The Russian-Turkish Quasi-Alliance and its Implications for the Middle East


12 May 2021

The Russian-Turkish Quasi-Alliance and its Implications for the Middle East

​In a new report for the The French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), Research Professor Pavel Baev examines the consequences of the most recent and ongoing shifts in the ambiguous Russian-Turkish partnership. Turkey is threading a middle ground between NATO membership and a quasi-alliance with Russia, which is being increasingly challenged, not least by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report looks at the possible impacts of the joint and disjoint actions of Turkey and Russia on security developments in Europe's immediate neighborhood, including the dynamics of interplay in Syria and Libya.

​The pandemic year 2020 tested many international institutions and bilateral ties, but few experienced sharper challenges than the troubled relations between Turkey and Russia. The pandemic has exacerbated economic turmoil in both countries. Where Putin has become more restrained and cautious, Erdogan has sought to make up for his economic mismanagement with proactive and reckless foreign policy enterprises, which have tested and risked relations with Russia, as in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The relations between Turkey and Russia are also tested by the trend of diminishing bilateral trade, especially a reduction in Turkish import of natural gas from Russia, which has removed business-related constraints in the diplomatic intrigues and security constraints between the two countries. Baev points to the economic factors coupled with Turkey's relative strength vis-à-vis Russia in resources of "soft power", the possibility of trans-Atlantic consolidation under the Biden administration – which will most probably include Turkey – and the different aspirations of Erdogan and Putin, as making the "strategic partnership" between the two countries transactional at best.

The volatile quasi-alliance between Turkey and Russia holds possible negative impacts on the temporarily and disagreeably suspended Syrian and Libyan wars. Russia and Turkey are not only backing opposite factions but also manipulating the risks of a direct military confrontation. Personal ties between Erdogan and Putin suffice for finding a mode of deconflicting in these war zones, but their mutual irritation and mistrust are accumulating. Furthermore, the Western propositions to pull Turkey away from Russia risk a militarized confrontation between the two countries in Syria and Libya resulting from a collapse of their quasi-alliance.

Download the full report here.

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