U.S., and Washington encourages their strong relations. And neither country needs fear any significant Arab nationalist backlash.

For Turkey and Israel to achieve their geopolitical goals, however, they need to work with Russia. Israel and Russia have already agreed on some of the larger parameters of the war in Syria. So have Turkey and Israel. And now Turkey and Russia are about to agree. By the time Erdogan and Putin meet in September most of the remaining salient issues should be addressed satisfactorily, if not resolved.

The emerging trilateral relationship among Turkey, Israel, and Russia cannot be consummated fully until the complete military defeat of IS and the further fragmentation of Syria. This should take place some time in 2017. By that time Erdogan and his party should have achieved their referendum on the presidential system, disenfranchised the MPs from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, and started a campaign for a new election. As a result of these developments, Turkey will likely be ready to assume an even large role in northern Syria.

Robert Olson

Robert Olson is Professor of Middle East history and politics at the University of Kentucky (Emeritus). He is the author of ten books of various aspects of Middle East history and politics. His major books are: The Siege of Mosul and Ottoman- Persian Relations: 1718-1743; The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion: 1880-1925; Turkey's Relations with Iran, 1979-2004;The Kurdish Question and Turkish-Iranian Relations:From World I to 2000; Blood, Beliefs and Ballots: The Management of Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey, 2007-2000; The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey: 1980-2011; The Goat and the Butcher: Nationalism and State Formation in Kurdistan-Iraq since the Iraqi War War. He is the author of 75 referred research articles and 60 edited research articles. He was distinguished Professor of the University of Kentucky in 2000. He is married and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.


One Comment

  1. There is only one glitch however: Palestinians and Syrian Kurds will not allow these plans to move ahead. Nor will the Turkish people acquiesce to the brotherhood’s dictatorship of Erdogan. Highly unlikely that the Arab Syria will disintegrate or Syrian Kurds will see the secession beneficial. As usual, the wonks and academics, do not see the role people play in history. Often times they have to explain their omission after the fact. I know Doctor Olson very well, but I have to disagree with him. (BTW I think Erdogan approached Israel and Russia since his zero problems with neighbors has turned into problems with every neighbor. If I could predict it , I would say that Erdogan will eventually backtrack on Assad too.)

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