Russia's dangerous path

Published 27.11.2015 00:44

Turkish-Russian relations are strained after the Turkish Air Forces downed a Russian fighter jet that violated its airspace near the border with Syria. But I do not think this tension will escalate into an acrimonious and perpetual crisis that will fundamentally change Turkish-Russian relations. Indeed, perhaps for the first time today, both countries are experiencing geopolitical circumstances that demand that the two countries work together. In this respect, both countries' leaders - President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin - are aware of this reality and have taken steps with consideration to their long-term national interests. This is why the instructions and impositions of third-party countries will not take effect in Turkish-Russian relations.

As two countries that have been aware of the West's double-dealing approach since the 1854 Crimean War between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, Turkey and Russia do not want to experience another Crimean war. Nevertheless, the recent crisis indicated that Russia adheres to some utopian political ideals such as the achievement of a Eurasian union, which will be like a new Russian empire, and to this end, it is pursuing a path that will run against its own national interests in the long term. And further, just like what it wants to achieve in the Black Sea by annexing Crimea and militarily intervention Ukraine, Russia wants to achieve the same objective in the Mediterranean by turning critical ports, such as Latakia, into a commercial base and exit. Let us reiterate that this path will hurt Russia in the long term.

The most important statement that Russia made after its fighter aircraft was shot down was that it would deploy S-400 missiles and S-300 air defense systems to Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia. This statement, which was issued by Putin himself, indicates that the Syrian civil war is actually a Latakia and Levant war. After meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an interesting statement where he described the downing of the warplane as a "planned provocation." I think Lavrov behaved like a brazen-faced man who is guilty of hypocrisy. This is because, for a long time, Russian war crafts had been conducting flights in that region to violate Turkey's rules of engagement. In short, contrary to what Lavrov claims, the crashed warplane was actually sacrificed by Russia, which knew that one of its fighter jets would eventually disturb Turkey's rules of engagement and lead to a crisis in the region. Russia wanted this in accordance with its objective of dominating Latakia and turning the city into a Russian base that would open up to the Mediterranean. This is a desire that implies an inclination toward a rather hazardous cold war period and threatens not only Turkey, but also NATO and all NATO members. One of the major reasons why Russia insisted on dominating Ukraine and Crimea was strategic ports in the Black Sea such as Odessa and Sevastopol. Now, it wants to control the Latakia port in the Mediterranean. The Odessa and Sevastopol ports, which are along northern energy transits, enable Russia to open up the Mediterranean via the Black Sea. Turkey's Iskenderun port is the only port that connects these critical ports of the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Any country that exerts military and commercial domination over Latakia will have taken a step toward a new cold war as mentioned above, as well as toward the following three important and strategic steps. First, it will have a share of Levantine natural gas resources, which are large enough to change energy balances. Second, it will control Mediterranean trade routes that are of critical importance for Russia's Eurasian union project. Third, it will militarily intervene in the region that covers the Mediterranean, Turkey and Israel and Palestine in the Middle East, or more precisely, it will be a major threat against the entirety of the region.

It is essential for Russia to reach the Carpathians and Europe in the north and to seize markets in this region so that Putin's dream of establishing a Eurasian union as a new Russian empire comes true. To this end, Russia also has to control commercial transits on the middle corridor and Levantine resources and transits via Aleppo and Latakia in the south.

So, while all these realities are as clear as day, if a Russian fighter jet has been downed in a "planned" manner, its planner is not Turkey but Russia. Russia's dream of a Eurasian union, which is planned as a new Russian empire, does not go beyond a utopian ideal that will harm all the countries in the region if it is insisted on. Russia's insistent attempt to sustain the Baath regime in Syria is the most concrete and up-to-date indicator of this. Russia must stop this insistence, and more importantly, the West, particularly the U.S. and the EU, must take up a clear position against this desire, which is playing with fire. Indeed, Russia's insistence on supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is on the verge of escalating into a humanitarian problem that will harm everyone, particularly refugees. Based on all of these realities, one cannot argue that Turkish-Russian relations will increasingly get worse. Such an argument reveals a simplistic approach that ignores Turkey's position and current and potential power. Russia can achieve all its objectives more easily by reconciling with Turkey. In this case, however, the Eurasian union cannot function as a new Russian empire, but merges as an economic union where Turkey will take its place in many fields. It is possible to establish a union that remedies the interests of all the countries in the region.

Depending on all this, I do not think that Turkish-Russian economic relations will take a considerable blow. Here, any constraint on bilateral imports and exports will harm Russia as much as Turkey. For instance, Russia cannot use the issue of natural gas as a trump card as it did for Ukraine. Considering that natural gas imports are carried out in accordance with long-term contracts and via pipelines, the construction of which was very costly, it is hardly likely that diplomatic problems will grow into a natural gas crisis between Turkey and Russia. Turkey has much more leverage than Russia in this field in the medium term. If Russia can learn a lesson from history, it must abandon this strategy, which is very dangerous. Let us note that Turkey opts for peace, dialogue and diplomacy in the region.

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