Jan 12, 2021
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Turkey’s role in the Russian southern flank

Starting with Catherine’s “Greek Project” Russia has always been an active player in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, which required guarantees of the free passage of the Bosporus and Dardanelles by the Russian fleet

I draw your attention to the fact that the idea of ​​direct annexation of the straits flashed as an echo variant at the end of the reign of Nicholas II (far from all the employees of the emperor himself and Russian politicians of that era agreed with it). Likewise, the revival of this idea in the last years of Stalin’s life (after the Great Patriotic War) showed its unviability.

In the field of foreign policy, Stalin borrowed much from the latter Romanov. The restoration of the base in Port Arthur and control over Manchuria, the transformation of Finland into a vassal state (after the futility of attempts to seize it became obvious – the weakened USSR, solving the problem of restoring the war-tattered economy, could not afford to wage a counter-guerrilla war in the remote and complex, including in terms of logistics, theater of operations for an unlimited time), a similar decision on the fate of Poland (the USSR was ready to make concessions to Great Britain in other directions, but not on this one).

In part, these decisions were explained by the objectively coinciding interests of the USSR and the Russian Empire, but in some cases Stalin’s subjective desire to be a better “tsar” than real tsars clearly prevailed.

The idea of ​​direct military control over the straits is absolutely fruitless. Even in the 18th-19th centuries, it was clear that for any reliable retention of an extended territory with a hostile population (the same Bulgarians and Greeks were allies against the Turks, but did not want to move from Turkey to Russia), a disproportionate number of troops would be required and expenditure of huge resources for the construction of a system of fortifications.

At the same time, direct land communication of Russia (USSR) with the straits zone was completely ruled out. That is, it was possible to maintain the combat capability of the straits garrison only with the help of sea transport, while a potential enemy could transfer troops to the theater of operations and organize their support, both by sea and by land. In general, the conquest of the straits was not a problem – the problem was keeping them.

That is why the most logical and efficient was Catherine’s “Greek project”, which assumed the restoration of the Greek state and the transfer of control over the straits to it. To guarantee the union of this state with Russia, a representative of the Romanov dynasty (the second son of Paul I, grandson of Catherine and brother of Alexander I and Nicholas I – Constantine) was supposed to become the emperor of “New Byzantium”. It is characteristic that in a similar way (by transferring control over the straits to the allied Greece) the British tried to solve the problem after Turkey’s defeat in the First World War.

Thus, the problem of straits (both from a strategic and an economic point of view) for Russia is removed if they are controlled by a friendly state. But Turkey can be such. The entire 19th and early 20th centuries consisted of attempts by Russia and Turkey to establish normal, friendly, mutually beneficial relations, which were regularly broken down by the Western powers, who skillfully introduced discord. For this, the real Russian-Turkish contradictions were used. It’s just that these contradictions were not so fundamental in comparison with the general interests. Nevertheless, playing on the traditional phobias of both sides, the West (the British, French, Germans, and sometimes even unfortunate Italians) managed to extinguish the nascent Russian-Turkish partnership for its own benefit.

In recent years, the situation has changed dramatically. Weakened and torn by contradictions, the West has ceased to satisfy Turkey as a senior military-political and economic partner. Ankara fearlessly disregarded hints of the possibility of “exclusion from NATO” for the purchase of Russian air defense systems and has long ceased its attempts to join the EU, realizing that no matter how many European requirements it fulfills, new ones will be put forward, and the integration process will not progress.

Turkey began to pursue an independent ambitious policy in the Middle East, which led it to confrontation with its former traditional allies. In NATO, Turkey is no longer confronting with Greece, but also with the United States and France. In addition, her position, on some issues coinciding with the Italian, does not coincide in part and there is reason to believe that in the end Rome will be on the side of its NATO partners, and by no means Turkey. Ankara fell out with its former main ally in the Eastern Mediterranean – Israel. At the same time, Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia worsened.

As you can see, Turkey is surrounded by enemies, many of whom have threatened her with weapons over the past year (Ankara did not remain in debt, demonstrating its readiness to fight, but in some cases, such as Egypt in Libya, yielding in time). It should be borne in mind that Turkey’s rear is also far from stable. With Iran, Ankara is a traditional rival for the status of a regional leader. Now, given the need to confront the United States and Israel in Syria, these contradictions are smoothed out, but Turkey’s activity in Iraq and the Transcaucasus causes Tehran’s suspicion.

Turkey has controversial issues with Russia in Syria. Turkey would also like to increase its influence in the Transcaucasus, which is absolutely unacceptable for Russia – there is already too much Ankara there.

However, common interests in the Greater Middle East region as a whole unite Russia, Turkey and Iran. The progressive disintegration of the American world raises the question of who will enter the void following the US withdrawal.

Traditional European players (France, Italy and Greece that joined them) are trying to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into their own puddle. But this means ousting from the region not only Turkey, but also Russia. If the Greek-French project of delimiting exclusive economic zones is implemented, blocking Turkey in its own coastal waters, this will also affect Russian economic interests in the region. If Turkish economic power is undermined, military power will inevitably follow. And this, in turn, will raise the question of the fact that any fleet that has passed the straits ends up in the Greek Aegeid, which is shot through and through from hundreds of islands by not even the most modern coastal complexes, right down to the usual barrel artillery. By the way, unlike most missiles, they have not yet learned how to intercept projectiles.

In economic terms, neither Russia, Turkey, nor Iran are going to enter either an ambitiously declared (albeit unrealizable in practice) own European economic cluster, or an autarkic “half-world” in which the United States plans to dominate, having lost the chances of preserving (or reviving ) of their global hegemony.

On the contrary, in alliance with each other and with China, the three powers reliably put under control not only land, but also sea routes of trade between Europe and Asia. Even without the EU’s participation, the Eurasian cluster (which additionally extends to almost all of Africa and part of Latin America) is under the control of a market with five to six billion consumers (almost 2-3 times more than a potential American cluster).

So, the countries of the potential “triple alliance” (Russia, Turkey, Iran) are already in the military and trade-economic terms oriented not towards the western, but towards the eastern vector. Moreover, it is in the Greater Eurasia variant that they play a key role, controlling the most important points of trade routes that cannot be bypassed in any way. They have enough combined military strength to defend their interests against any power or group of powers. Their economic interests do not contradict each other, and the existing individual political contradictions may well be settled on the basis of a reasonable compromise.

At the same time, a compromise can be achieved at the expense of the interests of individual European countries and Israel, which cannot refuse unprofitable cooperation with Washington and are trying to sabotage the Greater Eurasia project in its interests.

Of course, the West will once again try to pit us against each other in order to win a game that has already been lost while exhaling. But the result depends more on our own rationality (all three, not just Russia) than on the efforts of the West.

For five years, from 2015 to 2020, relations within the triangle (as well as separately Russian-Turkish ones) have been building up on the rise. In politics, any surprises and any reversals are possible, but today, within the confrontation with Russia, Turkey will not get anything, and in partnership with it it can get everything it needs, without prejudice to Moscow and Tehran. This is exactly the case when everyone wins within the framework of interaction.

Rostislav Ischenko

Photo: © RIA Novosti, Sergey Guneev

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