Turkey-Russia Relations since the Treaty of Moscow

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Regarding the centennial of the Treaty of Moscow, signed on March 16, 1921, as Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), we spoke with Asst. Prof. Mehmet Perinçek from the Institute of Asian and African Studies at Moscow State University about how the Turkish-Russian relations were formed throughout the history and what could happen to the bilateral relations in the future.

  1. 100 years have passed since the Treaty of Moscow signed on March 16, 1921. Interpreting from 2021, what does this agreement mean for the parties?

When we look at the history of Turkish-Russian relations, we come across a “Iron law.” During the Russian Empire, in the first years of our Republic, during the Cold War and today, both sides suffered from the Turkish-Russian conflicts; even the only winner of these conflicts was the West. The fundamental basis on accomplishing their plans in this region of the Western powers is to create a conflict and the competitive environment between Russia and Turkey. Thus, a possible cooperation that could be used against the West would be prevented. The conflict between Ankara and Moscow would create a suitable ground for the West to reach its goals in the region, as it would weaken both states.

However, there were periods when there was no Iron Law in relations. When there was cooperation between the two countries, national interests were implemented more easily and other countries were affected positively in the region. Turkish-Russian cooperation, has led to stability, peace and prosperity of the region. However, Turkish-Russian wars have been decisive throughout history. The actual period when the Iron Law was abandoned was March 16, 1921, with the Treaty of Moscow. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Vladimir Lenin, joint action was taken against Western imperialism and the plans of the West for the two countries were destroyed. The most important reflections of the action took place in the South Caucasus. After the First World War, as stated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Western imperialist states created a “Caucasian Wall” in the South Caucasus. Atatürk saw that the elimination of the Caucasus Wall was necessary for the success of the War of Independence. Therefore, immediately after the opening of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), on April 26, 1920, he sent a letter to Lenin proposing to destroy the British collaborator governments in the South Caucasus by the Turkish Army and the Red Army. Thus, the two armies had a cooperation in the South Caucasus and the Dashnak and Menshevik governments supported by Britain were eliminated in the region. I have also written the details of this cooperation in my new book titled “Turkish-Soviet Military Cooperation in the Caucasus.”

This cooperation has led to the emergence of an atmosphere of peace in the South Caucasus. It ended both the War of Independence in Turkey and the British supported governments threatening the October Revolution in Russia. So, the Treaty of Moscow was signed because of this cooperation. The treaty should not be interpreted only as a historical text from today’s perspective. Turkey and Russia, faces similar challenges today as well, and consequently they need similar cooperation strategy. In this regard, the Treaty of Moscow sheds a light on the present and the future and points the right way to the future than just being a historical text.

  1. Speaking on the 100th anniversary of the treaty, Spokesperson of Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova emphasized the historical importance of Turkish-Russian relations and said that Moscow is ready to develop constructive interaction with Ankara in all areas. At this point, can you explain the areas where cooperation can be extended?

The United States of America (USA) has a comprehensive strategy covering all regions in the world. The main goal of the U.S. is to control energy resources and the energy corridors in Central Asia. Therefore, the policies implemented by Washington in all regions of the world has been planned to serve this strategy. The most important obstacle in the implementation of this strategy are the powerful countries in the region like Turkey, Russia, China and Iran. Turkey and Russia should follow a similar comprehensive strategy like the United States. In this regard, the two countries should focus on a holistic strategy that could bear the US strategy rather than agreeing on regions one by one.

At this point, the primary aspect where cooperation can be developed is that Ankara and Moscow should make a general cooperation strategy in response to the goals of the U.S. towards the regions. In this respect, the issue of national security is extremely important. For instance, the problems in the process in Syria should be eliminated. The cooperation environment that started after the Nagorno-Karabakh War in the South Caucasus should be advanced. The Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea are also crucial regions in this regard. Turkey defends not only its own interests in the Eastern Mediterranean but also the interests of the entire Central Asian geography. The Atlantic front is active in the region which means that it can reach the Black Sea much more easily and threatens Russia. That is why the defense of Turkey in the region should be supported by Russia as well.

While the U.S. contains Russia over the Black Sea and Europe, it also surrounds Turkey. Consequently, Ankara and Moscow should consider the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean as complementary fronts and take joint actions.

Energy is the second important area of ​​cooperation. The Turkish-Stream Project, the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Project stand out in this area. Existing cooperation in the energy field should be developed and progressed. A partnership can also be developed in the field of defense technologies. Turkey, as an official member of NATO, is actually the target of the organization. It is in conflict with the U.S. and NATO troops in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean as well. In case of a potential conflict, there is no possibility for Turkey to use the defense technology of U.S. Therefore, Turkey has to diversify its defense technology in the defense industry. The most concrete example of this situation was the purchase of S-400s. Turkey’s decision to buy S-400 is a strategic measure. Ankara responded to the American threat in this way. It is crucial for Turkey to develop its national and local defense system in the period ahead. However, cooperation with Moscow would also be convenient. Cooperation envisages technology transfer and co-production. Collaborations in the defense industry, including joint production, will be on the agenda in the coming period.

  1. Turkey’s influence is increasing in the geography of the former Soviet Union, which Russia describes as its immediate surroundings. How does this affect Turkey-Russia relations? To put it simply, is it possible for Turkey and Russia to move the close cooperation that began in the Middle East to Central Asia and the Caucasus? In other words, does Moscow perceive Turkey as a competitor or is it a partner to cooperate with?

Astana Process is important in terms of Turkish-Russian relations and the solution of the problems in the region. If the intervention of the West is deterred and the countries like Turkey Russia and Iran cooperate, then the regional issues can be resolved and significant achievements in Syria can be ensured. Actually, Astana Model can be applied to all conflict areas in the region. In this respect, as stated above, based on cooperation not competition, important opportunities arise for the two countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The 1990s experience is important for Central Asia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Turkey started a policy with a definition compatible with U.S. plans in Central Asia; however, this has resulted in disappointment. Turkey could not develop the relations with the Turkish states as desired. Necessary steps could not have been taken regarding the unity of the Turkish World. Therefore, Turkey did not follow the US plans, instead, it wanted to remain in the region with the desire to unite the Turkish World. It should implement this goal by not as a policy against Russia or China but on a cooperation basis. Turkey’s unity with the geography of Turan will only be achieved through collaboration with Russia and China.

Moscow’s policy to gain access to the warm waters has always been known. There is no possibility of this policy if there is a conflict between Russia and Turkey.  In this respect, the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War is important. The Ankara-Moscow-Baku axis has ensured the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, after the war, the opening of the Nakhchivan Corridor, offers Turkey the opportunity to integrate with Central Asia. Nakhchivan Corridor is also being implemented through Turkish-Russian cooperation. So, Turkey’s rapprochement with the other Turkic Republics is something that Russia is sympathetic to.

  1. In this regard, could you tell us about the Turkish perception in Russia, especially in the context of developments of Central Asia based?

Kremlin perceives Turkey as an important, potential and strategic ally, because the threat perception of the two countries is common. Especially the recent statements of the US President Joe Biden prove this situation. Therefore, both countries need each other. Kremlin wishes Turkey to leave the Atlantic front and set an independent foreign policy. It attaches great importance to the steps taken in the recent Ankara-Moscow cooperation.

Regarding the Turkey’s policies in Central Asia, what is decisive in the perception of Russia will be the Turkey’s stance. If Ankara moves away from the Atlantic and makes an agreement with Moscow within the framework of a holistic strategy, cooperation will follow in Central Asia, just like in the South Caucasus and Syria.

In Turkey, there are some people that do not want cooperation with Russia. Likewise, a Westernist group in Russia does not want to cooperate with Turkey. “Orange Movements,” described as “Fifth Column Activity,” did not affect Russia. As it can be seen in the recent events of Alexander Navalny in the country, even though there were minor clashes, the protests did not persist. Movements like “Fifth Column Activity” have no chance of success. However, it is possible to say that there is also a “Sixth Column Activity” in Russia. These do not directly target Putin but they are the movements that try to persuade Putin to be with the West by walking side by side with him, cooperate with him and actually force Russia to take a softer stance towards the West. The same forces are trying to prevent the cooperation with Turkey. However, considering the Putin’s approach, it is seen that he is in cooperation with Ankara. It is obvious that the governments of the two countries also need each other and there is a situation of mutual dependence. In fact, this is a necessity rather than an option.

  1. So, is it possible for an idea of a pact on cooperation in the Caucasus and Central Asia that will contribute to the peace in the region under the leadership of Turkey and Russia to come up? If you recall, after the victory of Nagorno-Karabakh of Azerbaijan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had proposed something like this for the Caucasus. How does Moscow perceive this proposal? How does Russia approach the projections of cooperation that will include Central Asia in a more comprehensive way?

The “six-way platform” proposal of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is of great importance for the region. Inclusion of Armenia in the six-way platform is critical since Armenia was again used by the Western powers 100 years later and was thrown aside. When the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is ensured with the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the proposal of the six-way platform is crucial to save Armenia from the crisis it fell into and to bring the country to cooperation in the region.

The cooperation of Turkey, Russia and occasionally Iran eliminated the intervention of the West and ended of the Minsk Group. Thus, it limited the means that the West could intervene. Next is cooperation with Armenia. The people of Armenia are in favor of cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan for their own interests. The country’s economic, social and political crisis will not stop if the hostilities continue with Turkey and Azerbaijan. As long as Armenia fulfills its obligations to Azerbaijan and abandons its hostile policy towards Turkey, it’s inclusion will be possible for the six-way platform.

Six-way platform has been transformed into 3+3 due to the problems that Moscow has with Tbilisi. Therefore, Turkey, Russia and Iran make up the first trio; Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are the second. This proposal has also been accepted by Ankara. Therefore, Russia and Turkey perceives this kind of unity positively.

These developments can also be applied to Central Asia in terms of eliminating the plans of the U.S. in the region and ensuring both national and energy security of the region. The plans of the U.S. for the region are also an initiative against China’s Belt and Road Project. Therefore, it is possible for China to participate in the cooperation in the region. When all of these take place in Central Asia, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China could have important progress.

As it is known, Turkey was invited to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) by Putin years ago. Conducting a similar process can also be effective here. Ankara can join the organization as an observer. Moving forward to this direction would prevent separatist movements, the U.S. from reaching its goals in the region and would play a critical role in ensuring the energy security of the region. Development of other platforms is also possible in addition to Turkey’s joining the SCO.

  1. Finally, if we need to talk about the Middle East, what would you say about the future of the Astana Process? Is it possible to overcome the conflict of opinion, especially in Idlib?

Turkey’s and Russia’s interest, as expressed in the Astana Process, is in favor of Syria’s territorial integrity. The Astana Process has also undertaken this task. In order to fulfill this task, it is necessary to liquidate all the elements that violate the territorial integrity of Syria. The first of these elements is the puppet state initiative under the terrorist organization PKK/PYD. It is a terror corridor supported by the U.S. Turkey and Russia should cooperate to eliminate these elements in the east of the Euphrates.

The second element is the Idlib Problem. In fact, the interests of Ankara and Moscow overlap in the region. At this point, Idlib must be cleansed of radical elements. Therefore, the east of the Euphrates and the Idlib issue should be handled together. Ankara and Moscow should be able to overcome these issues by acting collectively. The most important common point is that both countries are in favor of Syria’s territorial integrity.

This whole process is not only through the cooperation of Ankara and Moscow but it will also be possible if Ankara connects with Damascus. Damascus also opposes separatist terrorist organizations. Therefore, it would be advantageous for Ankara to start a normalization process with the Damascus administration.

Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2021 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir. Halihazırda Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi'nde yüksek lisans eğitimini sürdürmektedir.