Instead of letting their competition counterproductively spiral out of control like some ill-intended third parties hope to have happen in order to divide and rule them both, Russia and Turkey wisely realized over the years that it’s much better for their leaders to discuss their differences with a view towards reaching a series of pragmatic mutual compromises whenever possible.
The latest summit in Sochi between Presidents Putin and Erdogan appears to have been a success from all indications despite both leaders declining to hold a press conference afterwards. This assessment is based on their public remarks ahead of the meeting. The Russian leader praised the increase in mutual trade and investment. He also spoke highly of their cooperation in conventional and nuclear energy. Importantly, President Putin drew attention to the pragmatic working relationship that both sides’ related agencies have, in particular when it comes to Libya, the South Caucasus, and Syria. As for the Turkish leader, he reaffirmed this positive state of affairs when it was his time to speak. After the meeting, his was quoted in an interview with the New York Times as saying that his country’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems was worth it in spite of US sanctions.
The apparently positive outcome of their summit is significant since some observers were worried that their transregional competition in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), the South Caucasus, West Asia, and North Africa was once again becoming unmanageable. Turkey clinched an armed drone deal with Russian rival Poland earlier this year and hinted that it might also export these potentially destabilizing systems to Latvia after having already sold them to Ukraine. President Erdogan also criticized the results of Russia’s latest parliamentary elections in Crimea and reiterated his country’s position that it won’t recognize the peninsula’s 2014 democratic reunification with Russia. Moreover, military tensions between their respective countries seemed to have intensified in Syria’s Idlib in the run-up to this week’s summit. Continued uncertainty in the South Caucasus due to Armenia’s refusal to fully implement November’s ceasefire also suggested some friction there too.
It was therefore among the highest priorities for both countries’ leaders to once again meet in person in order to responsibly regulate their competition. About those dynamics, they’re actually quite normal since both countries have interests in overlapping regions which don’t always align with one another. Instead of letting their competition counterproductively spiral out of control like some ill-intended third parties hope to have happen in order to divide and rule them both, they wisely realized over the years that it’s much better for their leaders to discuss their differences with a view towards reaching a series of pragmatic mutual compromises whenever possible. Russia and Turkey will never engage in unilateral concessions by sacrificing their respective national interests under pressure, which is why President Putin said that “our talks are sometimes not easy, but their outcome is always positive.”
This speaks to both leaders’ political willingness to equally compromise with one another whenever it’s needed and the expected outcome is mutually beneficial. It also explains how they’ve been able to responsibly regulate their transregional competition for so many years. Presidents Putin and Erdogan deserve the greatest credit for this since it wouldn’t have been possible had they not sincerely wanted this to happen. Since no leader is eternal, their related agencies will naturally have to learn how to work more closely with one another to prepare for the inevitability of both leaders eventually leaving office. That’s why President Putin’s remark ahead of their talks about how this is already happening inspires so much optimism about the future of their relations. Each side’s permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) know that they have to do this in order to sustain the unprecedented progress made by their leaders in regulating their competition.
It should be taken for granted that some degree of friction will develop between them from time to time due to their diverging and in some cases contradictory interests in some of the regions in which they’re actively competing, but it shouldn’t be assumed that this will result in the uncontrollable deterioration of relations up to and including actual clashes between them. Presidents Putin and Erdogan have set an excellent example of how rival states can responsibly regulate their competition and expand pragmatic relations across a range of spheres. Not only that, but they’ve also shown that Turkey’s NATO membership isn’t an obstacle to the aforesaid due to its leadership’s truly independent grand strategic vision of balancing between the world’s Great Powers in order to maximize Turkey’s overall position in the emerging Multipolar World Order. Russian-Turkish relations will never be perfect, but so long as they have the political will, they can always be responsibly managed.