Two meetings of the Russian president V. Putin and Turkish Prime Minister R.T. Erdogan, held in the end of the last year and in the beginning of this year, as well as the wide spectrum of problems discussed and contents of the signed documents, marked the start of the a new phase in the Russian-Turkish relations. Experts spoke about that start in several recent years, and this phase can be characterized as the starting period of the real strategic process.
Answers to the questions about the depth of that process, its direction and how it will affect the situation in the region, are of vital importance for Armenia. In our memory the remembrance about how in 1920 the Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevik Russia, uniting their efforts against the common enemy – the Entente, came to a secret agreement and at the expense of Armenia put an end to the century-old confrontation, in particular, in the Caucasus. As a result, the “Sovietized ” Armenia had to sign the unjust Kars treaty of 1921, which defined the distorted borders of the present Republic of Armenia.
The anxiety, expressed by some representatives of the Armenian political elite, that some rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, may have its negative impact on Armenia at present as well, and in particular, weakening its positions in the settlement process of the Karabakh conflict, are well-grounded just by the reason, that the historical precedent had already happened. These fears may be proved or denied only as a result of an impartial and comprehensive analysis.
The period of instability and confrontation
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Turkey found themselves in absolutely new geopolitical conditions, while:
– for the first time in several centuries (with the exception of 1918-1920) they have no land frontier, and the South Caucasus is nothing but a buffer zone;
-for the first time in several decades they do not belong to two opposing military and political blocs;
– Russia, rapidly losing its military and economic potential, the ideological axis and political willpower, is unable to keep the regions, belonging to former USSR, including the South Caucasus and Central Asia, in the sphere of its geopolitical influence any longer.
The present situation produced some vacuum in the mentioned regions, which was use by Turkey. First relying on the ideological and political grounds of Pan-Turkism, Turkey started to rapidly spread its influence in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Its actually pan-Turkist goals were presented by Turkey as a need for spreading the “Turkish model” of development in the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Such policy was supported by the West, mainly by the USA, because it dad fears that those newly independent states may be influenced by the politicized radical Islam. In addition, the approaches, typical to the period of the Cold War, were still strong in the USA, we, welcoming Turkey’s diverse engagement the processes on the territory of the former USSR, counterbalancing the Russian influence.
In the first of half of 1990s, the Russian-Turkish relations were quite unstable and tense from time to time, explained by their strong geostrategic confrontation. Turkey used all possibilities, except military, for spreading its influence not only in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, but also in the North Caucasus and the regions of Russia, populated predominantly by the Turkic-speaking peoples.
Russia was trying to concentrate its efforts and stop the increasing Turkish influence. Being unable to resist as required at that time, Russia focused its attention to the conflicts, broken out in the South Caucasus, using them as an instrument for preserving its influence in that region.
From this point of view, the Karabakh conflict is remarkable, being a culmination of the Russian-Turkish confrontation in the South Caucasus. Turkey helped the Azerbaijani side, and Russia – to the Armenian one. No surprise, that the conflict between the two countries in that case was the most aggravated in the last decades of the Russian-Turkish relations. In 1992-1993, Turkey threatened to use force against Armenia, which followed by a swift and hard counteraction by Russia, which openly declared its readiness to use nuclear weapon against Turkey. Both states in that period not only were strategic opponents, but also took the counter-partner as a bearer of the military threat. In this sense, it is worth mentioning the statement by the Chief of the Headquarters of the Turkish troops, made in 1994, that Russia is the only state, posing a military threat to Turkey.
The victory of Armenians in the military phase of the Karabakh, and the firmness of Russia were the main factors to prevent increasing positions of Turkey in the South Caucasus. Although Turkey established itself in the geopolitical region and became an important factor there, Russia, in spite of serious losses, Russia has managed to partially preserve its influence in the region and not so big military bases. The last circumstance, apart military, had a geopolitical importance, which allowed to establish some balance of powers between Russia and Turkey in the South Caucasus.
In the second half of the 1990s, the geopolitical situation in the zone of the South Caucasus, was mostly characterized by the problems, related to the Caspian energy resources. The level of the US involvement in the region had been increasing, and Turkey in the new conditions tried to get maximum, cooperating with the United States, which was also interested in decreasing Russian influence in the region. Such approach was materialized in the idea by President Suleyman Demirel to create the “Stability pact of the South Caucasus,” in which the US was supposed to have the role of the most important regional factor.
In the Russian-Turkish relations of that period, direction to their stabilization was dominant. Rapid development of the trade and industrial relations, which had been also visible in previous years, started to turn into a geostrategic factor and play a stabilizing role to some extent, which was also by such phenomena as billions in the “shuttle trade,” significant Turkish investments in Russia, in particular, in the construction and public catering An unprecedented growth took place in such a “traditional” sphere of trade relations between the two states as the Russian gas supply to Turkey thanks to the multi-million “The Blue Stream” deal, envisaging direct gas supply to Turkey. So its dependence on the Russian gas had been increasing.
The strategy of the Turkish regional policy, preserving its anti-Russian direction, however, lost its aggressiveness of previous years. For the political elite of the country, the lacking efficiency of the political line, based on the pan-Turkist ideas, became obvious. Not having necessary economic potential and being unable to compete with the other external forces, Turkey had to give up its pretentious plans in the Central Asia, which alleviated its competition with Russia in that region.
In the South Caucasus, the Russian-Turkish confrontation developed in the context of the ways of transportation of the Caspian oil. At the same time Turkey tried to counterbalance the Russian military presence in Armenia by developing the military cooperation with Georgia. As for Russia, trying to counterbalance Turkey’s involvement in the Chechen conflict, it started to ue the Kurdish factor to exert pressure on Turkey. However, all these processes did not have any substantial impact on the balance of powers, which had been established in the second half of 1990s in the Russian-Turkish relations, and in the South Caucasus, as a whole.
New geostrategic processes
The period of autumn 2001 – spring 2002 was critical for the whole region, and for the Russian-Turkish relations, in particular. Two geopolitical processes have been going on just since then, as a reaction to the terrorist attack against the USA in September 2001.
The start of the first one was caused by a diplomatic document, which remained unnoticed even by many experts. It was the Russian-Turkish “Agreement on Cooperation in Eurasia,” signed in New York in November 2001. It envisaged periodical consultations between the Foreign Ministries of the both states for some coordination of the regional policy. Actually, two regional powers reacted on then just emerging intentions of the only superpower – the United States, to spread the scope of its influence in the Eurasian continent under the pretext of the struggle against the Islamic terrorism.
The above-mentioned US intentions materialized in spring 2002, when the dislocation of the US advisers in Georgia. The Russian reaction was quite stormy and very negative. The Turkish reaction was also negative, but less exposed. Actually, the Americans chose not to apply for Turkish assistance, and to have their own, though symbolic, military presence in the South Caucasus. So the new US strategy was started in the South Caucasian region, aimed at rapidly changing the balance of powers that have been established here in the recent years. The “Rose revolution” in Georgia comes to prove that.
The reciprocal visits of the Russian and Turkish leaders, mentioned just in the beginning of this article, which were considered as an evidence of the Russian-Turkish rapprochement, took place in these new realities. However, from the geostrategic view, the process, going on here, is different – two powerful regional forces, old geostrategic opponents, which remains intact up to the present, on the basis of mutual consent are trying to alleviate or stop their competition to resist the third force – the United States with their unprecedented activity in the region. Actually, Russia and Turkey are trying to preserve the status quo in the region, meanwhile the USA wish to break it.
This new situation supposes a new quality of the bilateral relations, for which an appropriate diplomatic wording has been found and fixed in official documents – “multifaceted cooperation.” We think that within the geostrategic analysis, it would be correct to characterize the current stage of the Russian-Turkish relations as a “geostrategic armistice.” In their verbal statements, Russian and Turkish officials note that these new realities are an interim stage on the way to the “strategic cooperation.” it seems that both parties are trying to create an impression that they have allegedly overcome all contradictions, but it is not so. In particular, in spite of all attempts to reach some mutual consent in the Chechen and Kurdish questions (Russians passed to Turks some intelligence information about Chechen terrorist organizations, operating in Turkey, expecting that the authorities would suppress their activity; and Turks demand from Russia to ban the PKK, etc), there is no news about any positive results.
Some ideological and political concepts of Eurasianship and “strategic depth” there appeared as an ideological ground for the outlining rapprochement in the Russian-Turkish relations. The apologist of the first idea is the Russian geopolitician A. Dugin, frequently visiting Turkey in the recent time; and the second concept belongs to the foreign policy advisor of the Prime-Minister R.T.Erdoghan, Professor A. Davudoglu.
So the geopolitical situation of the South Caucasus in the recent years has entered the second phase of the post-Soviet era, which is characterized by the above-mentioned new trends. Certain geostrategic changes are also taking place in the Russian-Turkish relations, and their main sense is in the striving of the both parties to preserve the balance of powers, established between them in the South Caucasus. This means that Russia and Turkey will try to keep what they have already had. For Russia, it is its military presence in Armenia and by that in the entire South Caucasus, meaning that Russian will never make any concession to Turkey, for example, in the Karabakh issue, will not endanger its allied relations with Armenia. In any case, in this stage of the “geostrategic rapprochement” with Turkey.
February 28, 2005