ISSUE 4-2015
Victor Zamyatin Victor Chirila Igor Tyshkevich Bogdana Kostyuk
Daniş Emrah Emin
Ярослав Шимов
Petr Vagner
Vera Novikova

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

ISSUE 4, 2015
Our world has not experienced the best times.  During last years numerous new challenges have emerged and undermined our seemingly unshakeable confidence in secure and prosperous world.  Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict, increase of various forms of extremism, waves of refugees are only some problems which the contemporary world faces. Current confrontation between Russia and Turkey also added fuel to the flames.

Russian Vopros asked one of top experts on Russian-Turkish relations Professor of Baku State University and Deputy of Milli Mejlis of the Republic Azerbaijan Musa Qasımlı, author of several fundamental monographs analyzing this issue[1], to answer several questions focused on this new issue that could have relatively broad consequences.

Professor Qasımlı, you are a well-known expert on history of Russian-Turkish relations therefore I would like to open our interview asking you whether current controversy  between Moscow and Ankara is something extraordinary in their relations or we are dealing with an ordinary oscillation characteristic for  long history of this relationship?

Current confrontation between Russia and Turkey, launched by shoot down of the Russian warplane, is not anything extraordinary in history of their mutual relations. It can be considered as a normal game. If we have gone through bilateral relations between these two countries since the Moscow agreement signed on the 16th March 1921, we could find number of similar moments.

Since that time there have been several ups and downs in mutual relations which were caused mainly by the U.S.S.R./Russia. The first misunderstanding took place two years after the ratification of Moscow treaty.  Soviet diplomacy did not agree with the improvement of relationship between Turkey and Western countries that was promoted by Mustafa Kemal. Turkish president wanted to have good relations, trade and economic cooperation with neighbouring U.S.S.R. but at the same time he developed an intensive cooperation and strategic partnership with Western countries.

Independent Turkish foreign policy and close relations with some of Western countries were against of Stalin´s position even in 1930s. The U.S.S.R. then presented claims concerning control of the Turkish Straits.

During the talks between Molotov and Ribbentrop in Berlin (1940) Moscow asked for control of territories from Batumi to the Straits of the Black Sea and from Baku to the Gulf of Basra. However, Germany did not agree with these territorial claims. Of course, such attempt made by Moscow caused another chill in Soviet-Turkish relations.

When Germany declared war on the U.S.S.R., Turkey proclaimed its neutrality. Stalin subsequently changed his attitude towards Turkey in the positive way. However, after victorious Stalingrad battle Soviet leader brought his desire to control Turkish Straits to the table again and mutual relations worsened. 

Politburo of the Central Committee of All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) even approved a secret plan of the military operation against Turkey. However, Stalin never realized the plan. When Turkey joined NATO in 1952 Soviet leadership took this step as a hostile act. According to its interpretation Turkey brought USA and other Western countries in the immediate closeness of Soviet borders.

After Stalin’s death, Soviet leaders admitted previous mistakes made in mutual relations, gave up groundless territorial claims and relations between both countries began to stabilize. At the end of the 50s the Syrian issue caused some tension between Moscow and Ankara but the disagreement was later settled down. 

If it is possible to characterize the 60s of the 20th century as a period of the improvement of mutual relations, 70s were a period of a broad cooperation. The Soviet policy then tried to get Turkey out from NATO and turn it into neutral country. The main aim of this attempt was to push NATO infrastructure –the listening ears and the watching eyes– away from Soviet borders. Regardless of high level of Soviet-Turkish relationship Ankara did not make any compromise that would hurt interests of the Western bloc. 

In 50s as well as 60s various violations of the airspace between both countries happened several times as well. Turkish (NATO) aircrafts violated airspace of the U.S.S.R. by mistake and landed at military air bases in Azerbaijani Kurdamir and Armenian Leninakan (Gyumri). The most famous case became shot down of aircraft U2 over Soviet territory in 1960. Violation of territorial waters also occurred.

Various incidents happened, two hostile military blocs –NATO and Warsaw Pact– stood against each other and the world lived in times of the Cold War but the situation then was different because there was not a hot war.

However, such war we have in the Near and Middle East now, right at the Turkish borders. It means the war has been under way on the NATO territory. Russia has been coming from a faraway country. Under cover of the fight against ISIS Russian bombers, without insignia, have bombed civilians. The main aim of Moscow is not the fight against ISIS. Russia set its own goals in Syria. One of them is to prevent the collapse of world oil prices which seriously threaten its stability.

In fact, Russia does not try to preserve Syrian President Bashar Assad; it is just a convenient pretence only.  During discussion at the Politbyro of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in early 80s, the Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev mentioned that it was necessary to keep Syria in Soviet orbit by any means. Today the situation repeats itself. Russia is fighting for its own strategic interests in Syria.

Main Russian aim is to disrupt the realization of the Western countries’ plans in the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to Hong Kong and the Pacific Ocean. Moscow also wants to control Turkey –member of NATO, Israel, to gain in this way access to the Mediterranean Sea and fortify its position there.

The Turkish government could not remain indifferent to the repeated violations of its airspace. Downing the Russian aircraft was the right step from the Turkish side. Every self-respecting state would do the same. Simultaneously, Turkey has sent a message to other countries. In other words, if we shot the Russian aircraft we may shoot down others as well.

Relations between Ankara and Moscow experienced till accident with warplane very dynamic and friendly period. Can we find such positive times in history of Russia-Turkey relationship?

Despite NATO membership, Turkey has always pursued a policy of good neighbourhood and cooperation with Russia. Ankara has never acted in the way that could irritate Russia and it did not deploy, e.g., nuclear warheads in its territory. Both countries have behaved as gentlemen. Nevertheless, I presume that the tension in the bilateral relations is not going to deepen and everything will return to its proper place. However, as long as the current government in Moscow will stay in power, the previous gentleness will never come back. Tension will prevail.  

What do you think, has been reaction of Moscow to downed warplane adequate? Maybe it would have been better to react more restrainedly to preserve friendly relations with Turkey.  Moscow does not have many friends now and to lose so important partner was not too far-sighted, however, it was not negligible incident.

Russia is hardly predictable country. Nowadays, Moscow often says one thing and does another; therefore it can feud with a brotherly country.  It is nothing new in Russian history. Let´s recall suppression of the Prague spring in brotherly country by Moscow in 1968.

Russia ought to have been more restrained in its reaction to the shot down of the aircraft. Choosing way of the confrontation Moscow harms itself. Russia is surrounded by the countries with which it does not have too friendly relations: Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and etc. Was it worth in this context to spoil so radically relations with Turkey? Of course, not.

Russia should have acted more modestly and it would have won; it cannot afford to lose last friends. However, Russia is a nuclear power, it is not the U.S.S.R. and it needs real allies.

We can mention here another historical parallel. Collapse of the U.S.S.R. was launched by intervention in Afghanistan. In my opinion, Russian will not profit from current military operation conducted in Syria. Involvement in the conflict will gradually worsen internal situation in Russia and its international position as well.

Azerbaijan is caught in a complex situation because of confrontation between its strategic partner and strategic ally. Could Baku, having above-standard relations with Moscow and Ankara as well play the role of mediator between both countries?

Azerbaijan is against any confrontation; conflict between Russia and Turkey included. No one wins in the confrontation. Everybody lose, one financially, the other morally and etc. Only cooperation can bring benefit.

When in the 60s the Soviet-Turkish relations entered a period of normalization, there was a mutual perception in Ankara and Moscow that Azerbaijan could be a golden bridge between both countries.

Poor relations between Ankara and Moscow were not in the favour of any country in the South Caucasus region. Provided that Baku preserves its independent policy and unbiased position Azerbaijan might play a role of mediator and could contribute to improvement of relations between two respective countries.

What is your prediction of further development of the situation? If both countries were not able to find mutually acceptable compromise it could have negative impact also on South Caucasus region. 

Russia-Turkey relationship has really deep roots. This accident should not disrupt these fundaments. There is not any enmity between Russian and Turkish people. Russia is also a Turkic country. Approximately 30 million Turkic people live there and about 50.000 Russian women married to Turkish citizens. Some people can be enemies forever. However, countries cannot constantly be in a state of hostility.

Pragmatism will prevail at a certain point. It is own interest of Russia to have a good relationship with Turkey.  I strongly believe that the relationship between both countries will be normalized till 16 March 2016, i.e., till the anniversary of the famous Moscow Treaty. I think that political realism will triumph in the end.

[1] Отношения между СССР и Турцией ( в период с турецкого переворота 1960 года до развала СССР). Soviet-Turkish Relations from the 1960 Coup in Turkey until the Collapse of the USSR. I volume. 1960-1979. Baku, Adiloglu, Publishing House 2007, 560 p.

Отношения между СССР и Турцией (в период с турецкого переворота до развала СССР), II том, 1979-1991. Soviet-Turkish Relations from the 1960 Coup in Turkey until the Collapse of the USSR. II volume. 1979-1991. Baku, Adiloglu Publishing House, 2009. 304 p.

СССР - Турция. От нормализации отношений до новой холодной войны. (The Soviet Union and Turkey: From Normalized Relations to the New Cold War.).Moscow, INSAN, 2008. 576 p. ISBN 978-5-85840-08-0;

Турция-СССР: от переворота до распада. 1980-1991.Turkey-USSR: From the Coup d’etat Till the Collapse. 1980-1991. Moscow, INSAN, 2010. 416 p. ISBN978-5-85840-018-9.



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Bogdana Kostyuk
Daniş Emrah Emin
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