Russia and Turkey’s Relationship and a foreign policy that Americans seem to have a very hard time understanding
Yet, particularly over the past decade, as their economies have grown by leaps and bounds and as they’ve become more integrated into global trade flows, Turkey and Russia have learned to ‘compartmentalize’ their differences. Instead of focusing on their many outstanding disagreements, they have focused on mutually beneficial trade relations in which an energy-hungry Turkey works with an energy-exporting Russia. What a truly radical step!
However, while they have become closer, Russia and Turkey have not in any way become ‘allies.’ The article elides the Armenia issue, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that Russia and Turkey have very different views on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the appropriate way of ending it. The two countries also strongly, vehemently disagree over how best to proceed with Syria, but they’ve been determined not to let anything scuttle the most important parts of their bi-lateral relationship.
This is something that Americans seem to have a very hard time understanding. We have a tendency to group foreign countries into ‘allies’ and ‘foes:’ either you’re fully on board with American foreign policy objectives or you’re a part of the problem (think, for a moment, over the rage directed against ‘Old Europe’ immediately before the Iraq war). But that sort of binary ‘you’re with us or your’e against us’ approach is just not the way the world works anymore. Particularly among the countries whose economies are growing most rapidly, the BRICS and other large emerging markets, there are very few people who think of the world in such black and white terms.
Instead what you get is a constantly shifting landscape that is full of trade-offs and compromises. So, from the Turkish perspective, yes, Russia, we’ll help you build this gas pipeline but, no, we won’t help you support Assad, and from the Russian perspective yes, we’ll build this nuclear power plant but no we won’t think for a moment of changing our close relationship with Armenia.
This is a type of diplomacy that is noteworthy for its relentless focus on the bottom line, the Washington Times accurately focused on the extent to which the Turkey-Russia relationship is built on an economic basis, and for the almost complete absence of ideology as it is commonly understood. If anything Turkey and Russia have diverged politically, Turkey has become more democratic and representative and Russia has become more authoritarian and closed, precisely during the time that their overall relationship has improved most swiftly. Yet, as best I can tell, this hasn’t had any noticeable impact; the economic components of the relationship are simply far more crucial than the political ones.
America is perfectly capable of thriving in such a world, but it will require a statecraft that is far more nimble, nuanced, and patient than the current iteration. Hectoring lectures about democracy and the need to heed the will of the “international community” have never been terribly effective, but in a world that is ever-more economically intertwined, and which features robust relationships between former antagonists like Turkey and Russia, they will be almost entirely useless. The flowering of Turkey-Russia trade is an excellent example of the radical transformations to international relations that will inevitably follow as “the rest” continue to economically converge with the advanced Western countries.