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How Turkey and Russia are reshaping the Black Sea region

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In recent years, Eurasia has become a crucial geopolitical space, where world powers define their interests through historical, social, and cultural narratives . In particular, the Black Sea region has become increasingly enmeshed in a web of overlapping political, military, commercial and energy interests of the world’s and traditional great powers. Due to its geographical position between several strategic ellipses, the Black Sea region allows the projection of power over the European continent, mainly in the Balkans and Central Europe, but also in the Eastern Mediterranean, the South Caucasus and the northern Middle East.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the region took on additional strategic importance as it contains transport routes for hydrocarbon resources from the Caspian, Central Asia and the Middle East to the European Union (EU) .. However, in the post-2000 period there has been a remarkable transformation in the geopolitical landscape of the Black Sea. In recent years, the Black Sea region has become a central site of the new ideological confrontation between West and East, of competition between Orthodox Russia and Western civilization, and a permanent zone of power struggles. These developments affect the security and stability of the Black Sea region in various ways. Uncontrolled militarization, organized crime, terrorism, the growing influence of disinformation and the absence of comprehensive peacebuilding policies at the national and regional levels make the region highly vulnerable.

While the region has been largely ignored by Western policy planners since the end of the Cold War, Russia and Turkey have worked hard to bolster their political and economic capabilities.. In fact, both countries have increased their efforts to build a new regional order that better responds to their respective national interests. The new regional regime is characterized by a finely balanced complementarity that allows both countries to use flexible and context-sensitive diplomatic strategies. In its current form, the Russian-Turkish model of complementarity is based on mutual recognition of spheres of influence and the willingness to make concessions for mutually beneficial results. The main objective is to develop common rules to better manage the global relationship, as well as regional dynamics and priorities. This strategy is accompanied by the efforts of each country to develop strong and robust national economies.. Both countries have reached different levels of development in recent years. However, they have become influential powers thanks to the continuous expansion of their military and economic posture, accompanied by an assertive information campaign and uncompromising rhetoric.

An especially striking element of the Russo-Turkish adjustment strategy is to prevent the increase of Western influence in the region. More specifically, both countries see themselves as regional superpowers and see the Black Sea region as a crucial part of their foreign policy discourse. After the collapse of the Soviet UnionWestern partners viewed Ankara as a counterweight to Russia and seemed to be the only power capable of resisting Russian moves in the Black Sea region. Western-led liberals generally believed that Ankara would shape the region’s security profile and thereby increase future Western dominance. However, changes in geopolitical processes after 2007 brought about a rather unexpected dynamic in Turkish foreign policy. Russia’s aggressive comeback in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU while Turkey’s accession talks with the EU repeatedly ended in deadlock, and NATO’s new enlargement plansthat were announced during the Bucharest Summit in 2008 encouraged a strategic recalibration in Ankara. Turkey, with its historical ties and the longest coastline among the riparian states of the region, has started to pursue an active policy of creating a conscious regionalism of the Black Sea. He has taken a leadership role initiating various formations. Following the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, President Erdogan launched the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact with Russia and the countries of the South Caucasus. However, the lack of regional conceptions, Russia’s dominance and Turkey’s limited foreign policy tools have so far made regionalization of the Black Sea region impossible. It is striking that Western partners have been excluded from this format. With this, Ankara sent a clear message to its Western partners that it preferred to define the regional security architecture together with Russia.

This trend was evident again during the 2020 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region . To secure a place in the South Caucasus, Ankara negotiated future peacebuilding initiatives directly with Russia and undermined the role of the OSCE Minsk Group, which had been the only international peacebuilding dialogue format. in the conflict.

Despite diverging interests in Syria and other serious disagreements, Turkey and Russia have moved carefully in recent years not to undermine their common tandem in the Black Sea region. They have even found each other in a new field. Since the 2016 military coup attempt, Ankara had significantly recalibrated its understanding of national security culture. Both countries now share the conviction that Western-led liberal society and democratic elements threaten national security. This attitude has translated into strong repressive domestic policies that have a huge impact on foreign policy discourse. This has manifested itself in the reproduction of an aggressive course of Russian politics in the Turkish foreign policy strategy. In recent years,President Erdogan has moved aggressively to show that Turkey sees itself as the pre-eminent political and military power in the Middle East and Black Sea region . Turkey is moving away from pro-Western Kemalist ideology towards an expansionist neo-Ottoman autocratic nationalism. Turkey’s aggressive behavior in the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict in 2020 and the display of the growing defense industry made it clear that Turkey seeks to be a central player in the region rather than a bridge between East and West or an exponent of the collective West.

Turkey’s recent decision to reject Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications on the grounds that both countries support “terrorists”, i.e. the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group and the Syrian Kurdish YPG , which he considers closely linked to the PKK, is an example of the ideological and political rupture between Ankara and its Western partners. Turkey’s objection must be placed in a broader context, namely in the Russian-Turkish tandem . Another element of the Turkish strategy is its unclear course regarding the Ukraine war. Although Ankara supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, it continues to keep the door open to Russia.

In recent years, it is clear that the West has underestimated this changing political dynamic in the Black Sea region. The political debate in the United States and Europe towards the region focused mainly on the aggressive narratives of Russia. However, the Western strategy needs a radical rethinking and a clear response to the ideological convergence between Russia and Turkey . They have to define their key narratives in the face of the new geopolitical situation and the impact of the growing cooperation between Moscow and Ankara. In particular, the partnership with Turkey requires new perspectives and a new understanding of trust and reliability.

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