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Why Russia and Turkey Fight

A History of Antagonism

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference in Istanbul December 3, 2012. Murad Sezer / Reuters

Relations between Turkey and Russia have been fraught ever since the Turkish air force downed a Russian bomber that briefly violated its air space in November. But the tensions between the two countries had been escalating for months before that, first over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and then over Syria. As a result, in the span of two years, the two countries have largely undone the entente they had built over the past 15.

Built on economic cooperation, shared discomfort with a Western-dominated international order, and the personal chemistry of their semi-autocratic leaders, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Russo-Turkish entente was, in many ways, a historical anomaly. The drivers of the latest confrontation are far deeper than the loss of a single warplane, and likely herald a return to the geopolitical rivalry that has been the norm for Russo-Turkish relations throughout history.

Today’s confrontation is, in fact,

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