Not too long ago we were discussing the incursions against the Armenians by Azerbaijan and Turkey’s open backing of the Azeri forces. It was beginning to look like it could be the beginning of a new Armenian genocide, but things cooled down considerably after Russia stepped in to mediate a ceasefire, moving their own troops into the area to help enforce the agreement and keep a lid on the hostilities. But the agreement included a codicil that didn’t attract much attention when it was announced. As a concession to Turkey, Russia agreed to allow Turkish troops to remain in the area to oversee the process. This has now effectively given them a long-term presence in an area traditionally considered to be well within Russia’s sphere of military influence and power. Vladimir Putin was forced to publicly admit that this is the new reality in their part of the world. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
When Russia single-handedly brokered an agreement last month to stop fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two former Soviet republics, the Kremlin granted an important concession to Turkey, allowing Ankara to monitor its implementation.
Turkey’s strong military support for Azerbaijan was a reality the Kremlin couldn’t ignore, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“What can I tell you,” he said on Russian television when asked about Turkey’s broader role in the Caucasus days after fighting stopped last month. “It’s a geopolitical fallout from the downfall of Soviet Union.”
Turkey’s foray into an area the Kremlin has traditionally regarded as its exclusive sphere of influence is emblematic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to refashion the NATO member and once-pliant U.S. ally into a power player at the crossroads between Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
With everything else going on in the world right now, this sort of story is easy to overlook. But it’s still a rather remarkable development. To see Vladimir Putin come out during a televised interview and essentially shrug his shoulders and admit that Turkey is a force to be reckoned with is very much out of character for him.
But this development is probably a bit more complicated than it might look at first glance. It’s true that Russia seems to be conceding its de facto control of a neighboring territory, but Putin is actually getting something valuable in return for that concession. Putin has always sought to weaken NATO, which makes sense since the primary function of that organization is to act as a check on Russian influence and military power. By cozying up to Ankara, Putin is driving even more of a wedge between Turkey and the United States, as well as the rest of the west and the NATO alliance.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been drifting in this direction for some time now and not really making any effort to hide it. While still technically maintaining his nation’s status as a NATO member and hosting key United States military facilities, Erdogan has cut deals with the Russians for the purchase of new missile systems that are not compatible with NATO hardware. He’s also closed deals to purchase fighter jets from Moscow. Erdogan hasn’t really been an ally to the west in more than name only for several years now, and yet he’s somehow managed to eat his cake and have it also in this regard.
Given Turkey’s crucial location, adjacent to both Syria and Iran, they hold a vital position for the west when dealing with any flareups in those countries. Losing military and diplomatic relations with Turkey entirely wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would make American and NATO military endeavors in that region far more complicated and logistically difficult. But even knowing that, it seems as if there is no turning back while Erdogan is in charge. Perhaps it’s time to simply cut bait and boot Turkey out of NATO. Perhaps Erdogan would then find out that being a “friend” of Vladimir Putin’s isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.