Putin has tolerated the assertiveness of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign policy concerning regional conflicts in which both countries have substantial, opposing interests, Bloomberg said. He is confident Turkey will remain a thorn in the side of its fellow NATO members and expects Erdoğan’s bid to mend ties with incoming U.S. President Joe Biden to fail, it said.
“Under Biden, Erdoğan’s problems are likely to mount,” Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council told Bloomberg.
Too many differences remain between Turkey and the United States and Europe to prevent friction, and Erdoğan won’t stand for others trying to dictate how he behaves, an unidentified senior Russian government official told the news agency.
Turkey and Russia have an ostensible economic and political partnership, however the two countries back opposing sides in various conflicts.
Turkey has supported opposition and jihadist groups in northern Syria, preventing the Russia-backed Syrian government from taking their key bastion of Idlib province. Russia has suspended the offensive because of Turkish opposition, three people familiar with the matter said, according to Bloomberg.
In Libya, Turkey played a major role in helping the internationally recognised government in Tripoli turn the tide in successfully pushing back a 15-month offensive led by rogue General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries.
More recently, Turkey threw support behind Azerbaijan, its close ally, when it engaged with Armenian separatists in six weeks of clashes over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia had been the dominant player in the Caucasus and maintains a security pact with Armenia, a traditional ally. Moscow has also cultivated warmer relations with Azerbaijan in recent years.
Although Russia brokered a lasting truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkey’s role in its support for the Azeri government secured its place in overseeing the agreement.
“Relations (between Turkey and Russia) are very tense right now, there’s competition and even an element of confrontation,” Kortunov said. “Still, cooperation with Turkey is so important strategically that Russia’s ready to close its eyes to this.”
While Ankara has been telling Western partners that its growing footprint in the ex-Soviet arena and the Middle East is a bulwark against an expansionist Russia, that doesn’t mean Turkey’s on the same page with them, he said.
Turkey and Russia are allies “in some respects but in others our interests are diametrically opposed”, Andrei Baklanov, a former Russian diplomat who is now affiliated to the Valdai club in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “We have to learn to live with this situation.”
For the moment, the countries are maintaining a fraught relationship “despite their mutual differences of opinion”, Sinan Ulgen, executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, told Bloomberg.