Turkey and Russia: the Sultan against the Tsar

Tsar and Sultan: Eurasia Between Russians and Turks – Michael Reynolds

Turkey and Russia: the Sultan against the Tsar

Turkey and Russia: the Sultan against the Tsar

Analysts say the fragile alliance between Ankara and Moscow runs counter to historical experience

Throughout history, they have more often been geopolitical enemies than friends. Analysts note that the fragile alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are trying to build, angering Ankara’s NATO allies, runs counter to historical experience..

If the two countries eventually begin to fight for the fate of northern Syria, then in fact it will be a return to the traditional historical enmity: they have fought wars against each other in every century since the 16th. First conflict. erupted in 1569, when the Ottoman army besieged Astrakhan, but was forced to retreat under the pressure of the troops of Ivan the Terrible.

In most subsequent wars, which were fought for access to the Black Sea, ownership of the steppe lands of Ukraine and control of the Balkans, Turkey was the loser, losing territory and influence. Clashes in the 19th century narrowed the Ottoman Empire, nicknamed “the sick man of Europe”, and precipitated its collapse, historians remind.

Historically, luck is on the side of Russia

Only in the Crimean War of 1854-1856. the Turks won, mainly thanks to the support of France and Great Britain. “I despise the Turks because I consider their government to be the most evil and most repressive in the world,” British Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen told his friends during the war..

Russian emperors, including Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, willingly took advantage of the decline of the Ottoman Empire to encourage Balkan and Slavic nationalism and expand Russian territory in Central Europe and the Caucasus. During the war of 1768-1774, another conflict from which Russia largely emerged victorious, Moscow seized parts of Moldova and Crimea, as well as the Pontic-Caspian steppe, a vast strip of land stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

At the end of this war, Russia cemented its reputation as one of the leading military powers in Europe..

However, if Ankara, against the background of past defeats, should behave extremely cautiously in its confrontation with Moscow and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in northwestern Syria, then the Western powers should be wary of the broader and longer-term consequences of the next Russian-Turkish conflict..

The Crimean War, marked in particular by the infamous attack by the British Light Brigade on Russian positions and other serious military mistakes, “marked the beginning of a series of European wars and battles for power that dragged on throughout the second half of the 19th century,” writes British military historian Trevor Royle in his book “Crimea”.

In his opinion, these conflicts paved the way for the First World War. As in the case of the Crimean War, a new war between Moscow and Ankara could also threaten the stability of Europe. Analysts warn that war between Russia and Turkey could present NATO with a difficult and possibly insoluble dilemma.

The dilemma of Article 5

According to experts, Ankara is likely to refer to the principle of collective protection enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO Charter. The article says the alliance equates an attack on one member with an attack on all.

In recent years, NATO members have already expressed doubts about their adherence to Article 5. For example, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned his willingness to defend a NATO ally.

Not only Trump

Trump is not the only Western leader to question the principle of collective defense, which has only been used once, in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. In November, French President Emmanuel Macron, answering a question from the British magazine The Economist about whether he believes in the effectiveness of Article 5, said: “I don’t know.”.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center has shown that many residents of the alliance’s countries express doubts about fulfilling their collective defense commitments. Despite NATO’s generally favorable ratings among alliance member countries, there is widespread skepticism about Article 5. When asked whether their country should defend its NATO ally against a possible Russian attack, an average of 50% in the alliance’s 16 countries say their the country should not do this. 38% of respondents consider it necessary to observe the principle of collective defense.

Analysts say Ankara could threaten a new influx of refugees if NATO does not defend Turkey, which could further undermine solidarity within the EU. But Erdogan is not particularly popular with European leaders who are unhappy with his authoritarian style and his habit of playing Europe against Russia in an effort to get what he wants..

Jonathan Schanzer, an analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, is not surprised by the escalation of tensions between Moscow and Ankara. Last month, he noted in an interview with Voice of America that Russian-Turkish relations are complicated by geopolitical conflicts that risk undermining them..

He warned that the nascent partnership is at risk of collapse due to the scale of the geopolitical ambitions of two key players, Putin and Erdogan, one of whom wants to restore Russia to superpower status and the other to restore the greatness of the Ottoman Empire..

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