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Good for America, Bad for Turkey: Intellectual Paradoxes of Russia Policies

Turkish-Russian relations have experienced quite problematic times throughout history. The leading role of the Russian Empire, especially in the disintegration process of the Ottoman Empire, heavily determines the decision-making processes of the founding leaders of the republic and even today’s ruling elites. In addition, the demands immediately after the Second World War are still in their minds. However, as an observed issue, the dominance of historical facts in policy-making processes can lead to a sterile point while creating foreign policy strategies. Purely history-based foreign policy strategies never open up new possibilities and merely, renew the old rule. For this reason, Turkish-Russian relations are still trapped in this historical baggage even today.

Due to the aforementioned historical baggage, the inclusion of Russia as a factor in foreign policy strategies often causes an extreme reaction in Turkish intellectual circles. It can even be said that in any positive Turkish move to Russia, are hanging over the heads of decision makers like an “ideological Damocles sword”. Moves to include Russia as a factor in foreign policy strategies are often referred to as “Eurasianism” and labeled as Turkey’s satelliteization process. However, when it comes to foreign policy, theoretically/practically national interests should come into play. You can establish relations and create partnerships with all states where you can realize your national interests. These can occur as short, medium or long term collaborations. In other words, a pragmatic foreign policy provides flexibility to states and allows them to overcome survivability problems more easily. Considering the Turkish-Russian partnerships in Syria, this situation can be understood more easily.

Moreover, another problematic and contradictory aspect of the aforementioned intellectual reactions is that they have closed their eyes to the ups and downs in US-Russian relations. Today, especially China’s growth with an attitude challenging the liberal world order and therefore the American hegemony has revealed the need for American decision makers to put the Russian factor into action. This foreign policy strategy, which has a clear example in history, takes ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a source of inspiration. On the eve of the détente period of the Cold War, Kissinger included China in the “global game” and tried to balance Russia over China by taking advantage of the rivalries of the two communist states. Today, the final destination of American foreign policy will probably appear as balancing China by establishing good relations with Russia. At a time when even the USA felt the need to instrumentalize Russia as a factor, affixing ideological labels to Turkish-Russian relations can only be seen as an ill-intentioned effort to anchor Turkey to the American axis.

In addition, the fact that the discussions of potential for American-Russian relations in itself justifies the times of crisis in Turkish foreign policy. Turkey is a state that has been subjected to various punishments due to the relations it has developed with Russia and even its expulsion from NATO has come to the fore. As of the point reached, the positions of the American foreign policy are at a point that justifies Turkey. In addition, due to the neighborhood from the north, its frequent encounters in Southeast Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and finally the fact that it has a de facto neighborly relationship in the Eastern Mediterranean and its southern borders, Turkey so normally has a different, complicated approach to Russia. There is nothing more natural than to devise an avant-garde strategy. States exhibit flexible behaviors in order to ensure their survival, especially during systemic transition periods. Trying to prevent this code of behavior by affixing some ideological labels is neither realistic nor well-intentioned.

About the Author
Lecturer at Bandirma University / Turkiye. Studying International Relations Theory, Security Studies and Middle East & Israeli politics.
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