Russia-Turkey relations: A fine line between competition and cooperation

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Series Details PE 679.090
Publication Date February 2021
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In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane on its way to Syria. The incident led to a diplomatic freeze, highlighting the tensions between the two countries, which compete for influence in their Middle Eastern and Eurasian neighbourhoods.

Syria is one of several theatres where Turkey and Russia back opposing sides – sometimes covertly, deploying foreign mercenaries, sometimes openly, deploying troops and weapons; Libya is another. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which broke out in September 2020, threatened to become not just a proxy war between Turkey and Russia, the two countries' respective backers, but perhaps even a direct military clash between them.

Although there are many frictions between them, Moscow and Ankara also have many good reasons to cooperate. Not only are there important economic ties between them, but the two countries are natural allies, increasingly assertive regional powers whose geopolitical ambitions have created strains with the West. Their overall relationship is therefore one of cooperation, in which individual areas of contention can be accommodated.

While Turkey benefits from cooperating with Russia, overall its economic and security interests are best served by staying aligned with the West. Therefore, Ankara is unlikely to want to leave NATO or its customs union with the EU.

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