Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russia President Vladimir Putin | Photographer: Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russia President Vladimir Putin | Photographer: Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg
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London/Moscow: If Vladimir Putin made one thing clear over the years, it’s that no power but Russia—not the U.S., the European Union, or even China—is allowed to meddle in the security affairs of its former Soviet stomping ground.

It appears Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t get the message. By ramping up support for Azerbaijan as it tries to win back territories lost to Armenian forces in 1994, the Turkish president has put his relationship with Russia to the test.

Erdogan’s forceful approach has broad support at home and may have unlocked a fitful stalemate in the Caucasus that lasted almost 30 years. It could also win him a voice in the settlement. But if over-reached, it risks rebuke from a military power able to strike at Turkish interests in multiple theaters. Putin has long pressed for a new multipolar world order where regional powers would pursue their interests without meddling from the U.S., but this was not what he had in mind.

“Erdogan is really testing Putin’s patience,” said Alexander Dynkin, president of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which also advises the Kremlin. “He irritates Putin more and more.”

The relationship was under strain before fighting broke out around Nagorno-Karabakh on Sep. 27, despite perceptions in the West that Turkey has abandoned the U.S. and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to partner with Moscow.

Russia and Turkey have had either military advisers, mercenaries or troops deployed on opposite sides of two major conflicts, in Syria and Libya. Now concern is growing in Moscow that red lines could be crossed in the ex-Soviet Caucasus, amid claims that Turkey has sent Syrian militants to aid Azerbaijan.

The number of disputes for the two leaders to manage and compartmentalize is only growing. Russia perceives Turkey to be squeezing its natural gas giant, Gazprom PJSC. Turkey imported 28% less Russian gas in July compared with a year earlier, while imports from Azerbaijan rose 22%. Turkey will soon also open a new pipeline that will allow Azeri gas to compete directly with Gazprom for market share in Europe.

Speaking to the Turkish parliament on Oct. 1, Erdogan condemned as “unacceptable” Putin’s call for an immediate cease-fire in Azerbaijan, which the Russian leader made in a joint statement with U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. France, Russia and the U.S. are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s so-called Minsk Group aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

In his speech, Erdogan said the Minsk Group was no longer fit for purpose. He also linked the latest resurgence of fighting to Russia, saying it was part of a wider crisis that began with the “occupation” of Crimea. Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014, part of a conflict in eastern Ukraine that’s still playing out.

Also read: Israel’s new friendship with the UAE will come at a cost


On Saturday, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan each said they would consider a truce, but only on terms the other is unlikely to entertain.

The mainly ethnic Armenian enclave and seven districts around it are recognized by the United Nations as occupied territories that, according to U.K.-based Caucasus specialist Thomas De Waal, account for 13.6% of Azerbaijan’s land.

Russia and France, meanwhile, say Turkey has sent militants from Syria to fight for Azerbaijan, a move that could introduce an Islamist element to a conflict that already pits Muslim Azeris against Christian Armenians. Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied the accusation.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group that monitored death tolls throughout the war in Syria, said on Saturday that 36 Syrian fighters had been killed in the fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh in the previous 48 hours, bringing the total to 64. The group said Turkey had sent 1,200 Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan so far, mostly ethnic Turkmen.

“If the direct participation of the Turkish military or militants from Syria is proven, that will be a red line,” said Dynkin. “This isn’t the kind of multi-polarity Putin wanted.”

Turkey has long supported fellow Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but the strength of Erdogan’s intervention this time is unprecedented. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said his country will do more if Azerbaijan should ask. Large-scale joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises finished as recently as August.

Russia is hardly hands off. It has a security treaty with Armenia and has sold arms to both sides. The Kremlin has publicized at least two conversations between Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan since Sep. 27, though none with Erdogan or Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.

According to a senior official in Ankara, far from betraying NATO for Moscow, Turkey sees itself as standing alone against a crescent of Russian pressure in the region.

That’s not a view widely shared in the West. While Turkey’s leaders never harbored illusions about their essentially transactional relationship with Russia, they’ve left the country exposed by simultaneously alienating NATO allies that might have acted as a backstop, said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.

Erdogan’s goal in Azerbaijan is to marginalize the Minsk Group and force his way to a place at a new negotiating table where an eventual settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be worked out, according to Ulgen.

That’s the same strategy of leverage building Erdogan has used with some success in Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean. But it also involves risk, because Putin can strike back in Turkey in any of these theaters, should events on the ground run beyond what he is willing to accept.

“Turkey is in a much more brittle position than it needs to be, because of the erosion of trust in its traditional alliances, and that is mutual,” said Ulgen. Erdogan’s decision to take delivery of Russian S-400 air defense systems played a part in that.

The problem for Russia is that unlike in other so-called frozen conflicts in the ex-Soviet space, it has no troops on the ground to control the situation and—unlike Turkey—is trying to keep a relationship with both sides, according to De Waal, author of “Black Garden,” a book on Nagorno-Karabakh.

“So long as there is equilibrium, they have leverage, but they cannot afford to pick sides,” he said. “That always seemed a bit of a losing strategy and it seems to be running out of road.”

Russia may also be holding back to teach a lesson to Armenia’s reformist government that “anti-Russian policies could lead to the total halt of support,” said Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based analyst. Pashinyan replaced a more pro-Kremlin leadership in 2018.

“For the moment these two big bears are managing to mark out their territory, but Erdogan should be careful not to overstep the limits,” said Dubnov. “His country is a major regional power, but he mustn’t forget that Russia considers itself the dominant player here.” – Bloomberg

Also read: India slams Turkish President Erdogan’s remarks on J&K at UNGA as ‘completely unacceptable’


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  1. This conflict has nothing to do with religion and It has everything to do with Armanistan occupying a huge area of Azerbaijan. United Nations can confirm that. Some western countries such as france wants to use religious terms to give them a narrative so they can justify getting involved. Believe Azarbaijani’s are Turkic people much like turkey. I hope Armania peacefully leave Azerbaijan and bring peace. We don’t want innocent people getting hurt on either side.

  2. What sort of politics are you doing? Common people are dying in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Is this your religion? O, there is no religion greater than this humanism! I am not satisfied with the firing of missiles upon and the unwanted bombardment. It must stop for the4 sake of peace and harmony, amity and settlement.

  3. OMG, these people are Nuisance always creating problems in our cities, , Take your fight to Armenia, go there and fight them, stop destroying our cities, every year they come out in droves .blocking our streets creating traffic jams ,destroying property for something about 120 years ago, WE DO NOT CARE, enough is enough,besides these crook armenians stolen over a Billion dollars form our Medicare and Medical health program, all were arrested, went to jail, Glendale, Little Armenia(and This name should be changed, It is USA) every crime, Credit card fraud, Insurance fraud . you name it where ever armenians live, LAPD won’t hire armenian police officers in Glendale, they join in the crime. Please take your fight out of our country,we had enough of problems here at home we do not care for armenians at all, go away, instead of running away from Turks why don’t you go there nd fight them leave us out of it

  4. Russians are silent.. But sometimes silence look more dangerous than action.. If turkey gets involved more.. Rissia just need to nuke few cities of Turkey.. Turkey is cutting the branch on which they are sitting.. They are in a rift with western powers and at the same time are also challenging Russia at multiple fronts.

    • Chiiina needs to nuoook Indiiia and shuuut all the raaat worshippers with their stuuupid opinions to rest. You deserve my comment based on your fked up comment. That is a warning to all the raaat worshippers from now on no more silence. You will get a response for every stuuupid comment you ever make or every action you take you will have a lot harsher reslinse. Enough is enough.

    • Shina needs to nk Hindo & schut all the rhat worchippers with their stopid opinions to rest. You deserve my comment based on your fcked up comment. That is a wharning to all the rhat worshippers from now on no more silence. You will get a response for every stopid comment you ever make or every action you take you will have a lot horsher responce Enhaf is enhaf.

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