The current international arena is not only different from that of the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, but even from what has existed in Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. At that time, there was multipolarity, at least in the context of Europe. Alliances were built and changed, but they were fixed; “marriage” with one group excluded relationships with another. Foes were clearly demarcated from friends, and these clear divisions were what made it possible for Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), the seminal German geopolitician, to proclaim it was the existence of a clear foe that defined national identity.
At present, the situation is quite different, due not just to the absence of one clear center of power, but even of well-defined centers that divide friends from enemies. The powers could be foes in one context, neutral in another and friends in a third.
The shifts in the relationships or their complete reformulation, in the case of the collapse of the foe-friend construction, could be abrupt and unpredictable. This sort of relationship could be seen in the Ankara-Moscow relationship in the last few years, in which Turkey, formally a member of NATO, continued to engage with Moscow. While proving this postulate is the major goal of this article, it is not the only one. The other is to shed light on the Kremlin’s political culture. Putin’s assertive Russia acquired more geopolitical ambitions than Yeltsin’s Russia. Still, despite the assertions of many Western observers, Putin is not an insane imperialist. The Russian elite, whose interests he represents, is focused not so much on empire building as on the economic benefits gained from foreign policy, and this explains the major reason Moscow is courting Ankara and is ready to provide it free space in Syria. It also explains Moscow’s other actions favorable to Ankara.
TURKISH STREAM AS PAYMENT FOR APPROVAL
Turkey’s incursion into Syria, presumably to prevent a Kurdish attack, led to a diverse international response. Iran — Syria’s major patron — and the United States did not support the action.Turkish forces acted in alliance with 25,000 fighters “from the Free Syrian Army,” enemies of Assad.2 Logically, Damascus’s reaction was especially strong. Assad stated that Turkey had supported Islamists for a long time, and this invasion would help them.3 It accused Ankara of a clear violation of Syrian territorial integrity and even threatened to shoot down Turkish planes. Surprisingly enough, Damascus and Tehran were on the same page as Washington, supposedly their mortal enemy. Indeed, the Trump administration expressed its concerns over Turkey’s actions, whereas President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not mince words in condemning the United States — Turkey’s NATO ally — for arming Kurdish forces, which Ankara considers terrorist. One should also note that Russia, supposedly an ally of Damascus and Tehran, at least at that time, did not protest the Turkish invasion. Moscow’s acquiescence is indeed surprising, at least at first glance. The conflict created serious impediments to reaching a compromise among various Syrian factions and winding down the conflict. It also undermined, in a way, Moscow’s credibility as Damascus’s protector. There is a different explanation for Moscow’s forbearance toward Ankara. Still, it looks as if the major reason for Moscow’s softness is due to Ankara’s views on Moscow’s project, “Turkish Stream.”
THE RUSSIAN-TURKISH RELATIONSHIP
The coziness of the Russian-Turkish relationship looks odd to one who remembers the recent history of the Syria-Iraq crisis. When the Arab Spring erupted and civil war overwhelmed Syria, Turkey saw an opportunity to extend its influence in the Middle East and push aside its major rival for Middle East hegemony – Iran. Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime was Iran’s proxy, and Turkey did its best to oust the Syrian president. In pursuing this goal, Erdogan was ready to embrace any type of ally, including even ISIS. Indeed, the borders between Turkey, Iraq and Syria were open, and recruits could easily cross them to join ISIS. I was in Istanbul at that time, at a conference attended by fighters from Aleppo and even members of Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. I asked them how they got to Turkey, and how they planned to go back. They responded that there was no problem; they simply took the bus. No visa or any special arrangements were required. They also told me that many ISIS fighters recuperated in Istanbul, facing no problems in dealing with local officials. One could also assume that ISIS received supplies and possibly weapons from Turkey. Washington seems not to have been against these arrangements, as Washington and Ankara had the same goal: ousting Assad and harming Iran. Moreover, similar tactics were apparently employed in Libya, when Clinton, at that time the secretary of state, directly encouraged military support for the Islamists, using them to oust Qadhafi, who would later be killed in a quite sadistic way. Turkey and the United States were about to accomplish their goal in Syria, but for the Russian intervention.
By 2014, the crisis in Ukraine had erupted, and the United States and many other Western countries imposed strict sanctions on Russia. That year was a watershed, in a way, marking the end of the long post-Cold War era, when Moscow, regardless of vacillation in its policy, still regarded the West, including the United States, as its partner. While the U.S.-Russian relationship cooled down, almost to Cold War levels, the relationship with Tehran predictably warmed up; Moscow had finally delivered S-300 missiles to Tehran after years of delay. Moscow also decided to follow Tehran’s lead and engage in conflict in Syria. Here, Putin’s foreign policy needs to be assessed. Western, especially American, mass media tended to present Putin as the fanatical dictator who was anxious to restore the former USSR or the tsarist empire at all costs. The situation is quite different. Putin — or rather the Russian tycoons whose interests he represents — is much smarter and more flexible than the U.S. elite. The reason is not so much Putin’s personal prowess, although this should not be discounted, but the collective savvy of Moscow’s elite. They have behind them the calamitous recent history of a collapsed empire and strategic retreats along all fronts. They assess their capabilities realistically and have no illusions about the people in Washington, who still believe that the collapse of the USSR was not the result of a great win in the geopolitical lottery — Gorbachev’s actions — but the superiority of the entire American socioeconomic and political system. Moscow had no illusions about America and proceeded cautiously. Moscow did not believe it was the capital of a superpower. Still, people there, as in many other capitals, are not bamboozled by Washington’s projected self-image and noticed increasing American problems. The United States was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and experiencing economic decline, not just in relative but in absolute terms. This provided the opportunity for Moscow to increase its influence and to attempt at least a partial return to the places that Moscow had dominated recently, during the Soviet era. Syria was one of these places; the USSR had forged a relationship with the Assad family a long time ago and established a military base in the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia inherited the base. Still, as the situation unraveled in Syria, Russia’s position was under threat. Anti-Assad forces, including ISIS — all of them either directly or indirectly supported by the United States, Turkey and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia — apparently were set to victory. The collapse of the Assad regime could lead to Russia’s expulsion from its bases in Syria. In addition, Moscow had no illusions about a stable democratic government in the post-Assad era, clearly visualizing the transformation of most of Syrian territories controlled by ISIS or similar forces.
The war in Syria not only emerged as winnable, at least from the Russian perspective, and necessary; it also had other benefits such as providing a testing ground for Russian weapons. All of these considerations led Moscow to engage in the fight on the side of Damascus and, implicitly, Iran. The engagement led to increasing tensions with a variety of anti-Assad forces, Turkey among them. Ankara was not very concerned with the deterioration of the American-Russian relationship caused by the Ukrainian crisis. Turkey’s own relationship with Washington and Europe had been deteriorating for a long time. Still, Russia’s engagement implied that Assad could survive and Iran increase its influence at Turkey’s expense, at a time when Ankara was increasingly toying with neo-Ottomanism. Mixed in with pan-Turkism and a peculiar variation of Turkish “Eurasianism” that emphasized Turkey’s role as the bridge between Europe and Asia, it fueled Ankara’s ambitions.
The conflict with Moscow soon took a dramatic turn: in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian plane that had supposedly entered Turkish airspace. The relationship between the two plunged to almost Cold War levels. Moscow ended all trade with Turkey, imposed an embargo on its foodstuffs — here Moscow, of course, was following the same model as in dealing with European food — and created problems for Russian tourists who wanted to visit Turkey. All of this, especially the obstacles to Russian tourism, seriously hurt the Turkish economy. Still, despite all its rancor, Moscow did not cut ties with Turkey completely and, apparently, began thinking about possible rapprochement. There were several reasons for this. First, it was clear that Ankara’s increasing tensions with Washington would not disappear in the near future. This was quite pleasing to Moscow, whose dream is NATO’s disintegration.
As time progressed, Turkey’s relationship with the United States continued to deteriorate, especially after the failed military coup of 2016. Military coups have been quite common in Turkey since World War II, and the army usually had the upper hand. Washington usually provided an approving nod; the military was pro-Western or, to be precise, pro-American. It was the institution that guaranteed Turkey’s Kemalist tradition, which implied that Turkey would not be an Islamic state but would be firmly attached to the West. Still, the situation changed after Erdogan’s victory. In 2008, Turkish officials discovered the so-called Ergenekon plot, in which several hundred officers were involved. In 2016, after an unsuccessful coup, the purge of the armed forces intensified. Ankara officially announced that the plot had been inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric and politician who lived in the United States, Washington’s unwillingness to deport him to Turkey apparently justified Ankara’s suspicions that the plot had been arranged by Washington. All of this led to even more tension between Ankara and Washington. There were even visa problems for both Turkish and American citizens who wished to visit other countries.
Moscow wanted to exploit these tensions, of course, and saw Turkey’s parting with NATO as a possibility. Second, Moscow needed Turkey for arranging Russia’s disentanglement from the Syrian war. The American observers who regarded Putin as an insane imperialist, wanting to dominate the entire Middle East, exhibited what Freud called projection. They transmitted to Putin Washington’s desire for total domination and its unwillingness to share power or influence. The Kremlin had much less ambitious plans; it would agree to share influence with several players in the region if its own interests, mainly the Russian military bases, were respected. Moscow has been anxious to avoid an open-ended conflict in which it would directly collide with Washington, despite Tehran’s desire to see such an outcome. As soon as it became clear that the Assad regime would be safe and the Russian bases would survive, Moscow pursued de-escalation and a peace arrangement in which Syria would be divided up among various players, de facto if not de jure. Moscow’s proposal was quite at odds with those of Iran. Tehran wanted Assad’s complete control over the entire territory of the country, which would imply Iran’s complete domination in the area. Finding an acceptable solution to the Syrian crisis required Turkey’s participation. Moscow also assumed Ankara would understand that the dream of ousting Assad was unrealistic and would cooperate with other players. Third, and most important, Turkey was essential to the construction of Turkish Stream.
“Gazprom rolled out plans for the TurkStream project in December 2014 to replace the ill-fated South Stream, abandoned by Russia in the face of EU opposition. Initially, the pipeline was going to consist of four strings capable of pumping up to 63 billion cubic meters (BCM) of gas per year to Turkey and Europe, but its capacity was halved to two strings a year later.”4 With all of the rancor toward Ankara that had followed the shooting down of a Russian jet, however, Moscow did not pronounce the project dead; as soon as Ankara and Moscow buried the hatchet, there was renewed interest in cooperation.
By August 2017, Russia and Turkey agreed on a landing site in Turkey. Yet discussion was mostly centered around the first string, to be used mostly for Turkey’s internal consumption; problems were not resolved with the second string, which would send gas to European markets. Moscow had already invested considerable funds on South Stream, with no results. Consequently, Alexander Novak, Russia’s energy minister, tried to be cautious in negotiations with his Turkish counterpart: “The most important thing is obtaining confirmation from the European Union and the European Commission....to have guarantees for execution of these costly infrastructure projects.”5
Still, interest in Turkish Stream was quite strong, in many ways, conditioned by the situation with a similar project, North Stream II, in Ukraine. It soon became clear that the project faced stiff resistance, not just in Kiev, but in Brussels as well. Its success was in no way a sure thing, although Moscow continued to strike an optimistic note — and not without grounds. In January 2018, even the Ukrainian mass media announced that the Baltic states finally understood that American LNG could not replace Russian gas and ended their objections to Nord Stream II.6 Still, doubts existed, and the Kremlin was cautious. Turkish Stream acquired a new importance as a viable alternative. The very fact that Turkey is not a member of the European Union and has a rather tense relationship with Washington was an asset; Ankara would not be as easily manipulated as it had been by other European capitals. This provided the Kremlin with an incentive to forget about the incident with the plane and be satisfied with a formal apology.
The trade restrictions were lifted, and Russian tourists once again populated the beaches of Antalya. Ankara also decided to play Moscow against Washington, and possibly Tehran; Russian gas would provide Turkey with flexibility in choosing a supplier. This finally provided the green light to build Turkish Stream. Moscow sped up construction, remembering that Turkey had made a U-turn in the past with a similar project. The gas line soon reached the shores of the Black Sea, and, when it was launched deep under its waters, Putin himself was present and called Erdogan. He congratulated him and praised Turkey for the absence of bureaucratic delays. Here Putin, of course, juxtaposed Turkey onto the EU, which had created such problems with the North Stream project. The Kremlin was, of course, recalling the problems Turkey had created with the previous project and trying to flatter Ankara for its speedy work at the bottom of the Black Sea. The S-400 deal was the most obvious sign of Moscow’s benevolence.
Despite the calamities of what the Kremlin officially called the “chaotic 1990s,” Russia was able to preserve the skeleton of the USSR’s military-industrial complex and research base and, during Putin’s tenure, was able to catch up with the West in military hardware. Some of its weaponry could actually compete with that of the West, including the United States. The Russian anti-missile S-300 is a good example. It might well protect the airspace of a state from missiles and aircraft, even the most advanced. Consequently, the United States and Israel were anxious to prevent the sale of these weapons to Iran, as they would perhaps provide protection from an Israeli or American strike against its nuclear sites. The Kremlin, anxious not to irritate any of them, engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with Iran, to which Russia was obliged to deliver S-300s, according to a contract signed many years earlier. The delivery was canceled by President Medvedev and the advance payment returned. Tehran was outraged and sued Moscow in the international court, demanding billions in damages. Moscow was adamant in its refusal to deliver the weapons, offering various excuses. Only after the 2014 crisis with the West were the S-300s finally delivered. In the case of Turkey, the situation was different. Not only was Moscow willing to sell Ankara the more advanced S-400s; it even provided credit. The agreement was signed on September 20, 2017.7 Trying to please Ankara, Moscow became quite forgiving of its transgressions. This was the case, for example, with the Idlib incident.
Turkey joined Russia and Iran in proceeding with a peace process or, to be precise, in dividing Syria among themselves while retaining Assad in power. This arrangement apparently suited Moscow, but not Iran, which insisted on full sovereignty for Damascus. Still, Tehran could not do much alone; therefore, it consented. Each side had its own area of responsibility. Idlib province was allotted to Turkey, sponsor of the presumably moderate the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Still, on January 6, 2018, a drone attack was launched against Russian bases in Hmeimim and Tartus; it had originated from Idlib province. Moscow downplayed the episode and did not blame Ankara. At the same time, the Russian press continued to inform its readers that Turkish Stream was continuing to lay pipes along the bottom of the Black Sea.
Turkish Attack and Turkish Stream
While Turkey was ready for a full-fledged invasion of Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria, the official/semi-official Izvestiia noted that Moscow, of course, did not want conflict. Still, it understood Turkish concerns and compared the Turkish position with that of Israel, a state that, the Izvestiia contributor noted, would be happy to strike a deal with the Palestinians — their terrorist attacks, however, left Israel no choice but to respond. Turkey was in the same situation. Armed Kurds indeed constitute a mortal threat. There were also reports that Russia had withdrawn its military personnel from the area in anticipation of an attack.8 Moscow also assured Ankara that Russia would not use its S-400s, which were protecting Syrian airspace.9
Ankara Has No Choice
Later, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused the United States of encouraging Kurdish separatism.10 There were other indications that Moscow had assured Ankara it would not become engaged,11 though some observers believed Moscow had not provided any formal approval of the Turkish actions.12 There was also information that Moscow suggested to the Kurds that they be fully integrated into the territory controlled by Assad.13 The Kurds, continuing to believe in American assurances and military prowess, refused. They also put much hope in Washington’s plans to create a several-thousand-man army, to bring them even closer to semi-independence. The design, however, failed to prevent a full-fledged Turkish attack. Moreover, Ankara’s promise to facilitate the return of millions of Syrian refugees implied that Turkey would be pleased to replace the Kurds with Arabs. The Kurds felt they had been betrayed, not just by Washington, but also by Russia, with whom they had had a relationship since the Soviet era. Still, Moscow made no move to protect them, for one obvious reason: to clear Syrian airspace for Turkish bombers.
Moscow expected payment and was not disappointed. Ankara made it clear that Turkish Stream would be completed and that the terminal for receiving gas would be built on the Turkish side.14 Moreover, Ankara announced its permission for the other lines of Turkish Stream to be built at exactly the same time that the Turkish assault was starting.15 In another milestone for TurkStream, Gazprom announced in a separate statement on January 19 that “it had secured all the necessary permits for construction of the pipeline’s second string through Turkey’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Turkish authorities had approved the offshore stretch of the pipeline’s first string in 2016.”16
This permission was extremely important for Russia. While the first string of Turkish Stream was designed to provide gas for internal Turkish consumption, the second could provide gas for export to Europe. Still, Moscow struck a cautious note here: Russia would not extend the second string to Europe until it had an iron-clad guarantee.17
“Miller reiterated that both of TurkStream’s strings would be running by the end of 2019. Speaking at a press conference last week, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cast doubt on whether Russia would go ahead with the second string, designed to deliver gas to Europe. ‘The second [line] will only be constructed if we receive ironclad guarantees from the European Commission that they will not pull the same trick as happened with the South Stream regarding Bulgaria,’ he warned. South Stream, which would have made landfall in Bulgaria, was cancelled after the EC ruled it violated bloc-competition law, prompting Sofia to halt all work on the pipeline. Lavrov also alluded to a recent initiative by the EC....he said was aimed at blocking another Russian pipeline project to Europe, Nord Stream 2. In November 2018, the commission proposed that bloc energy law should be applied to all gas pipelines entering EU territory. ‘Rather dirty play, of course, but hopefully the purely economic nature of the project, and the fact it is supported by leading European energy companies will still prevent these dishonest games from getting the upper hand,’ Lavrov said.18 There are clearly potential problems with Turkish Stream.
Still, the opportunity was there. Nearby Athens has a deep-seated grudge against both Brussels and Washington. The same could be said about Budapest. It is not clear that either Washington or Brussels could muster enough pressure to stop them, not just from consumption of Russian gas — nothing viable could be offered as a replacement — but to move the gas line to the Austrian border. Bulgaria also seems to have changed its mind and is ready to take advantage of Turkish Stream and possibly become a gas hub.19
Moscow’s plan for rapprochement with Ankara was also facilitated by Turkey’s increased tensions with the United States and other members of the NATO alliance. It would be wrong to assume that Turkey’s relationship with Washington went in only one direction. Neither side was anxious to break completely, and in March 2018, Turkey discussed with the United States purchasing three PK Patriot missile systems.20 At the same time, Secretary of Defense Mattis proclaimed that Turkey was still a faithful NATO partner.21 Turkey had also developed a close relationship with Ukraine, whose foreign policy was clearly pro-American; and in early April 2018, the Turkish and Ukrainian navies engaged in joint military maneuvers in the Black Sea.22
Still, the signs of deterioration in the relationship between Ankara and Washington could hardly be ignored. Erdogan implicitly saw the United States behind the botched military coup. He was also angered by Washington’s refusal to deport Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara saw as the initiator of the coup. Ankara’s increasingly warm relationship with Moscow created additional problems, even admitted by some of Turkey’s former diplomats. For example, Unal Çeviköz noted that Turkey’s decision to buy S-400s from Russia led to tension with fellow members of NATO.23 Other Western observers followed suit and admitted that, while Turkey’s relations with Russia had improved, its relationship with the United States had deteriorated sharply.24 Finally, Turkey’s incursion into Syria to deal with the Kurds created an additional source of tension, because of U.S. support for them. The tension between Washington and Ankara had become so high that some Russian observers believed Turkey might engage in a military confrontation with the United States.25
It was not just the United States that might engage with Ankara, but France as well. Indeed, France promised to send troops to support the Kurds,26 and Ankara stated that it would treat French troops as it did the Kurdish militia.
While Ankara’s increasing tensions with Washington and other NATO members helped Moscow forge a relationship with Ankara, Ankara’s uneasy relationship with Tehran required Moscow to tilt toward Ankara.
TURKEY AND IRAN
Iran has been Turkey’s rival for a long time; the conflict between Iran and the Ottoman empire can be traced back to the distant past. In recent history, Moscow has tilted mostly towards Iran. The reason is simple: both Tehran and Moscow (especially after 2014) had a common enemy, the United States. In the case of Tehran, the conflict had deepened since the 1979 revolution. Still, the Tehran-Moscow alliance has not been solid; both sides have tried to use each other as bargaining chips, or to establish a good relationship with each other’s rivals. Russia, for example, continued to maintain a good relationship with Israel regardless of the fact that Israel and Iran are mortal enemies. Until recently, Iran was still the preferable partner. However, the situation has changed, for several reasons. Turkey’s conflict with NATO and especially the United States was one of them. Still, Moscow’s desire to build Turkish Stream is equally important. And while Turkey could be quite helpful in sending Russian gas to Europe, Iran could be a potential competitor. For this reason, Moscow became rather neutral in the tensions between Tehran and Ankara, caused by Turkey’s incursion into Syria. Iran’s displeasure with Turkey’s involvement in Syria and Russia’s approval was obvious. Tehran’s views have been conveyed by Iran.ru, the pro-Iranian Russian internet site, since the winter of 2018.
According to an Iran.ru contributor, Tehran, the major force behind the Syrian regime, was not pleased by Ankara’s actions and demanded Turkish forces be withdrawn.27 Another contributor stated that Iran regarded Turkey in Syria as an American spearhead and called on Russia to help Iran remove Turkey from Syria.28 The message was clear: Moscow mistakenly regarded Ankara as following its own course. According to the contributor, the growing Turkish influence in Syria was increasing American influence, to the detriment of Russia’s interests. Indeed, the contributor implied that it would lead to the collapse of the Assad regime. As a result, Russia would lose its base in Syria, the very reason Moscow had engaged in the conflict. The solution was clear: Moscow must join Tehran and push Turkey out of the region.
In February 2018, several articles continued to emphasize the dangers of acquiescence to Turkish actions. According to Iran.ru, Turkey was not Russia’s faithful ally.29 In another article, it was noted that Turkey’s alliances with Iran and Russia were only tactical in nature, and Ankara was not to be trusted.30 Contributors to Iran.ru were especially outraged that Moscow had become indifferent not just to Turkish engagement in Syria, but also to direct attacks by Israel and the United States. Indeed, one contributor noted that both Israel and the United States had attacked Russia in Syria. Still, Russia did not respond.31 Turkey threatened to attack Iraqi Kurdistan32 and did in June 2018. Russia remained silent.33
By the spring of 2018, the tension in Syria had increased, and Russian observers noted that Moscow was trying its best to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict. It actually led to Syria’s partition, de facto if not de jure, despite Moscow’s assurances that it strongly supported the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity, a notion shared by all players, Turkey included.34
Moscow actually followed a different paradigm. It understood well that the preservation of Syria’s integrity implied Assad had absolute control over all of Syria and that this would lead to confrontation with the United States, Israel, Turkey and possibly other powers. For this venture, Moscow had neither the resources nor the desire. It wanted a frozen conflict, in which Syria would be divided into spheres of influence and Moscow would be just one of the players. This induced Moscow to engage in the peace process, trying to bring together most of the parties engaged in the Syrian war, as well as Iran and Turkey.
Some Russian observers, clearly conveying the Kremlin’s views, believed that an alliance of Tehran, Ankara and Moscow had been created and that Iran’s relationship with Turkey and Russia was stronger than in any period in history. This optimism was not shared in Tehran, which was hardly ready to engage with Ankara, if one were to believe the contributor to Iran.ru, who noted that, despite the rapprochement between Iran and Turkey, Iran does not trust Turkey.35 Sergei Shakariants, often a contributor to Iran.ru, wrote that the relationship among Ankara, Tehran and Moscow was quite tense and that Turkey was ready to fight with the other two.36
It is clear that Tehran was not happy with Moscow’s relationship with Ankara, but Moscow still tilted toward Ankara. Moreover, through the spring of 2018, the relationship became increasingly close.
One clear sign of increasing Russo-Turkish rapprochement was the increasing military cooperation between the two countries. The signs were remarkable, if one remembers that just a few years before, Ankara and Moscow were close to war. In the spring of 2018, Moscow confirmed its willingness to deliver S-400s by 2020. Still, Turkey wanted the delivery as soon as possible,37 and Moscow was apparently willing to speed it up. The question might well be raised, against whom would the S-400s would be aimed? It is clear that there is only one power with an air force that warrants S-400 presence: the United States and its NATO allies. The purchase of S-400s could well be a practical step in Turkey’s departure from NATO, and an approach to an actual military alliance with Russia. There were several actions indicating that neither Ankara nor Moscow regarded such an arrangement too far-fetched. In March 2017, an observer from the semiofficial Regnum.ru noted that, after delivery of the S-400s, Russia could ask for a base in Turkey, perhaps leading to an implicit military alliance.38
Some foreign observers believed Moscow hinted that it could provide a nuclear umbrella for Turkey,39 because a military confrontation between Ankara and Washington was expected. Indeed, in early April 2018, Putin arrived in Ankara, and some observers believed he and Erdogan discussed the inevitable direct conflict with the United States and France.40 The rumor seemed to have credibility, if one remembered that, in the same month, the Russian and Turkish chiefs of staff engaged in negotiations in Ankara.41 The unprecedented level of military cooperation between Russia and a member of NATO — Turkey — went along with close economic cooperation.
Increasing Economic Cooperation
By March 2018, Russia had ended the embargo on Turkish foodstuffs,42 and by April, Turkey had provided permission to a Russian firm to build the Akkuyu nuclear station.43 The reason for all this rapprochement was manifold. Moscow was clearly pleased with the Turkish friction with Washington, which paralleled those between Berlin and Washington; this could herald potential NATO disintegration, or at least make the alliance dysfunctional. Moscow also needed a good relationship with Ankara in Syria. Indeed, Turkey and Russia could be engaged in a mutually beneficial trade relationship, and Turkey is a favorite destination for Russian tourists. Still, observers usually ignore or marginalize Turkish Stream and, in general, gas delivery in defining Russia’s approach to Turkey.
Turkish Stream and Russian Policy
Turkish Stream continued to be one of the major foci in Moscow’s approach to Ankara. By spring 2018, Moscow continued to be cautious in regard to the second string and its role in sending gas to Europe.
Observers also questioned the role that Russian gas could play in European markets, even if the second string were built. One Russian observer noted that Turkey wanted one string just for internal consumption. It was not clear that the second string for Europe would be built because of resistance in Brussels. Turkey would not mind being a gas hub. Still, it does not think it will receive gas only from Russia,44 though other observers had a more optimistic view. One noted that two strings of Turkish Stream gas lines would be built by late 2019.45 Regardless of the outcome of the Turkish Stream project — and the second string was still up in the air — its importance for Russia was clear. Some suggest that Turkish Stream was the key factor that explains not just Russia’s dealings with Turkey, but Russia’s entire involvement in the Syrian conflict. At least, this was the view of Peter L’vov, who reported that it was Iranian General Qasem Soleimani who convinced Turkey to allow Russia to build four strings of gas lines, two specifically designed to bypass Ukraine. It was this agreement with Turkey that induced Russia’s engagement in the Syrian conflict and save Assad. In this narrative, Russia’s engagement in Syria was a reciprocal gift to Iran for helping Russia clinch the gas deal with Turkey.46
Writing on current events is a thankless task. Events develop quickly, and trends can change abruptly. Still, some general outlines can be seen for the near future. They can be divided into two major layers. The first and most important is the implication for the friend-foe operational model. Turkey, for example, behaves both as friend and foe in dealing with United States, Russia and Iran, tilting from one power to another. The same could be said about Russia and Iran. While this model looks unstable, it could proceed for a long time, simply because no well-defined center of power exists, and because of the extreme volatility of the international situation. The friend-foe model does not necessarily mean that states are eclectic in their goals, as could be the case with Russia. The pattern of Moscow’s engagement with Turkey demonstrates this clearly. It is obvious that Moscow is happy to exploit Turkey’s tensions with the Unites States. Still, Moscow is not obsessed with imperial expansion, or at least the expansion of Russia’s influence at all costs, despite the popular view in the United States. Here, pundits claim that Russia is obsessed with the spread of its global influence at all costs. Actually, in a peculiarly Freudian way, these pundits transmit the American elite’s desires to Russia. The Russian elite’s interests are mostly economic. For them, delivering gas to Europe and bypassing Ukraine is more important than abstract influence for the sake of influence. To achieve this goal, Moscow is ready to ignore its close partner (Iran), forget about its wounded pride (the shooting down of the Russian plane) and provide Turkey, a NATO member, with a sophisticated weapon (S-400).
1 “Barternaia sdelka: pochemu Rossiia pustila turetskie voiska v Afrin,” January 22, 2018, https://www.rbc.ru; “Iran prizval ostanovit’ turetskuiu operatsiiu v Afrine,” January 22, 2018, http://ann-news.info; “Iran potreboval nemedlenno prekratit’ turetskuiu operatsiiu v Afrine,” January 21, 2018, http://www.ntv.ru; “Iran potreboval ot Turtsii nemedlenno prekratit’ operatsiiu v Afrine,” January 21, 2018, “http://www.mk.ru”http://www.mk.ru.
“Dovody Moskvy: pochemu Rossiia ne vystupila protiv operatsii Turtsii v Sirii,” January 22, 2018, https://www.rbc.ru.
“Asad obvinil Turtsiiu v podderzhke terroristov posle napadeniia na Afrin,” January 22, 2018, http://www.arf.ru.
“Gazprom Starts Work on TurkStream Receiving Terminal,” FSUOGM,FSUOil&GasMonitor 965, week 3 (January 24, 2018): 8.
“Moscow and Ankara Agree upon Turkish Stream Landfall,” FSUOGM,FSUOil&GasMonitor 945 (August 23, 2017): 15.
“Nam nuzhen gaz, otkroite shproty. Baltiia i ‘Severnyi potok-2’,” January 11, 2018, https://rian.com.ua/abroad.
Aleksei Mal’gavko, “Turtsiia ugovorila Rossiiu uskorit’ postavki S-400,” Lenta, April 4, 2018, https://lenta.ru/news/2018/04/04/bistree-bistree.
“Dovody Moskvy: pochemu Rossiia ne vystupila protiv operatsii Turtsii v Sirii.”
Cenk Baslamis, “Chto znachit reaktsiia Rossii?” NewsTurk, January 22, 2018, https://lenta.ru/news/2018/04/04/bistree-bistree.
“Lavrov obvinil SShA v pooshchrenii separatizma siriiskikh kurdov,” January 22, 2018, http://www.interfax.ru.
“Rossiia reshila postoiat’ v storone ot turetskoi operatsii,” January 22, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru.
“SMI: Rossiia predlagala kurdam v Afrine ‘sdat’sia’ i izbezhat’ Turetskoi operatsii,” Rosbalt.ru, January 22, 2018; and “Kurdy soobshchili o predlozhenii Rossii otdat’ Afrin siriiskim vlastiam,” January 22, 2018, https://tvrain.ru.
“’Turetskii potok’: v Kyiykei nachali stroit’ priemnyi terminal,” January 18, 2018, http://www.vestifinance.ru; and Ruslan Vesel, “Koliuchaia olivkovaia vetv’: za ‘Turetskii potok’ Moskva rasplatilas’ s Ankoroi Kurdami’,” January 22, 2018, http://www.dsnews.ua.
“Gazprom prolozhit ‘Turetskii potok’ v srok,” January 22, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru.
“Gazprom Starts Work on TurkStream Receiving Terminal,” FSUOGM, FSUOil&GasMonitor 965, week 3 (January 24, 2018): 8.
“Lavrov: RF prodlit ‘Turetskii potok’ v Evropu tol’ko pri ‘zhelezobetonnykh garantiiakh’ ot ES,” January 15, 2018, http://tass.ru/ekonomika.
“Gazprom Starts Work on TurkStream,” 8.
“Prognoz-2018: ‘Severnyi potok-2’ zhdut obkhodnye manevry,” January 2, 2018., https://svpressa.ru.
“Turkey Discusses with the USA Purchasing 3PK Patriot Soobshchili SMI,” March 23, 2018, https://ria.ru/world.
“Pentagon: Turtsiia prodolzhaet ostavat’sia blizkim partnerom NATO,” April 4, 2018, http://www.trt.net.t/russian/turtsiia/20118/04/04.
“Ukraina i Turtsiia proveli voennye ucheniia v Chernom more,” April 3, 2018, https://rian.com.ua.
Unal Çeviköz, “Turkey’s relations with NATO are undergoing a historical trial,” March 16, 2018, https://www.Europeanleadershipnetwork.org.
Suzan Fraser and Ayse Wieting, “Turkey, Russia Deepen Ties amid Troubled Relationship with West,” ABC News, April 2, 2018, http://abcnews.go.
Zaur Karaev, “Amerikantsy gotoviatsia k boiam s Turtsiei,” May 1, 2018, https://svpressa.ru/war21/article/196707.
“Iran schitaet, chto Turtsiia dolzhna uvazhat’ granitsy Sirii,” Iran.ru, February 8, 2018.
Sergei Shakariants, “Iran prizyvaet Rossiiu k sovmestnomu vydvoreniiu turetskikh sil iz Sirii,” Iran.ru, January 26, 2018.
Stanislav Tarasov, “Udastsia li Rossii, Turtsii i Iranu sozdat’ na Blizhnem Vostoke novuiu ‘arkhitekturu bezopasnosti’?” Iran.ru, February 26, 2018.
Sergei Shakariants, “Otvetiat li Rossiia i Iran na proksi-agressiiu SShA i Izrailia v Sirii?” Iran.ru, February 14, 2018.
“Turtsiia prigrozila vnezapnym udarom po Iraku,” March 19 2018, https://lenta.ru/news/2018/03/19.
“Armiia Turtsii prodvinulas na sever Iraka,” Kommersant.ru, June 3, 2018.
“Roukhani: Rossiia, Turtsiia i Iran ne dopustiat razdela Sirii,” April 4, 2018, https://www.svoboda.org/a_129145470.html.
Vladimir Fedorovich Onishchenko, “Istinnaia rol’ Irana v sobytiiakh v Sirii i ego nastoiashchie vragi,” Iran.ru, March 19, 2018.
Sergei Shakariants, “Davlenie Zapada na Iran rastet na fone aktvizatsii otnoshenii Moskva-Tegeran,” March 28, 2018, https://regnum.ru/news/polit/2396995.html.
Aleksei Mal’gavko, “Turtsiia ugovorila Rossiiu uskorit’ postavki S-400,” April 4, 2018, https://lenta.ru/news/2018/04/04/bistree_bistree.
Stanislav Tarasov, “Zhdet li Turtsiia rossiiskikh voennykh?,” March 15, 2018, https://regnum.ru/news/2390900.html.
“SMI Turtsii: Turtsiia tozhe pod iadernym shchitom Rossii?” March 12, 2018, https://inosmi.ru/overview/20180312/241676761.html.
Aleksandr Zapol’skis, “Vizit Putina v Turtsiiu eto kak Ialta 1945, tol’ko v Ankare,” April 3, 2018, http://www.iarex.ru/articles/56976.html.
“Glavy genshtabov VS Rossii i Turtsii proveli peregovory v Ankare,” April 3, 2018, https://www.aysor.am/ru/news/2018/04/03.
Nikolai Makeev, “Turetskie granaty vzorvut nash rynok: Rossiia sniala embargo,” March 5, 2018, http://www.mk.ru/economics/2018/03/05.
“Turtsiia vydala razreshenie na stroitel’stvo pervogo bloka AES ‘Akkuiu’,” April 4, 2018, https://www.kommersant.Ru/doc/3592285.
Aleksei Polubota, “’Severnyi potok-2’: Kievu kinut tranzitnuiu kost’,” April 4, 2018, https://svpressa.ru.
“V Rossii nazvali datu zapuska ‘Turetskogo potoka’ v obkhod Ukrainy,” April 2, 2018, https://strana.ua; and “’Turetskii potok’ vvedut v ekspluatatsiiu do kontsa 2019 goda,” April 2, 2018, https://iz.ru/727377/2018-04-02.
Petr L’vov, “Iran aktivno pytaetsia sokhranit’ pozitsii v Sirii i Irake,” May 30, 2018, https://ru.journal-neo.org/2018/05/30.