Turkey’s recent confrontation with France has drawn much attention, but its rivalry with Russia will really test the country’s foreign policy ambitions, the Financial Times’ International Affairs Editor David Gardner said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led calls from across the Muslim world for a boycott of France over its response to the murder of a teacher by an Islamic extremist in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Islam was in crisis and needed reform in line with French values, to which Erdoğan claimed Marcon should seek a mental health check-up.
Turkey is embroiled in a number of other international disputes including a long-standing rivalry with Gulf nations, and the threat of U.S. sanctions over the recent test of a Russian made missile system.
But according to Gardner, it is the growing tensions between Turkey and Russia that may have the most significant implications.
“Presidents Erdoğan and Putin had more or less managed being on opposite sides of the civil wars in Syria and Libya, in order to maximise mutual interests”, Gardner said.
But relations between the two have been complicated by Turkey’s military intervention in clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Russia regards as its backyard.
In response, “Mr Putin seems to have withdrawn his consent to Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria,” Gardner said.
On Monday, a Russian airstrike in northwest Syria killed 78 fighters armed and trained by Turkey, and Turkish troops on the ground have recently withdrawn to more defensible positions in apparent anticipation of new assault by the Russian-backed Assad regime.
Erdoğan “and fellow-strongman President Vladimir Putin are blowing hard on the embers of the war Turkey narrowly avoided with Russia in February’s heavy clashes in north west Syria,” Gardner said.
But there are also signs both leaders may again find a negotiated compromise over their differences. On Thursday, Putin indicated a willingness to include Turkey to find a “long-term solution” to the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey should “sit at the negotiating table, including the OSCE co-presidents with the participation of many countries in the Minsk Group,” Sputnik News cited Putin as saying.
Meanwhile, Russia-Turkey relations expert and Ahval contributor Dr. Kerim Has has stated over the Twitter that there is nothing new in Putin’s remarks today and it was a repetition of Russia position on the Nagorno – Karabakh conflict.
Putin, in his remarks, said that the first clashes needed to end before any type of talks start over the conflict. Turkey is already a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by Russia, France and the U.S.
The OSCE Minsk Group is an international confederation established in 1992 to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.