An activist holds a placard that reads "Bring Turkey to account" to protest in reaction after a Russian war plane was shot down by Turkey, in front of the Turkish embassy in Moscow, Russia November 24, 2015.
Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

In the fall of 1914, two German warships—the Goeben and Breslau—took refuge in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople to escape British naval pursuit. Following secret negotiations between the German and Ottoman war offices, the Goeben and Breslau, along with an accompanying Ottoman naval squadron, then moved to bombard the Russian port cities of Novorossiysk, Odessa, and Sevastopol. This, according to Wilhelm Souchon, the commander of the German Mediterranean squadron, was the ideal pretext for forcing the otherwise neutral Ottomans to get involved in the Great War, “even against their will.” Russia was the Ottomans’ “ancient enemy,” and by lending two German battleships to Constantinople’s strategic priorities in the Black Sea, Germany, Souchon believed, could win over the empire. Souchon was right.

Last year, in an article about the geopolitics of the Black Sea, I argued that the course of modern Russian-Turkish relations was set in 1783, when the Russian tsar’s armies captured Crimea in what was the Ottomans’ first significant loss of Muslim territory. The shock—and the desire to prevent the next loss—prompted the Ottomans’ Westernization and their efforts to balance against Russian expansion through European alliances. The most significant balancing act came during the Crimean

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  • AKIN UNVER is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.
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