Aug 08 2018

What 2008 Georgia war says about Turkey-Russia relations – Analyst

Ten years after Russia’s war with Georgia, the same dynamics are at play in Ankara’s uneasy relations with Moscow, despite the appearances of tightening links, Atlantic Council fellow Dimitar Bechev wrote in an article published on Wednesday.

The 2008 war, sparked by Russian-backed breakaway regions Southern Ossetia and Abkhaz, proved to be a delicate balancing act for Turkey under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then Prime Minister, who declared that he would not be pushed toward either the West, which backed Georgia, or Russia.

Despite this, Turkey’s path eventually tilted towards Moscow, reflecting a distrust of the West’s commitment to the Black Sea region, and a preference to instead bandwagon with Russia.

“Turkey, however, is at best a fellow traveler rather than an ally of Russia. Erdoğan is pursuing a multi-vector policy in the Black Sea region. Far from aligning fully with Russia, he has also been nurturing ties with pro-Western countries such as Ukraine and Georgia and keeping options open,” said Bechev.

Moreover, Turkey’s advocacy for NATO membership for Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia demonstrates how far its regional interests diverge from Moscow’s.

“It is therefore premature to speak of a Russian-Turkish entente now, as much as it was in 2008,” said Bechev. “The war in Georgia came as a sobering reminder to Turkey that it plays second fiddle in the South Caucasus compared to Russia. The March 2014 annexation of Crimea only reaffirmed this conclusion when it comes to the Black Sea as a whole,” he added.

Ankara has responded by “soft balancing” and “hedging through NATO,” Bechev said, though thanks to the country’s nationalist and unilateralist foreign policy under Erdoğan this cooperation will only take place to serve the country’s interests, and never due to shared values.