As noted in a recent post on this blog, Russia's moves regarding Crimea left Turkey facing something of a conundrum, unable to protest too much because of its crucial trade and energy ties with Moscow.
As the crisis in Ukraine continues, Turkey's dilemma regarding how to respond to developments there has only deepened, posing an even stickier challenge for Turkish-Russian relations -- something which Eurasianet's Dorian Jones covered in an article today.
In an analysis that was also released today, Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office, takes a further look at how the conflict over the future of Ukraine is testing Turkish foreign policy. Writes Lesser:
The crisis in Ukraine, and the prospect of a more confrontational relationship with Russia confronts Turkey with a series of difficult choices in multiple policy arenas. The issues, from energy security to sanctions, from defense posture to the interests of ethnic Turks abroad, are challenging in their own right — all the more so as they come at a time of economic and political stress for the country. To the extent that the ongoing crisis in relations with Russia calls into question the European security order writ large, Turkey is very likely headed for a sharper debate about its own strategic position and role in transatlantic security arrangements. Is Turkey returning to its traditional role as a barrier in relation to this and other sources of risk? Over the last decade or more, Turkish strategy has aimed at avoiding these geopolitical conundrums by putting Turkey at the center of regional affairs. The Ukraine crisis suggests that the window for this approach is closing rapidly.
The Ukraine crisis is actually only the latest test for Turkey-Russia ties, since the two countries have for more than two years now found themselves on opposite sides with regards to how to end the bloody conflict in Syria. In that sense, the Syrian situation -- which, despite its high cost for Turkey, has not led Ankara to take a harder line with Moscow regarding its continuing support for Bashar al-Assad -- might serve as indication of how the problem of Ukraine might impact Turkey-Russia ties. That is to say, despite the differences, Turkey's energy and trade needs (and perhaps a certain affinity between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin) will keep things from getting too tense between the two countries.