Monday, 8 November 2010

Turkey no longer fears Russian military strength

Russia is no longer seen as a threat to Turkey – but debate rages over whether this is a triumph for Moscow’s diplomacy or a humiliating comedown for the nation’s armed forces.

Ankara has removed Russia from its so-called “Red Book” of potentially hostile states, along with neighbours Greece and Armenia and the Middle East trio of Syria, Iran and Iraq. Meanwhile Israel is added to the hit list after the storm over the summer “Freedom Flotilla” which set sail from Turkey but was blocked from landing in Palestine by Israeli forces.

But it’s Russia’s exclusion which has prompted most conversation.

The official view is that Russia’s active role in trying to mediate the on-going conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan makes Moscow a valuable ally in promoting stability in the volatile trans-Caucasus.

The document highlights warmer relations under the guidance of Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan, which involves closer economic ties as well as concluding the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

And strategists in Ankara conclude that “the threat of communism has finally lifted”.

But a more pragmatic stance offers less cause for Russia to celebrate, according to military analyst Andrei Areshev, deputy director of the Strategic Cultural Foundation.

He suggests Turkey is simply no longer all that concerned about the muscle of its giant historic rival on the other side of the Black Sea.

“Among the expert community it has been assumed that Turkey will remove Russia from the list of potential threats after a comparative analysis of the capabilities of the Russian and Turkish armies,” Areshev said.

“Turkey has a strong military, while the combat capability of the Russian army is in a permanent state of reform, which raises questions.”

Whether the latest signals from Turkey represent growing enthusiasm for Moscow’s interests or dwindling respect for Russia’s military could be less significant than what happens next.

Both countries have a shared interest in gas and oil transit to Europe, with Turkey currently signed up to the Nabucco pipeline scheme which enables the EU to access central Asian resources while bypassing Russia.

If Russia can use improved relationships with Ankara to slow that scheme it will boost the prospects of Gazprom’s treasured South Stream project becoming the market leader in gas transit to the Balkans and beyond.

Meanwhile Russian strategists may hope that they can use a less hostile Turkey as a means of easing tensions with NATO in south-eastern Europe.

The western alliance’s efforts to expand in that region have regularly alarmed Russia, which fears “encirclement” by US and European forces on its western borders, particularly if the likes of Ukraine and Georgia join the NATO club.

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