Russia-Turkey Relations: Is a Shift on the Horizon?
By Can Burgaz
The recent NATO summit and Turkey's firm stance towards the West have sparked extensive discussions in Russia. It is possible that Russian propaganda will reconsider its position towards Erdogan in the coming days, given Ankara's clear alignment with the West during the Vilnius summit.
Even before the Vilnius summit, as a result of negotiations between Erdogan and Ukrainian President Zelensky, the commanders of the elite Ukrainian "Azov" detachment, who were supposed to remain interned in Turkey, were allowed to return to Ukraine. Turkey not only released the "Azov" commanders but also supported Sweden's membership in NATO. This was a severe blow to Russian propaganda, which was directly addressed by President Putin himself, describing Ankara's move as a dagger in the back.
Putin has repeatedly emphasized Russia being stabbed in the back on various occasions. Presently, Erdogan is seen as the next one delivering the blow. Russian media recollected Putin's words to Erdogan in 2015 when, in response to the downing of a Russian military pilot, the Russian President suggested that Allah may have deprived Turkish leaders of their intelligence as a form of punishment. Ankara's position at the Vilnius summit is now perceived as another betrayal, or rather a Yataghan (turkish national sword) in the back.
During the Vilnius summit, Erdogan had a one-hour meeting with US President J. Biden, during which he announced the beginning of a new phase in relations with America. An article titled "How the Biden administration sealed the Sweden deal with Erdogan" by Asli Aydintashbash, a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington, caught the attention of the Russian press, although mistakenly it was attributed to The Wall Street Journal. The article suggests that Turkey's previous chilliness in relations with America, due to its acquisition of S-400 missiles from Russia in 2017, will be corrected in the near future, and negotiations on the supply of American F-16 aircraft will resume.
Russian media also highlighted Erdogan's meetings with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during the summit. Reports on the meeting with the Greek Prime Minister emphasized the existing conflicts between Greece and Turkey, casting doubts on the possibility of improving relations in the near future.
The nearly one-hour meeting with the Italian Prime Minister was portrayed as an invitation from Erdogan to visit Ankara and a discussion on potential Italian investments, the prevention of illegal migration, and the Mediterranean security system.
Furthermore, Turkey has previously demonstrated support for Ukraine by providing substantial military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Turkey has not recognized the annexation of Crimea by Russia and has consistently defended the rights of the Crimean Tatars. However, official Russian propaganda still perceives Erdogan as a charismatic and strong leader with close relations to Putin, who is viewed as an opponent of the US and the West in general.
The Russian Federation, as a whole, regards the US as the leader of the collective West, and Erdogan's statement regarding the restoration of strategic cooperation with the US is seen as another act of betrayal.
Interestingly, Moscow's reaction to Ankara's shifting position has been relatively muted. Despite Putin's claims of being stabbed in the back, the Russian President's spokesperson V. Peskov emphasized Russia's intention to continue the dialogue with Turkey. Erdogan also announced his intention to personally inform Putin about everything during their upcoming meeting, potentially in Istanbul or another location in Turkey.
It is likely that Russian media will make some adjustments in their coverage of Turkey, as Erdogan's recent actions during the Vilnius summit clearly demonstrate a change in his stance towards the West. However, certain friendly tones and comments about Ankara will likely be preserved in the near future. In response to Ankara's position on Sweden's membership, Russian President's spokesperson V. Peskov mentioned that while there are disagreements with Turkey, there are also beneficial bilateral relations.
The Russian press even referenced the statement of Turkey's Minister of National Education, Yusuf Tekin, regarding steps to foster closer ties with Russia in the education sector.
The evolving dynamics between Russia and Turkey have elicited mixed reactions in the Russian media. While there are indications of potential revisions in how Turkey is portrayed, there remains a degree of cautious optimism and existing friendly undertones towards Ankara. As the dialogue continues and leaders like Erdogan and Putin engage in forthcoming meetings, the future trajectory of Russia's attitude towards Turkey remains an area of interest and speculation.