Turkey's Relationship with Russia
Q: What is Turkey’s current relationship with Russia, amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
A: As of late, Turkey has denied Russia access to the critically important Bosporus and Dardanelles straits through the Montreux Convention and imposed a no-fly zone for Russian jets.
Due to Turkey’s comprehensive relationship with both Russia and Ukraine, Turkey has served as the primary mediator between the two countries. At the start of the Russian invasion, Turkey explicitly stated its support for Ukraine and its condemnation of Russia’s actions. However, Turkey was reserved in its criticism of Russia, as Moscow has become an important partner to Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
Q: What is the Montreux Convention and why is it significant?
A: Formally known as the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, the Montreux Convention was signed on July 20, 1936 between nine countries. The treaty regulates the passage of maritime vessels, military and civilian alike, through major waterways that connect the Black Sea to other countries. However, regulation can vary, depending on if Turkey deems there is a state of peace or war. Because Turkey has executive authority, Ankara can impose strict restrictions on the passage of vessels.
This is significant to the current conflict because Turkey has officially stated that there is a state of war, resulting in the application of certain stipulations of the Convention. Because Russia and Ukraine are both belligerent states in the conflict, Turkey is denying warships from both countries access to the strait, which is their right derived from the Convention. This has strained relations between Turkey and Russia, as Russia views this action by Turkey as a direct impediment to its success in Russia’s operations against Ukraine.
Q: Why has Turkey been reserved in its treatment of Russia since the invasion, compared to other Western nations?
A: While Turkey has supported Ukraine during the war, its treatment of Russia has been mild compared to other western nations, including its NATO partners.
Turkey is in the midst of a major economic crisis. Ankara has been trying to combat rising bread prices and overall rising Turkish currency, which has been the catalyst for many domestic protests and growing dissatisfaction with Turkish President Erdogan’s regime. Turkey does not want to completely alienate Russia, as this would exacerbate its current economic problems. Receiving 45% of its natural gas from Russia, in addition to almost 70% of its wheat imports, Turkey is reliant on Russia as a crucial trading partner. Russia has also continually been Turkey’s largest source of tourists, making Turkey more dependent on Russia financially.
Q: How have Turkey and Russia interacted historically?
A: For centuries leading up to World War I, the Ottoman Empire and the Russian empire had an adversarial relationship, resulting in multiple conflicts, such as the 1877 Russo-Turkish war. After World War II, Turkey joined NATO, directly opposing the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Russia and Turkey improved significantly. Russia eventually became the largest supplier of energy to Turkey. Moreover, Russia became Turkey’s second-largest trading partner in 2008, only coming in behind the European Union (EU).
Q: How has Turkey’s relationship with Russia affected its relationship with NATO?
A: Turkey’s strategy of cultivating a closer relationship with Russia has not been well received by NATO members, specifically the United States. Continuously denied entrance to the EU as a full member, Turkey searched for alternative partnerships that aligned with the country’s national interest.
In 2020, Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system, spending an estimated $2.5 billion. This Russian weapon system posed a direct threat to NATO, specifically to U.S. F-35 jets. NATO allies and the United States offered alternative options to Turkey for missile defense systems; however, Turkey denied them.