Russia and Turkey's Rapprochement

Don’t Expect an Equal Partnership

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey's prime minister, in Istanbul, December 2012. Osman Orsal / REUTERS

Turkey's normalization of ties with Russia in late June was a rare bit of good news for the country. Under the pressure of a wave of terrorist attacks by Kurdish guerrillas and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS; a massive influx of Syrian refugees; mounting economic problems compounded by Russian sanctions; and growing friction with the European Union and the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have decided that his country could no longer afford a cold war with Moscow.

By apologizing for Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane in November 2015, Erdogan paved the way for the resumption of economic ties and increased security cooperation between the two countries. The apology, however, will not diminish Russia's growing influence in Turkey's backyard. More than the shootdown, that broader geopolitical shift—which has seen Russia grow more powerful in the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, and the wider Middle East, often at Ankara’s expense—put an end to the short-lived Russian-Turkish strategic partnership that emerged in the first decade of this century.

In the years to come, Russia's growing clout in Turkey’s backyard will continue to limit the opportunities for genuine partnership between Ankara and Moscow. And although the failed coup attempt against Erdogan has created the opportunity for increased Russian-Turkish cooperation in the short term by straining Ankara’s relations with the United States and Europe, it has also made Turkey weaker and therefore more vulnerable to Russian coercion. These developments will further limit the long-term prospects for anything but a highly unequal partnership between the two countries.

A Russian navy ship under way in the Bosphorus, April 2016.
A Russian navy ship under way in the Bosphorus, April 2016.  Murad Sezer / REUTERS


The first decade of this century saw a close Russian-Turkish partnership that turned centuries of confrontation on their head. The two countries’ strategic ambitions began to converge: both hoped to carve out a larger role for themselves in the global order and were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they saw as the

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