Orientation to the West contributed to the fact that at one time Turkey even tried to integrate into the European community. But here Ankara faced a serious problem - in Europe they did not really want to see Turkey among the European states. Formal reasons for Turkey’s constant “pricks” were found quickly - these are the authoritarianism of the political regime, the unresolved “Kurdish issue”, the presence of a large number of political prisoners, and harsh reprisals against dissidents. However, while Turkey remains the most important military-political ally of the United States and NATO in the region, this criticism is only very superficial.
The situation began to change after the start of hostilities in Syria and Iraq. It turned out that Turkey and the United States have completely different goals and interests in the Middle East. More precisely, before Ankara tried to pursue an independent policy in South-West Asia, but it was not part of such an open conflict with American interests. Now it is obvious that quite serious circles in the United States and Europe view the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria as a likely prospect. For Turkey, the independent Kurdistan Region, both Syrian and Iraqi, is a source of enormous problems and, above all, a “bad example” for its own, Turkish Kurds. As is known, Turkish Kurdistan has been unstable for more than forty years - since the Kurdistan Workers Party started its struggle, whose leader Abdullah Ocalan is still in a Turkish prison.
For Turkey, the Kurdish question is very painful. After all, Kurds in Turkey range from 10-15% to 20-25% of the country's population (especially when viewed together with close ethnic groups, for example, from Zaza). The emergence of an independent Kurdistan in Syria will allow Turkish Kurds to believe in the possibility of their national liberation. But if Ankara somehow managed to cope with the Kurdish movement for several decades, then taking into account the existence of independent Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan, and even with the support of the United States and the European Union, this task can become very difficult.
The deterioration of relations with the United States is not a discovery for Turkish President Recep Erdogan. In the current situation, he is trying to maneuver between the "centers of power", trying to improve relations with one or the other states. Ankara has a special relationship, as always, with Russia. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire, the direct predecessor of modern Turkey, has repeatedly fought with Russia. At the same time, there were quite developed trade and economic relations between the countries, the Russians were frequent guests in Constantinople, and the Turks were in South Russian ports. A new twist in Russian-Turkish relations was due to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and its collapse.
It was Soviet Russia that then helped Turkey not only to defend real independence, but also to preserve large territories inhabited by non-Turkic peoples. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk enjoyed the sympathy and support of Moscow. However, the Turks turned out to be much more pragmatic than the Soviet leaders. Although Ataturk received serious support from Moscow, he mercilessly dealt with his own Turkish Communists (the famous murder of Mustafa Subhi and his associates).
In Turkey, one of the toughest communist political regimes was created. In addition, Turkey continued to provide assistance to the anti-Soviet Turkic and Muslim movements in the North Caucasus, the Caucasus and Central Asia. By 1930. Turkey was no longer considered by Moscow among its potential allies, and in the 1940s there were well-founded fears of Turkey joining the war on the side of Hitler Germany. It is because of this danger that the fresh divisions of the Red Army held at the ready in the Transcaucasus, not transferring them to the front. The deterioration of relations with Turkey was one of the reasons for the eviction of Meskhetians, Kurds and Azeris from the border areas of Georgia during the war, whom the Stalinist leadership considered potential supporters of Turkey. Immediately after the war, Turkey joined the NATO bloc and became the most important geopolitical ally of the United States in its confrontation with the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. Turkish special services continued their subversive activities in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the North Caucasus. In turn, the Soviet Union sought, to the best of its ability, to support the Turkish Communists and the Kurdish national liberation movement.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition of Russia to a market economy led to the fact that Turkey has become one of the most important trading partners of our country. Russian tourists provide a huge part of the income of the Turkish tourism sector, Russia serves as the most important consumer of Turkish food and clothing goods. At the same time, the old problems have not gone anywhere, including the propaganda activities of Pan-Turkist organizations in the national republics of the Russian Federation. The war in Syria again made adjustments to bilateral relations. After the Turks shot down a Russian military plane, relations between the two countries deteriorated very seriously and even after the lifting of part of the sanctions, Russia and Turkey have not yet reached the previous level in their relations.
For Russia and Turkey, bilateral economic ties are indeed very important. Therefore, Moscow ultimately still did not completely break off relations with Turkey, even after such events as the destruction of the Russian plane and the killing of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. In turn, Turkey, although it has repeatedly expressed itself in support of Ukraine, including its position on the Crimea, has in practice quickly become the most important trading partner of Crimea. Politics - politics, and business - business. This is well understood both in Moscow and in Ankara.
Another traditional rival and opponent of Turkey is Iran. The confrontation between Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran goes back centuries, when the Iranian Safavid dynasty was considered the most important opponent of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran competed for influence in the South Caucasus and Mesopotamia, and the political confrontation was “consecrated” to the religious. In the Syrian war, Iran unreservedly supported the government of Bashar Assad, which could not have pleased the Turkish leadership. However, during the years of hostilities, the political situation in Syria has changed so much that yesterday’s opponents - Turkey and Iran - are ready to sit at the negotiating table. Unlike the United States, both Turkey and Iran are in close proximity to Syria and have many similar problems, even the same “Kurdish question” - the Kurdish minority is very active in Iran itself, where external forces can also put it first of all, Americans interested in weakening Tehran.
The fact that the Syrian problem must be solved without the participation of the United States and Europe has already been understood in Ankara and in Tehran. 31 October it became known that both Turkey and Iran approved the proposal of Russia to hold negotiations between the main parties to the Syrian conflict without the participation of the Western powers. The fundamental difference between the position of Ankara and the position of Washington is that in Turkey there is no clear relation to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. For the Turkish leadership, the main thing is to eliminate the terrorist groups responsible for the attacks on the territory of Turkey itself, and also to neutralize the Kurdish resistance in the north of Syria. Here, the interests of Turkey are in clear contradiction with the interests of the West, which is increasingly supporting the Kurdish national liberation movement.
There is another important factor - Turkey has always considered itself responsible for the fate of the Turkic-speaking peoples living in the orbit of the former Ottoman Empire. In Syria, they are Turkomans - Syrian Turkmens, who are related to Turks and are perceived by Ankara as younger brothers in need of protection and patronage. Of course, Ankara seeks to protect the Turkish population of Syria from attacks by any other forces, be it Kurds, Assad or terrorist groups of a religious nature.
For Turkey, pacification of Syria is very important, since it was Turkey that was forced to accept the main flow of Syrian refugees. Although a significant part of the refugees proceeded to Europe through Turkey, millions of Syrians settled in Turkish territory and now help the refugees has become a serious social and financial problem for the Turkish leadership. With the pacification of Syria, therefore, is linked political stabilization in Turkey itself. For Iran, in turn, the pacification of Syria is even more important. Syria is Tehran’s long-time and almost only true ally in the Middle East. For a long time, direct support for Shiite armed forces in Lebanon depended on Assad. In the event of the collapse of the Assad government, Iran’s positions in the Middle East will be dealt a serious blow. Therefore, Iran is extremely interested in resolving the Syrian conflict and is ready even to negotiate with its long-time rival and opponent - Turkey.
Of course, the foreign policy problems that Turkey faces in Syria, as well as in relations with its neighbors and with the West, affect the internal political situation in the country. Recep Erdogan has many dangerous opponents in Turkey itself. These include radical groups associated with the IS (banned in the Russian Federation), the Kurdish national liberation movement, followers of Fethullah Gulen, the traditional left and left-radical opposition, and the secular-oriented part of the Turkish military-political elite. All of them are dissatisfied with Erdogan’s policy for various reasons. However, as shown история with the attempted coup d’état, it’s not so easy to remove Erdogan.
With all its flaws, the Turkish president managed to build a rather effective vertical of power, to subjugate the repressive apparatus. During the years that Erdogan was in power, large-scale personnel changes were made in the armed forces, police and special services. Unreliable generals and officers were dismissed, and people loyal to the president took their places. This is most noticeable in the police and other law enforcement agencies, which are literally overrun by Erdogan’s supporters. Members of his party receive preferences for admission to police schools, so the number of Erdogan supporters is increasing in officer positions, and supporters of secular Kemalism are being ousted from all leading posts as a potentially unreliable contingent.
Recep Erdogan holds other measures to strengthen his power. So, the post of prime minister of the country will soon be canceled, and the president will directly appoint the ministers. Strengthening his authoritarian power, Erdogan expects to prevent the development of events in Turkey according to the Syrian scenario. It is possible that this is his main fear. Indeed, in the case of the collapse of Syria, similar processes can begin in Turkey, where a whole region - Turkish Kurdistan - has long been looking towards independence, and millions of citizens of left and right-wing beliefs hate each other and represent the future of the Turkish state in completely different ways.
In such a difficult situation, Erdogan is not in the mood of strife with influential neighbors, including Russia. Of course, in fact, the attitude of the Turkish leadership towards our country can hardly be called good. Turkey as it was, and remains an opponent of Russia. But the specificity of the current political situation in the world and in the Middle East in particular makes the Turkish president to compromise and improve relations with Russia, and with the same Iran. Moreover, it is easy to predict further deterioration of relations between Turkey and the United States, and especially the European Union. The authoritarian style of Erdogan’s reign overthrows all of Turkey’s successes in relations with Europe over many decades. Turkey, most likely, will not enter the European Union any more. The West less and less perceives Turkey as its outpost in the Middle East and it is possible that as the attitude towards Ankara deteriorates, support for the Kurdish movement will increase in order to create an independent Kurdish state, which could become a counterweight to Turkey.