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Russia-Turkey strange bedfellows

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For Cyprus, the Russian-Turkish relations have a particular interest for two reasons.

First, because of the positive stance of Russia on the Cyprus problem, which annoys Turkey, and second, because of the existing agreements and disagreements between the two countries on a variety of issues.

To comprehend their meaning, we should look at them through the lens of their respective interests.

To promote her interests, Russia does it within the framework of economic cooperation.

Within the framework of her neo-Ottoman policy, Turkey promotes the image of a great regional power through her military presence in different countries.

In concrete terms, the sale of the S400 system to Turkey and the participation of Russia in the nuclear programme of Akkuyu took place within the framework of economic cooperation, even though it could have had military and political repercussions.

This is proof of President Putin’s practical approach to matters that might have international fallout.

Indeed, the additional military and political character of this movement are evidenced by the strong reaction of the United States, which resulted in the imposition of sanctions against Turkey and her exclusion from the F-35 fighter aircraft development programme, a fact which benefits Russia.

Let us examine now the movements of Turkey which annoy Russia and create disagreements.

Turkey did not recognise the unification of Crimea with Russia in 2014.

Moreover, Turkey supports the Tatar minority and their aspirations.

The Russian military bases in Crimea increase her strategic depth and influence in the Black Sea, thus damaging the Turkish interests in the region.

A more serious annoyance for Russia is the intensification of cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey.

Recently, the Ukrainian military used Turkish-made Bayraktar drones to strike fighters in Donbass, the disputed region of eastern Ukraine supported by Russia.

More provocatively, Turkey and Ukraine announced the creation of a facility near Kyiv to maintain, repair and modernise combat drones.

The Turkish expansionist aspirations are also revealed by publishing a map depicting former regions of the Soviet Union, in Russia’s southern regions, as part of the Turkish world.

The reaction of Moscow came from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who said, “the only thing I regret is that this map doesn’t have a big red star in the centre of the Turkish world.

“And this centre is located not in Turkey, but on Russia’s territory, in the Altai.”

He said the Altai “is a sacred place for any Turk because it is where they originated from.”

Before coming to the eastern Mediterranean, we should mention the military intervention of Turkey in Nagorno-Karabakh in support of Azerbaijan in 2020, which resulted in the loss of territories for Armenia and a truce mediated by Russia.

To the wish of Turkey to participate in the mission of controlling the armistice, Russia objected strongly.

Syria and Libya are two more examples of disagreement in the eastern Mediterranean.

In Syria, Russia supports President Assad, whereas Turkey, the fighters of the opposition.

Their disagreement reached a climax when Turkey shot down a Russian military aircraft, which generated Moscow’s wrath and austere measures against Turkey.

In Libya, again, Russia and Turkey support opposing sides and the position of Russia favouring the withdrawal of all foreign troops is not to the liking of Turkey.

The same stands in Afghanistan, where Turkey wishes to control the international airport of Kabul, but Russia favours the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Cyprus problem

Finally, concerning the Cyprus problem, the unwavering support of Russia for a just and lasting solution constitutes a permanent challenge for Turkey.

Only recently, this stand was reconfirmed in the statement made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint news conference, following talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Christodoulides, in Moscow.

From this statement, it is interesting to mention that Cyprus is our important and time-tested partner.

Russia-Cyprus cooperation rests on long-standing ties of friendship and spiritual and cultural affinity.

The Cyprus problem should be settled within the existing international framework.

Therefore, unilateral steps concerning Varosha are inadmissible and counterproductive.

It is important to have permanent members of the UN Security Council join the discussion of the external aspects of the Cyprus problem.

In this respect, Russia’s position was reaffirmed to replace the current outdated Cyprus security guarantees with new UN Security Council guarantees.

The problems in the eastern Mediterranean should be solved based on international law, primarily the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Seas.

These positions were repeated by the Russian Ambassador to Cyprus, Stanislav Osadchiy, in Ayia Napa, on November 4, 2021, adding the position of Russia on the question of the UN Special Envoy and the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone.

More concrete, on the question of the Special Envoy, he stressed that he should be answerable to the Security Council and act as representative having the task to contribute to the solution of the Cyprus problem.

On the Cypriot EEZ, he said that Cyprus has the right to have her own EEZ, which Turkey should take into account.

From the above analysis, it appears that for the moment, there is a balance between agreements and disagreements, which is achieved through dialogue.

The importance rendered to the dialogue is testified by the fact that only in 2018, Presidents Putin and Erdogan had seven meetings and 18 telephone communications, during which the non-easy partner heard from President Putin, the Russian ‘nyet’ on many issues of mutual interest.

What will prevail at the end is unpredictable.

One thing is certain: there are no eternal enemies and friends in politics, but eternal interests only.

By Dr Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos, Ambassador a.h.