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Turkey's Pivot to Eurasia: Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in A Changing World Order



This book discusses and analyses the dimensions of Turkey’s strategic rapprochement with the Eurasian states and institutions since the deterioration of Ankara’s relations with its traditional NATO allies. Do these developments signify a major strategic reorientation in Turkish foreign policy? Is Eurasia becoming an alternative geopolitical concept to Europe or the West? Or is this ‘pivot to Eurasia’ an instrument of the current Turkish government to obtain greater diplomatic leverage? Engaging with these key questions, the contributors explore the geographical, political, economic, military and social dynamics that influence this process, while addressing the questions that arise from the difficulties in reconciling Ankara’s strategic priorities with those of other Eurasian countries like Russia, China, Iran and India. Chapters focus on the different aspects of Turkey’s improving bilateral relations with the Eurasian states and institutions and consider the possibility of developing a convincing Eurasian alternative for Turkish foreign policy. The book will be useful for researchers in the fields of politics and IR more broadly, and particularly relevant for scholars and students researching Turkish foreign policy and the geopolitics of Eurasia.
Turkey’s Pivot to Eurasia
This book discusses and analyses the dimensions of Turkey’s strategic rapprochement
with the Eurasian states and institutions since the deterioration of Ankara’s relations
with its traditional NATO allies.
Do these developments signify a major strategic reorientation in Turkish
foreign policy? Is Eurasia becoming an alternative geopolitical concept to Europe
or the West? Or is this ‘pivot to Eurasia’ an instrument of the current Turkish
government to obtain greater diplomatic leverage? Engaging with these key
questions, the contributors explore the geographical, political, economic, military
and social dynamics that inuence this process while addressing the questions that
arise from the difculties in reconciling Ankara’s strategic priorities with those of
other Eurasian countries like Russia, China, Iran and India. Chapters focus on the
different aspects of Turkey’s improving bilateral relations with the Eurasian states
and institutions and consider the possibility of developing a convincing Eurasian
alternative for Turkish foreign policy.
The book will be useful for researchers in the elds of politics and IR more
broadly and particularly relevant for scholars and students researching Turkish
foreign policy and the geopolitics of Eurasia.
Emre Erşen is an Associate Professor at Marmara University’s Department of
Political Science and International Relations in Istanbul, Turkey.
Seçkin Köstem is an Assistant Professor of international relations at Bilkent
University in Ankara, Turkey. He received his PhD from McGill University in 2016.
This series seeks to provide thoughtful consideration of both the growing promi-
nence of Asian actors on the global stage and the changes in the study and practice
of world affairs that they provoke. It intends to offer a comprehensive parallel
assessment of the full spectrum of Asian states, organisations, and regions and
their impact on the dynamics of global politics.
The series seeks to encourage conversation on:
what rules, norms, and strategic cultures are likely to dominate international
life in the ‘Asian Century’;
how global problems will be reframed and addressed by a ‘rising Asia’;
which institutions, actors, and states are likely to provide leadership during
such ‘shifts to the East’;
whether there is something distinctly ‘Asian’ about the emerging patterns of
global politics.
Such comprehensive engagement not only aims to offer a critical assessment of
the actual and prospective roles of Asian actors but also seeks to rethink the con-
cepts, practices, and frameworks of analysis of world politics.
This series invites proposals for interdisciplinary research monographs undertak-
ing comparative studies of Asian actors and their impact on the current patterns and
likely future trajectories of international relations. Furthermore, it offers a platform
for pioneering explorations of the ongoing transformations in global politics as a
result of Asia’s increasing centrality to the patterns and practices of world affairs.
Recent titles
Turkey’s Pivot to Eurasia
Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in a Changing World Order
Edited by Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
China, the UN and Human Rights
Implications for World Politics
Christopher B. Primiano
For more information about this series, please visit:
Rethinking Asia and International Relations
Series Editor – Emilian Kavalski, Li Dak Sum
Chair Professor in China-Eurasia Relations and International Studies,
University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China
Turkey’s Pivot to Eurasia
Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in a
Changing World Order
Edited by Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
First published 2019
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© 2019 selection and editorial matter, Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem;
individual chapters, the contributors
The right of Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem to be identied as the authors
of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters,
has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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without intent to infringe.
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ISBN: 978-0-367-08566-7 (hbk)
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List of illustrations vii
List of contributors viii
Introduction: understanding the dynamics of Turkey’s pivot
to Eurasia 1
1 Turkey and the West: geopolitical shifts in the AK Party era 15
2 The return of Eurasianism in Turkey: relations with Russia
and beyond 31
3 Turkey’s ambiguous strategic rapprochement with Russia 48
4 Heading towards the East? Sino-Turkish relations after the
July 15 coup attempt 64
5 Turkey’s economic expectations from a rising China 79
6 Turkey and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization:
common values, economics or pure geopolitics? 93
7 Geopolitics, identity and beyond: Turkey’s renewed interest
in the Caucasus and Central Asia 111
vi Contents
8 Turkey’s energy security in Eurasia: trade-offs or cognitive bias? 129
9 Dynamics of estrangement and realignment in Turkey–Iran
relations in the 2000s: exploring the U.S. dimension 147
10 Turkey and India: a relationship in progress 166
11 Politics of new developmentalism: Turkey, BRICS and beyond 183
Index 197
8.1 Turkey’s Oil Imports by Countries (million tonnes) 133
8.2 Turkey’s Natural Gas Imports by Countries (million cubic metres) 133
8.3 Turkey’s Natural Gas Contracts 134
8.4 Turkey’s Trade Balance with Its Major Energy Suppliers
(billion USD) 137
10.1 India–Turkey Bilateral Trade (million USD) 175
11.1 Turkey’s Current Account Decit, Trade Decit and FDI Figures 193
11.1 High-Tech Exports over Manufactured Exports (%) 192
The editors
Emre Erşen is an Associate Professor at Marmara University’s Department of
Political Science and International Relations in Istanbul, Turkey. He received
his PhD from the same department. He also conducted research at the Higher
School of Economics (Russia), Institute for Human Sciences (Austria), Uni-
versity of Kent (United Kingdom) and Jagiellonian University (Poland) as a
visiting scholar. He has written for a number of academic publications includ-
ing Geopolitics, Turkish Studies, Energy Policy, Insight Turkey, Journal of
Eurasian Studies and Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs. He has
also contributed many conference papers on Turkish-Russian relations, Eura-
sianism and Turkish geopolitics.
Seçkin Köstem is an Assistant Professor of international relations at Bilkent Uni-
versity in Ankara, Turkey. He received his PhD from McGill University in
2016. In fall 2018, he was a George F. Kennan Fellow at the Kennan Institute
in Washington, DC. He has been a visiting researcher at Columbia University’s
Harriman Institute, New York University’s Jordan Center, King’s College Lon-
don’s Russia Institute and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations
(MGIMO). His research focuses on Russian and Turkish foreign economic
policies, regional and rising powers and Turkish-Russian relations. His arti-
cles have been published in journals such as Review of International Political
Economy, Foreign Policy Analysis, Global Policy and Perceptions: Journal of
International Affairs.
The contributors
Altay Atlı is a Lecturer at the Department of International Relations in Koç Uni-
versity, Istanbul, and a partner at the consulting rm Reanda Turkey. Having
graduated from the German High School in Istanbul, he earned his BA degree
in economics at Boğaziçi University, completed his graduate studies in inter-
national business at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and his PhD
at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of Boğaziçi
Contributors ix
University. He is teaching courses at the both undergraduate and graduate lev-
els on international political economy, international business, Asian economies
and international relations in the Asia-Pacic region. His research interests
also cover Turkey’s relations with Asian countries and the economic dimen-
sions of Turkish foreign policy.
Pavel K. Baev is a Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute (PRIO),
Oslo; Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for the United States and
Europe (CUSE), Brookings Institute, Washington, DC; and Senior Associate
Researcher at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Paris.
After graduating from Moscow State University (MA in political geography
in 1979), he worked at a research institute in the USSR Defence Ministry,
received his PhD in international relations from the USA & Canada Institute
at the USSR Academy of Sciences (1988) and then worked in the Institute of
Europe in Moscow before joining PRIO in October 1992. In 1995–2001, he
was the editor of PRIO’s quarterly journal Security Dialogue. In 1998–2004,
he was a member of the PRIO board. His research on the transformation of
the Russian military is supported by the Norwegian Defence Ministry, while
his other research interests include the energy and security dimensions of
Russian–European relations, Russian policy in the Middle East, Russia’s
Arctic policy, and post-Soviet conict management in the Caucasus and the
greater Caspian area. His weekly column appears in Eurasia Daily Monitor,
and his book titled Russian Energy Policy and Military Power was published
by Routledge in 2008.
Nicola P. Contessi is an international affairs specialist with expertise in global
governance, foreign and security policy and international transportation with a
regional focus on Eurasia. He received his PhD from Laval University in 2012.
His articles have been published in a number of academic journals including
Asian Security, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Eurasian Studies, Problems of
Post-Communism, The RUSI Journal and Security Dialogue.
Pınar İpek is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations
at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. She holds a BA from the Faculty of
Political Science, Ankara University, and an MBA from Indiana University
of Pennsylvania. She completed her PhD in international affairs at University
of Pittsburgh in 2003. Her research interests include energy security, the EU’s
energy policy, political economy of oil and gas in Central Asia and Middle
East, and Turkey’s state–business relations within the context of local modali-
ties of capitalist development in global political economy. She conducted eld
research in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. She was also a short-term international
election observer as part of the election observation missions of OSCE in Azer-
baijan in 2005 and 2008 and Georgia in 2008 in addition to the UN technical
assistance mission to Iraqi elections in 2009. Her articles have been published
in scholarly journals such as Foreign Policy Analysis, Europe-Asia Studies,
Middle East Journal, Middle Eastern Studies, Middle East Policy, European
x Contributors
Integration Online Papers, Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs and
Ortadoğu Etüdleri. She also wrote a book chapter titled ‘The Role of Energy
Security in Turkish Foreign Policy, 2004–2016’ in Turkish Foreign Policy:
International Relations, Legality and Global Reach published March 2017.
Mustafa Kutlay is a Lecturer at the Department of International Politics at City
University of London, United Kingdom. He received his PhD degree from Koç
University, Istanbul, and conducted research as a fellow at Royal Holloway
University of London. His research interests include international/compara-
tive political economy, emerging powers and Southern Europe. His articles
have appeared in Government and Opposition, Third World Quarterly, Aus-
tralian Journal of International Affairs, Perspectives on European Politics and
Society, inter alia. His most recent book is Political Economies of Turkey and
Greece: Crisis and Change.
Ketan Mehta is a Research Associate at the Observer Research Foundation in
New Delhi. He holds an MA in international relations from Rajaratnam School
of International Studies, Singapore. His current research is focused on the Mid-
dle East and rising powers.
Tarık Oğuzlu is a Professor and a faculty member of the Department of Political
Science and International Relations at Antalya Bilim University. He is also the
director of the Center for Social, Economic and Political Research (SEPAM) at
the same institution. He holds an MSc degree in international relations from the
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and an MA degree
in international relations from Bilkent University. He completed his PhD in
international relations at Bilkent University in 2003. He was granted the Jean
Monnet Scholarship of the European Commission in 1999. His research inter-
ests include international relations theories, Europeanization of foreign policy,
European Union’s foreign and security policy, transatlantic relations, Turkish
foreign policy, Turkey’s relations with the EU and NATO/U.S., Turkey–Greece
relations, Cyprus dispute and Turkish foreign policy towards the Middle East.
He is one of the co-editors of the book Turkey’s Rise as an Emerging Power
(Routledge, 2015). His academic articles have appeared in journals such as
Political Science Quarterly, Washington Quarterly, Middle East Policy, Inter-
national Journal, Security Dialogue, Middle Eastern Studies, Turkish Studies,
Cambridge Review of International Affairs, European Security, International
Spectator, Contemporary Security Policy, Mediterranean Politics, Australian
Journal of International Affairs, Journal of Balkans and Near Eastern Studies,
Insight Turkey and Uluslararası İlişkiler. He also writes policy briefs and op-
eds on international politics and security issues for Anadolu Agency, SEPAM
Harsh V. Pant is the Director, Studies, and Head of Strategic Studies Programme at
the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He holds a joint appointment
as Professor of International Relations in the Defence Studies Department and
the India Institute at King’s College London. He is also a Non-Resident Fellow
Contributors xi
with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.–India Policy Studies at the Centre for Strate-
gic and International Studies, Washington, DC. His current research is focused
on Asian security issues. His most recent books include New Directions in
India’s Foreign Policy: Theory and Praxis, The US Pivot and Indian Foreign
Policy, Handbook of Indian Defence Policy (Routledge) and The US–India
Nuclear Pact: Policy, Process and Great Power Politics.
Gülriz Şen is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and
International Relations of TOBB University of Economics and Technology
in Ankara, Turkey. She received her PhD from Middle East Technical Uni-
versity in Ankara and holds an MA on conict and sustainable peace studies
from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. Her main academic interests
include Iran–U.S. relations, Iran’s foreign policy in the Levant and the Persian
Gulf and historical sociology of international relations. She published a Turk-
ish translation of her award-winning PhD thesis from METU Press in 2016
on the theme of Iran’s post-revolutionary foreign policy toward the U.S. She
has also authored articles and book chapters on various dimensions of Iran’s
foreign policy.
Çağdaş Üngör is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science
and International Relations of Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey. She
holds a BSc degree in international relations from the Middle East Technical
University in Ankara, an MA degree in cultural studies from Istanbul Bilgi
University and a PhD degree in East Asian history from the State University of
New York in Binghamton. Her studies concentrate on Chinese foreign policy
and propaganda, Cold War history and Sino-Turkish relations. She has co-
edited a book with Cangül Örnek titled Turkey in the Cold War: Ideology and
Culture that was published in 2013.
Understanding the dynamics of
Turkey’s pivot to Eurasia
Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
Recently, there has been a heated debate about the emergence of a shift of axis in
Turkish foreign policy. The sharp deterioration of Ankara’s relations with its tra-
ditional NATO allies and the gradual Turkish strategic rapprochement with Russia
and Iran over the issue of Syria in the last few years have provided a signicant
impetus to the claims about a strengthened Eurasian orientation in Turkish foreign
policy. Such claims have also been reinforced by the Turkish leaders’ toughen-
ing criticisms against the policies of the U.S., NATO and European Union (EU)
as well as their growing interest in developing Turkey’s ties with non-Western
international institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),
Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Turkic Council and BRICS.
Do all these developments signify a major strategic reorientation in Turkish for-
eign policy away from the West towards Eurasia, or is it more reasonable to view
this latest “shift of axis” debate in Turkey merely in light of the Turkish govern-
ments’ pragmatic interests in developing their political and economic links with
rising Asian/Eurasian powers? Is Eurasia becoming an alternative geopolitical
concept to Europe or the West, which has been perceived as the most important
strategic partner for the Turkish leaders for so many decades? Or is the so-called
pivot to Eurasia in Turkish foreign policy rather an instrument for the ruling Jus-
tice and Development Party (JDP) to gain greater diplomatic leverage vis-à-vis
the Western governments?
In light of these questions, this volume seeks to discuss and analyse the vari-
ous dimensions of Turkey’s strategic rapprochement with the Eurasian states and
institutions in the 21st century. The main objective of the volume is to understand
the geographical, political, economic, military and social dynamics that inuence
this process, while addressing questions that arise from the difculties in recon-
ciling Ankara’s strategic priorities with those of other Eurasian countries such as
Russia, China, Iran and India. The chapters of this edition in this regard focus
not only on the various aspects of Turkey’s improving bilateral relations with the
Eurasian states and institutions but also discuss whether it would be possible to
come up with a convincing Eurasian alternative for Turkish foreign policy.
It should be emphasized that Turkey’s recent pivot to Eurasia has had an ideo-
logical character as well. The idea of Eurasianism, which was originally developed
in Russia in the 1920s, remains at the heart of Turkey’s shift of axis debate, while
it continues to attract signicant attention especially in the Turkish conservative
2 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
and nationalist political circles. Although this is not the rst time Turkey’s devel-
oping relations with Russia have become a concern in the West, this latest debate
is peculiar, since it is also strongly related with the radically altered domestic
political balances in Turkey in the wake of the failed coup attempt of July 15,
2016. It also takes place at a time when both the Turkish government and public
increasingly question their long-standing alliance ties with the West. A recently
conducted opinion poll, for example, revealed that more than 60% of the Turkish
people view the U.S. as the most important threat against Turkey’s national inter-
ests, while 14% believes strategic cooperation with Russia can become an alterna-
tive to Turkey’s stalled EU membership process (Kadir Has Üniversitesi 2018).
In this introductory chapter, we argue that Turkey’s pivot to Eurasia is taking
place amidst a transforming global order, dynamic regional context and turbulent
domestic political scene. These global, regional and domestic factors reinforce
each other in explaining Turkey’s growing interest in closer cooperation with Eur-
asian states and institutions at the expense of its traditional Western orientation.
After a brief discussion of each factor for Turkey’s Eurasian outlook, we go on
with providing a summary of each contribution to this volume.
Transformation in the global order
One of the most important dynamics of post–Cold War Turkish foreign policy
has been Ankara’s search for strategic autonomy from the West. Freed from the
obstacles of the bipolar structure of the international system, Turkish governments
pursued ambitious foreign policy goals in the 1990s. Post–Cold War Turkish for-
eign policy agenda, therefore, has expanded to a signicant extent to embrace
new regions, international institutions and thematic interests. Nevertheless, Anka-
ra’s ability to manoeuvre in the 1990s was rather limited. In addition to nancial
constraints, growing threat of terrorism particularly from the outlawed Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK) and domestic political instability urged Turkey to remain
loyal to its transatlantic allies in most important regional and international issues
in the 1990s. Moreover, Turkey’s traditional goal of joining the EU was a unifying
force across political parties and ideologies.
Ankara’s commitment to transatlantic security and economic institutions in the
1990s was consistent with the unipolar structure of the international system, in
which the U.S. enjoyed an unrivalled status. Yet the triumphalism of the U.S.
as the world’s sole superpower paved the way for its occupation of Iraq in 2003
despite the “soft balancing” attempts from Russia as well as a number of NATO
members including Germany and France (Paul 2018, 110–15). Nevertheless, the
occupation of Iraq has led to the questioning of U.S. legitimacy and leadership in
the 21st century. As the unilateralist actions of the U.S. brought greater instability
to the Middle East, its destructive effects increasingly disturbed Turkey and other
countries in the region.
At the systemic level of analysis, the most important reason that triggered Tur-
key’s pivot to Eurasia in the 2000s has been the decline of U.S. hegemony and
the emerging multipolar structure of the international system with the rise of new
Introduction 3
centres of power – especially in Asia (Erşen 2014). In the past two decades, the
international system went through a rapid transformation that empowered rising
powers such as China, India and Brazil. In 1980, for instance, the share of China
in world GDP was a mere 2%, while it went up to 6% in 1995 and 15% in 2014
(Layne 2012, 205). In the same period, India’s share increased from 3% to 6%,
while Japan’s share dropped from 8% to 6%. Yet it should be noted that the U.S.
still continues to enjoy supremacy in the global distribution of economic power.
While in 1980, the share of the U.S. in world GDP was 22%, in 2017 it was 24%
(World Bank 2018). The U.S. also continues to be the top military spender of
the world. In 2017, at $610 billion, it accounted for 35% of the world’s military
expenditure, while China’s share in world military spending has increased from
5.8% in 2008 to 13% in 2017 (SIPRI 2018).
The global nancial crisis of 2008–2009 was a turning point for the U.S. global
hegemony. The crisis highlighted the problems associated with unregulated capital-
ism that had its origins in the U.S. and brought to the forefront alternative develop-
ment models proposed by countries like Russia and China. The postcrisis turmoil
created the conditions for the emergence of the challenge of BRICS to the Western-
led international nancial institutions (Öniş & Kutlay 2013; Stuenkel 2015, 2016).
In addition, the Eurozone crisis damaged the global appeal of the EU – making it
a less attractive partner for Ankara. In fact, Turkey’s ruling elite started to view the
EU’s growing economic problems as a major warning sign and strived to diversify
Turkey’s foreign economic relations with other regions starting from the second
half of the 2000s. In this changing global order, various analysts have also started
to dene Turkey as a rising power, emerging middle power, regional power or near-
BRICS country due to its impressive economic growth in the 2002–2011 period
(Parlar Dal 2016; Öniş & Kutlay 2013, 2016; Köstem 2018).
Due to its strategic geographical location at the centre of the Eurasian land-
mass, Turkey has been largely affected by the ongoing power transition in the
international system. For example, China was not among Turkey’s top 10 trad-
ing partners at the turn of the millennium. However, as of 2017, it became Tur-
key’s second-biggest import partner after Russia and second-biggest total trade
partner after Germany. More importantly, despite its ofcial commitment to EU
membership, Ankara has become much more enthusiastic about the emergence of
multipolarity in international politics.
According to Acharya (2017, 277), the coming “multiplex world order” will
be “a world of multiple modernities, where Western liberal modernity . . . is only
a part of what is on offer.” He argues that the new wave of globalization led by
rising powers will witness the prioritization of alternative development models as
well as the protection of state sovereignty (Acharya 2017, 278). That will be in
stark contrast to the post–Cold War U.S. democracy promotion agenda. The trans-
formation in the global order due to the rise of new powers has been coupled with
the challenge to the liberal international order from within the West. Ankara and
many other capitals have read developments such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s
economic nationalism in the U.S. as a clear repudiation of Western-led global
liberalism. In addition, the growing populist nationalism and anti-immigrant
4 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
attitudes in Europe have been strengthening Turkey’s scepticism about the EU
(Kirişci & Toygür 2019, 3).
For Turkish leaders, the obvious outcome of the realization of the West’s relative
decline has been a desire to re-focus their diplomatic, economic and political activ-
ity in non-Western regions to prevent overreliance on the U.S., NATO or EU. In
his famous book titled Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position (2001), for
instance, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who served as Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs and
later prime minister, argued that Turkey had to rediscover its historical and civili-
zational origins in the former Ottoman space. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on
the other hand, criticized the structure of the United Nations (UN) Security Council
with his slogan “the world is bigger than ve” (Hürriyet Daily News 2018b).
Ankara has also decided to move closer to the rising powers in its foreign
relations. For example, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road
Forum in Beijing in May 2017, Erdoğan praised China’s grand economic pro-
ject and argued that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was in line with Turkey’s
own infrastructure and transportation projects (Presidency of the Republic of Tur-
key 2017). Later, attending the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in July 2018, he
expressed his desire to enhance Turkey’s cooperation with BRICS in trade, invest-
ment and development and called for building new Turkish connections with the
BRICS Business Council and New Development Bank (Daily Sabah 2018).
It is worth noting that Ankara has not been alone in reorienting its foreign pol-
icy goals in recognition of the growing importance of the Asia-Pacic in global
politics. The U.S. pivot to Asia was one of the greatest foreign policy promises
of the Barack Obama administration, although it has stalled since Trump rose to
power in 2016 (Wilson 2018). Nevertheless, the U.S. National Security Strategy of
December 2017 refers to China and Russia as revisionist powers and pays signi-
cant attention to the power competition in Asia and the Indo-Pacic region (The
White House 2017). In the past decade, Japan similarly developed a pivot-to-Asia
policy in search for greater strategic independence, which requires the transfor-
mation of its traditional geopolitical orientation (Samuels & Wallace 2018). Like-
wise, Russia developed a pivot to the East in 2011 in an effort to attract greater
foreign direct investment (FDI), especially from China, for its Siberian and Far
Eastern regions. As the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on the Russian economy
after the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, closer cooperation with China has
become one of Moscow’s most signicant moves in foreign policy (Baev 2018).
The UK, similarly, devised a new Asia strategy in the aftermath of the global
nancial crisis and aimed to enhance its power and inuence in the Indo-Pacic,
East Asia and Southeast Asia (Turner 2018). Thus, Turkey’s pivot to Eurasia has
been taking place in this transforming global context.
Dynamic regional context
Turkey’s reorientation of its foreign policy goals can also be seen as a response to
the changing regional context in its immediate neighbourhood. The most impor-
tant development that shaped Turkey’s geopolitical alignment behaviour in the
Introduction 5
past decade was the Syrian civil war. During the rst few years of the Syrian
conict, Ankara and Washington acted together to back the armed Syrian opposi-
tion with the hope of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime. Starting with 2014,
however, the views and priorities of the two NATO allies started to diverge sig-
nicantly as moderate opposition forces in Syria have been sidelined by radical
Islamist groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged as a
formidable force capturing large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Against this new threat in Syria, the U.S. changed its strategy and started to
offer technical and military support to the Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection
Units (YPG), although the latter has been considered to be the Syrian branch of
the PKK, which is ofcially labelled as a terrorist organization by both Ankara
and Washington. Nevertheless, despite Ankara’s harsh protests, the U.S. increased
its support for the YPG, which later also became the backbone of the Syrian Dem-
ocratic Forces (SDF) created in 2015. While the SDF managed to capture many
towns of strategic importance from ISIL along the 900-km long Turkish-Syrian
border in the following three years, Ankara’s relations with Washington sharply
deteriorated due to the YPG issue.
Secondly, the Syrian conict urged Turkey to develop closer military coop-
eration with Russia and to a lesser extent Iran (Erşen 2017). Such a “strategic
rapprochement” with Russia was a foregone conclusion for the Turkish leaders
because Moscow dramatically and decisively became the major actor in the Syr-
ian conict following its direct military involvement in Syria in September 2015.
The Russian intervention in Syria came as a major shock to Turkey’s plans, as it
has not only prevented the fall of the Assad regime – which was at its nadir in the
summer of 2015 – but also forced Turkey to gradually accept Russia’s rules on
the Syrian battleground. The downing of a Russian ghter jet by Turkish forces
in November 2015 was a major turning point in this regard, as it had severe eco-
nomic and geopolitical consequences for Ankara. Not only did Russia introduce
harsh economic sanctions against Turkey after this incident, but it also completely
closed the Syrian airspace to Turkish ghter jets during the seven-month diplo-
matic spat that could only be resolved in June 2016 after President Erdoğan sent
a letter of regret to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since summer 2016, Ankara and Moscow have been working closely toward a
lasting solution of the Syrian conict. The two countries came together with Iran
in December 2016 to launch the “Astana talks”, which became a major diplomatic
mechanism bringing the representatives of the Assad regime and the moderate
opposition around the negotiation table. One of the most important outcomes of
the Astana process, in which the U.S. only serves as an observing country, has
been the creation of a number of de-escalation zones in Syria. More importantly,
the Astana process and enhanced military-political dialogue with Russia and Iran
enabled the Turkish armed forces to conduct two major cross-border operations
in Syria. As a result of Operation Euphrates Shield launched in August 2016 and
Operation Olive Branch launched in January 2018, the Turkish forces achieved
to clear a large territory in northern Syria along the Turkish border from both the
ISIL and YPG militants. It is interesting to note in this regard that a commentator
6 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
writing for the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah interpreted Turkey’s
cooperation with Russia and Iran in the Syrian conict as a development that
“will pave the way for regional economic opportunities and change the future of
Eurasia” (Alkin 2018).
Beyond the dynamics of the Syrian conict, several other regional factors have
also drawn Turkey’s attention to the East. The most important development that
created excitement in Ankara was China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initi-
ative, which was announced by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Astana, Kazakhstan,
in 2013. The Chinese project revitalized Turkey’s desire to connect its railway and
road infrastructure with the Caucasus and Central Asia through the Caspian Sea.
Ankara has also welcomed the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Invest-
ment Bank (AIIB) as an alternative to the World Bank.
The past decade has also witnessed the consolidation of Russian–Chinese stra-
tegic partnership in Eurasia. Since 2014, Moscow and Beijing have deepened
their cooperation in many elds including energy, arms trade and military affairs.
The rising inuence of Russia and China in world politics also attracted the inter-
est of Turkey starting from the second half of the 2000s. Turkey has particularly
been enthusiastic in developing its links with the SCO, which is regarded as the
most important embodiment of the Russian–Chinese strategic partnership. Since
2012, Turkey has been a dialogue partner of this organization, which recently
expanded to include India and Pakistan as its new full members.
In the past decade, another important regional development that had signi-
cant repercussions for Turkish foreign policy was the Iran nuclear crisis. In early
2010, Turkey developed a nuclear deal together with Brazil, which foresaw Iran’s
transfer of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for fuel for the Tehran
research reactor (Levaggi & Yılmaz 2018, 14). Yet due to lack of support from
the P5 + 1 group, the nuclear deal failed to deliver its promise. In reaction, Turkey
decided not to take part in the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran, which has
further deepened the mistrust between Ankara and Washington.
Finally, the changing geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean region has also
contributed to Turkey’s search for alternative partners outside the West. The past
decade has been marked by friction in Turkey’s relations with Israel due to disa-
greements over the Palestine issue. Turkey’s deteriorating ties with Israel and the
discovery of hydrocarbons in the East Mediterranean region led to the emergence
of a “quasi-alliance” between Greece, Cyprus and Israel (Tziarras 2016). As the
EU accession process also stalled during the JDP’s second term in ofce (2007–
2011) partly due to the deadlock in the Cyprus issue, Turkey and the EU’s regional
policies and priorities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East
have also diverged. This became another major factor that strengthened Ankara’s
interest in developing relations with Eurasian states and institutions.
Turbulence in the domestic political scene
The debate about Turkey’s recent pivot to Eurasia is also closely related with the
domestic political developments that took place in the country particularly after
Introduction 7
the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which resulted in the killing of more than
200 people including many civilians. Although the attempt was quickly repelled
by the Turkish security forces, the JDP leaders were extremely disappointed in
the muted and hesitant reaction of the U.S. and EU, while Moscow and Tehran
gave outright support to President Erdoğan against the coup plotters. It has even
been claimed in the Turkish media that the Western governments would be will-
ing to accept a new era of military tutelage in Turkey, as they have already been
increasingly critical about the domestic and foreign policies of the JDP govern-
ment (Sabah 2017). In addition to Ankara’s more independent stance in foreign
policy particularly with regard to the developments in the Middle East, the anti-
government Gezi Park protests of 2013 which received great sympathy from the
U.S. and EU ofcials were among the main factors that deepened the rift between
Ankara and its Western allies.
Turkey’s relations with Washington and Brussels became even more strained
in the second half of 2016. The reluctance of the U.S. authorities to extradite the
Pennsylvania-based cleric Fetullah Gülen, who Ankara accused of orchestrating
the coup attempt, further alienated Ankara from Washington. On the other hand,
the European Parliament took a decision in November 2016 advising temporary
suspension of the accession talks with Turkey due to the government’s “dispro-
portionate repressive measures” in dealing with the repercussions of the failed
coup attempt (Financial Times 2016).
The fact that Gülen continued to reside in the U.S., where he allegedly mas-
terminded the activities of the clandestine network, which was ofcially labelled
the Gülenist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) by the Turkish authorities, seems to
have strengthened the view in the Turkish public that the July 15 coup attempt
was actually a plot of the U.S. to weaken Turkey. In an opinion poll conducted
in November 2016, for instance, 79% of the respondents admitted that they
believed the U.S. was the real actor behind the coup attempt (Habertürk 2016).
This extremely negative view about the U.S. was also closely related with the
emerging partnership between Washington and YPG in Syria in the post-2014
period, which became more visible around the same time with the escalation of
armed clashes between the Turkish security forces and the PKK in the summer of
2015 following a three-year ceasere. Due to the close links between the YPG and
PKK, the U.S. support behind the former was perceived as a direct support to the
latter by many Turkish leaders, including President Erdoğan himself.
In addition to ghting with FETÖ and PKK, Turkey also became the scene of
a series of bloody terrorist attacks of the ISIL in the 2016–2017 period, which
killed more than 300 people. The increased threat of terrorism in the country was
used by the government to take critical security measures including the extension
of the state of emergency, which was only lifted in July 2018. In the meantime,
Turkey’s long-standing parliamentary system of government was transformed
into a heavily centralized presidential system with a referendum held in 2017.
The strengthened powers of the president vis-à-vis the legislative and judiciary
in this new period have been harshly criticized by many government ofcials
and nongovernmental organizations in the West. Freedom House, for instance,
8 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
downgraded Turkey’s status from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” for the rst time
in its 2018 report. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index of the Reporters With-
out Borders (RWB) has similarly seen Turkey fall to the rank of 157 among 180
countries. The report furthermore dened Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison
for professional journalists” (Hürriyet Daily News 2018a).
In July 2014, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a striking
speech in which he cited Turkey, Russia, China and India as the chief examples
of a much more promising “Eastern” model of development based on “a strong
state, a weak opposition and emaciated checks and balances” (Puddington 2017,
35). In such a geopolitical depiction, while the West continues to represent liberal
democratic values, the East is associated with an authoritarian type of government
that has been long upheld by the supporters of the idea of Eurasianism in Russia,
Turkey and elsewhere. It is no coincidence in this regard that many pundits make
reference to Turkey’s strategic rapprochement with Russia and China not only as
a simple foreign policy tactic but also as a deliberate political choice that signies
the Turkish leaders’ frustration with Western values as well as their enthusiasm
to embrace an alternative model in which strong leaders and state-led reforms are
essential for political, economic and social development.
Such a model also enables the JDP leadership to rally the support of many
nationalist and national-patriotic groups in Turkey especially in the post-July 15
period. It should be noted for instance that President Erdoğan’s harsh criticisms
against the Western liberal order as well as his popular slogan “native-and-
national (yerli ve milli)” have also been shared by the leaders of anti-Western
Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the Patriotic Party. In fact, the latter has been
one of the leading advocates of Eurasianism in Turkey as well as building closer
relations with Russia and China. This also demonstrates the changing geopolitical
interpretations of the concept of Eurasia for the Turkish leaders at a time when
Turkey’s relations with its traditional Western allies continue to deteriorate due to
both practically and ideationally dened conicts.
Outline of the chapters
As indicated above, the main goal of this volume is to discuss and analyse the
various dimensions of Turkey’s strategic rapprochement with the Eurasian states
and institutions in the 21st century. To this end, the chapter of Tarık Oğuzlu offers
a critical analysis of the changing dynamics of Turkey’s relations with Western
powers over the course of the last 15 years since the ruling JDP came to power. The
author argues that given the legacy of strong historical and institutional relation-
ship between Turkey and the West, one should focus on the rational and structural
framework of this relationship in order to answer whether there has been a shift
of axis in Turkey’s international orientation away from the West to Eurasia. While
the chapter emphasizes that the conuence of some internal and external factors
during this time period seems to have accelerated the erosion of trust and common
strategic-security bonds between Turkey and the Western powers, it offers a sys-
temic explanation of Turkey’s foreign policy orientation and highlights the role of
Introduction 9
internal factors such as the geopolitical vision and worldview of Turkey’s ruling
elites in interpreting the emerging international environment. For Oğuzlu, the way
Turkey has responded to emerging dynamics in the structure of international order
during this time period has been decisively informed by geopolitical imaginations
and worldviews of the ruling elites.
In his chapter, Emre Erşen elaborates on the idea of Eurasianism, which has
been mainly associated with the views of the Russian intellectual Alexander
Dugin in the post-Soviet period and has advocated the formation of a grand geo-
political coalition between the countries of Eurasia against the Western dominance
in world politics. The author emphasizes that Eurasianism has been particularly
attractive for Turkish national-patriotic groups that have traditionally favoured a
rapprochement with Russia due to their discontent with the Turkish governments’
pro-Western policies. Throughout the 2000s, Eurasianism gained new supporters
from both the rightist and leftist circles, especially during the periods when Tur-
key faced signicant problems in its relations with the West. Within this context,
Erşen discusses the rising appeal of Eurasianism in Turkey in light of the latest
rapprochement with Russia and particularly focuses on the post-July 15 period,
which signies a growing rift between Turkey and the U.S., EU and NATO over a
number of issues. The chapter also explores Dugin’s personal links with the lead-
ership of the pro-Russian Patriotic Party as well as the views of the Turkish politi-
cal, intellectual and military gures on the strategic rapprochement with Russia
in order to understand the real inuence of the Eurasianist ideas on this process.
Pavel K. Baev focuses on Turkey’s relations with Russia and argues that the
dynamics of strategic partnership-building between Turkey and Russia have been
highly uneven and can hardly be stabilized. For Baev, the multidimensional and
changeable war in Syria produces the heaviest impact on this relationship, and the
deep differences in Turkish and Russian goals in this crisis determine the limits of
their cooperation in promoting the peace process. The chapter also emphasizes the
personal relations between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, indicating
that the trust that was badly damaged in the ghter jet crisis that emerged in late
2015 could not be fully reconstituted. It also argues that while cultivating friendly
connections, Moscow always checks its course against the fact that Turkey is a
NATO member state and therefore a party to the evolving confrontation between
Russia and the West. Baev believes that the Russian leadership perceives Turkey
as a “weaker link” in the hostile NATO alliance and is therefore eager to exploit
opportunities for undermining the transatlantic solidarity. Every tension in Tur-
key’s relations with the U.S. and EU in this sense is assessed in Moscow as a “net
gain”, although in the nal analysis, the rapprochement with Ankara cannot alter
the reality of strategic rivalry between the two countries.
In her chapter, Çağdaş Üngör aims to analyse whether Turkish foreign policy
has acquired a Eurasianist (Avrasyacı) leaning, based on the developments in
Sino-Turkish relations in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt. Since 2011,
the so-called axis shift debate has centred primarily on Turkey’s relations with
the U.S., Israel, EU and most recently Russia. Although China’s growing clout in
global politics is undeniable, Beijing rarely becomes a topic of discussion among
10 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
Turkish international relations scholars. The chapter argues that in the aftermath
of the July 15 coup attempt, China’s leverage on Turkey and its overall appeal for
Turkish policy makers has increased. Bilateral relations saw a major boost when
China threw its explicit support behind the Turkish government in a rather fragile
political atmosphere. Turkey’s recent downplaying of the Xinjiang (or Uyghur)
question and China’s positive remarks on Turkey’s full membership in the SCO
are cases in point. China is often put under positive light in pro-government media
in relation to its standing vis-à-vis Western powers. Therefore, Turkey’s Eura-
sianist twist, which also signals closer collaboration with China, has more to do
with the intensication of the anti-Western sentiment in Turkey than a calculated
pro-China stance. Overall, China’s appeal in Turkey seems to be limited to its
global role in checking the U.S. power. In this sense, closer ties with China pre-
sents itself as an opportunity for Turkish policy makers to exercise a relatively
more independent foreign policy. Given Turkey’s recent policy change on Xinji-
ang, however, it is not clear if a globally rising China can deliver on that promise.
For Altay Atlı, in comparison with the remarkable rapprochement between Tur-
key and Russia in the 2000s, the improvement of Turkey’s relations with China has
been quite modest. Turkish-Chinese relations still have a long way to go despite the
new momentum in the spheres of military cooperation and cultural exchange. At
the same time, he also takes notice of the rapidly improving trade relations between
the two countries. Despite the remarkable trade balance decit that is working
against Turkey, China has recently become one of Ankara’s most signicant trade
partners, with an overall trade volume of $26.3 billion in 2017. This picture clearly
reveals the signicance of economic concerns in Turkey’s renewed interest in
strengthening its relations with China. Ankara is also quite enthusiastic in playing
an active role in China’s BRI project. Yet it is hard to claim that Turkish-Chinese
relations are evolving into a strategic partnership. In addition to the signicant
trade imbalance that is currently working against the economic interests of Turkey,
the two countries also have signicant differences with regard to the Uyghur issue.
Nicola P. Contessi’s chapter seeks to understand the motivations and drivers
behind Turkey’s asserted aspiration to pursue closer engagement with the SCO.
The chapter offers three explanations rooted in three different theories of interna-
tional relations and their views of international institutions. The rst is construc-
tivist and highlights the conception of international organizations as communities
of values and practices endowed with a shared identity. It understands Turkey’s
SCO rapprochement as part of a rethinking of many of the underpinnings of the
country’s domestic and foreign policy. The second is neoliberal and rests on the
view of international organizations as instruments of states, devised to enable
cooperation and reduce transaction costs. The third is realist and argues that Tur-
key’s interest in the SCO is primarily geopolitical. For Contessi, as Turkey seeks
to position itself as a central country linking the East and the West, it is natural
for it to look for greater cooperation with the SCO – especially at a time when EU
accession is denitively off the table.
Seçkin Köstem provides an overview of Turkey’s renewed interest in the Cau-
casus and Central Asia. He starts with discussing the new geopolitical trends in
Introduction 11
Eurasia with a focus on how Ankara has perceived them. Ankara has welcomed
China’s grand economic projects, as it expects to increase its economic connec-
tivity with Eurasia. Turkey expects the BRI to contribute to Turkish exports and
investments in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Then the chapter analyses Turkey’s
initiatives to institutionalize its ties with countries in the Caucasus and Central
Asia. The most important among those initiatives are the Turkic Council, which
was established in 2009, and the various trilateral cooperation mechanisms that
Turkey has formed together with Azerbaijan. The chapter then continues with dis-
cussing Turkey’s economic ties with the region, which have remained miniscule
compared to the Turkish economic activism elsewhere. No deep form of regional-
ism exists between Turkey and the states of the region, while Ankara preserves
its efforts to enhance mutual understanding and strengthen the foundations of its
presence in post-Soviet Eurasia. The third section examines Turkey’s bilateral ties
with Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan since they are the two most signicant countries
in terms of Turkish foreign policy toward the region.
In her chapter, Pınar İpek reassesses the importance of Russia and the Caspian
Sea region for Turkey’s energy security in the process of the gradual Turkish stra-
tegic rapprochement with Moscow and Tehran over the issue of Syria in the last
few years. The turmoil in Syria and Iraq highlighted the geopolitics of oil and gas
resources that has been simultaneously accompanied by a resurgence of the alter-
native Eurasian orientation in Turkish foreign policy. The analysis in the chapter
is divided into four sections. The rst section presents an overview of Turkey’s
policy toward the Eurasian energy pipelines in the post–Cold War period. The
second section shows the recent status of Turkey’s energy relations with Russia,
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The third section questions to what
extent Eurasia remains critical for Turkey’s energy security within the context of
Turkey’s interdependence with the energy supplier countries in the region. The
argument asserts that not only strategic interests driven by trade-offs, but also a
cognitive bias driven partly by the worldview of the recent political leadership
and mostly by national identity conception of the ruling elite matters to under-
stand and explain Turkey’s energy security in Eurasia. The conclusion underlines
the limitations and opportunities in Turkey’s pivot to Eurasia in light of Turkey’s
asymmetric interdependence with Russia in energy security.
Gülriz Şen explores the dynamics of estrangement and realignment in Turkey–
Iran affairs and discusses the role of the U.S. in the complex interplay of coopera-
tion and competition between Turkey and Iran throughout the 2000s. She traces
the shifts in bilateral affairs from alignment in the early 2000s to estrangement
between 2012 and 2016 and to realignment since mid-2016. The chapter argues
that the growing estrangement in Turkish-Iranian affairs during the Arab Upris-
ings mostly pertained to their own countervailing positions as two rising regional
powers at a time when the U.S. was rather relatively absent or reluctant to act in
the Middle East. This period also revealed the novel characteristics taking shape
in Turkish-Iranian rivalry with elements of hard balancing and signs of sectar-
ian entrapment. In the post-2016 era, Turkey and Iran started to realign, as both
states’ contentious relations with the U.S. and uncertainties of American policy in
12 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
the region drew them closer and granted them a ground to dissipate divergences.
However, the recent realignment does not necessarily mean an end of Turkish-
Iranian competition or the birth of a full-edged strategic partnership. It may at
best signal a return to soft balancing, with many potential and actual areas for
continuous rivalry in place. Furthermore, the likely limits of Turkey’s Eurasian tilt
and growing U.S. pressure on Iran may result in another episode of estrangement
in Turkey–Iran relations, presenting Turkey the perennial challenge of balancing
its relations with Iran and the U.S.
Harsh V. Pant and Ketan Mehta argue that the JDP initiated an expansion of
Turkey’s South Asia policy, which had traditionally been xated on Ankara’s
shared Islamic solidarity with Pakistan. Under stress from a new set of drivers
such as India’s rising economic and political prole, Turkey has started exploring
the possibilities of cooperation with New Delhi. Moreover, South Asia’s evolv-
ing security environment augments Turkey’s strategic interest in the region. It is
becoming imperative for Turkey to expand ties with emerging powers like India
and look beyond the dynamics of its partnership with the West. On the other side,
following the rise of radical Islamist groups and instability in the Middle East,
India also hopes for cooperation with Turkey, which has signicant stakes in the
regional power dynamics. The chapter examines the changing contours of Tur-
key’s engagement with India while underlining the factors which are making this
shift imperative in Turkey’s foreign policy. The authors argue that the changing
geopolitical context in the Middle East and South Asia requires a new approach
from both Ankara and New Delhi towards each other.
Finally, Mustafa Kutlay’s chapter explores how developing countries are
responding to and being affected by the transformations in the international order
with special reference to Turkey and BRICS. The global system is passing through
sea changes, and the rules, norms and practices of the liberal order are becoming
increasingly contested. The global diffusion of power and the accompanied rise of
emerging economies such as BRICS and near-BRICS are contributing to the emer-
gence of a new world dis-order. The chapter offers a push-and-pull framework to
account for the changing forms of state–market relations in developing economies
in a changing international system. It argues that the internal crises of neoliberal
economic paradigm constitute the “push” dynamics for countries located in the
periphery of global capitalism. It also suggests that the “pull” dynamics inform
the economic paradigms and political regimes in developing countries. Accord-
ingly, in the posthegemonic era, the emerging great powers seem to have dem-
onstration effects for developing countries as they rely on distinct economic and
political models, called “state capitalism”. The chapter, with particular reference
to the interactions between BRICS and Turkey, aims to explore how push and pull
dynamics operate at the international level.
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Introduction 13
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14 Emre Erşen and Seçkin Köstem
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28 Tarık Oğuzlu
have gone to great lengths to have their country’s international identity recognized
as a “virtuous”, “humanitarian” and “responsible” power puts Turkey in a much
closer afliation with the Western world than Russia and China. For example,
while Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China have been trying to drive wedges within the
transatlantic alliance, Turkey still sees NATO as vital to the materialization of its
national security interests and actively contributes to the transformation of the
alliance from within (Oğuzlu 2013).
As part of its soft balancing strategy, Turkish rulers do now increasingly voice
the view that “the world is bigger than ve”. Signing up to Asian Infrastructure
and Investment Bank (AIIB), showing interest in developing joint projects with
China within the framework of the BRI, contributing to global and regional gov-
ernance initiatives, such as MIKTA and MINT, buying S-400 missile defence sys-
tem from Russia, establishing military bases in faraway regions such as Qatar and
Somalia and showing interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)
and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) all suggest that the gradual ero-
sion in the relative weight of Western powers in international politics and the
concomitant rise in the inuence of non-Western powers appear to have increased
Turkey’s manoeuvring capability and bargaining power in its foreign policy. Yet
this does in no way amount to a strong Turkish revisionism evincing a hard bal-
ancing or spoiling character.
As Turkey’s current economic crisis, which has been to a signicant extent
driven by the Trump administration’s bullying actions, reveals, whenever Tur-
key’s relations with the U.S. worsen, Turkey comes much closer to the EU. The
EU is Turkey’s number one economic partner, and it now seems that Turkish
rulers have once again realized that Turkey’s economic and political stability
would be positively affected by positive Turkish-EU relations. Turkey’s need to
be rmly located within the Western world and to experience positive strategic
relations with Western powers within NATO and other Western organizational
platforms might further increase if its strategic cooperation with Russia and other
non-Western powers prove to be unsustainable in the larger Middle East region.
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Turkey’s Relations with Syria and Iran.” Security Dialogue 39, no. 5: 495–515.
Başer, Ekrem T. 2015. “Shift-of-Axis in Turkish Foreign Policy: Turkish National Role
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to the possible withdrawal of U.S. nuclear bombs from Turkey (Marshall 2017).
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military dominance in the Black Sea theatre and emphasizing the nuclear risks
(Hacıoğlu 2018). The contract on exporting to Turkey the S-400 surface-to-air
missiles is seen by Moscow primarily as a means to exacerbate the conict and
isolate Turkey inside NATO (Khodarenok 2018).
The interactions in the Syrian war zone caused both the sharpest crisis in Tur-
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Astana format, which may very well have exhausted its usefulness in the Idlib
crisis. The ground for further cooperation in managing this war is shrinking, and
a new clash caused by Turkey’s irreducible animosity to the seemingly victori-
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near future. Current concerns in Europe and the U.S. about an emerging “alli-
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produced by their conict. With all the disagreements and disappointments accu-
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potential threats to Turkey’s security emanating from Russia are too high to be
alleviated by diplomatic manoeuvring and high-level dialogue, and thus NATO
remains the best available mechanism for ensuring effective containment.
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74 Çağdaş Üngör
Seen through a value-laden prism, these words suggest that post–coup attempt
Turkey is much more tolerant of China than its Western partners. As of 2018,
Turkish ofcials keep remaining silent on the predicament of the Uyghur Mus-
lims, a million of whom were placed in detention camps in the last year by the
Chinese regime in an effort to “re-educate” them (Kirby 2018).
The failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, with its several tragic consequences, will
be remembered as one of the turning points in modern Turkish history. Beside its
much-discussed domestic impact, the incident also left an imprint on Turkish for-
eign policy. In the immediate aftermath of the failed plot, the rising anti-American
sentiments and frequent skirmishes with the EU governments drew Turkey further
away from the West. Amidst this environment, Russia’s and China’s friendly ges-
tures to the JDP government increased the popularity of Eurasianist ideas in Turkey.
Much of the post–coup attempt Eurasianist euphoria in the Turkish media and
ofcial circles had to do with the popular conviction on the duplicity of the West-
ern world. But Russia and China certainly had their attractive offerings on the
table. The new cooperation with Moscow elevated Turkey’s bargaining position
in Syria and the material benets offered by China, such as infrastructural invest-
ment and technology transfer, lured Turkey towards this otherwise unpopular
Asia-Pacic country. In the geopolitical sense, Sino-Turkish cooperation clearly
provided leverage to the JDP leadership vis-à-vis Western countries, which are
anxious about Turkey’s possible membership in the SCO and its pulling away
from NATO. Unlike what the Eurasianist circles in Turkey promote, however,
closer ties with China may not necessarily enable Turkey to implement a fully
independent foreign policy line.
In the last decade, Turkish ofcials have had to employ new strategies and
sometimes felt obliged to underemphasize Turkey’s grievances and complaints in
order to come to terms with China’s rise. The most recent policy change is with
regard to the Uighur issue, which resulted in Turkey’s gradual accommodation to
Chinese priorities. Given the growing power asymmetry between the two coun-
tries, it is unclear how much realpolitik advantage Turkey may derive out of this
relationship in the coming years. As I have tried to put forward throughout this
chapter, China is an important powerhouse that pushes forward Turkey’s recent
Eurasian leaning, and its role in Turkish foreign policy has clearly grown in the
post-July 15 period. Since Turkey spares Eurasian powers the value-based judg-
ments it usually chooses to put down its transatlantic partners, the ethical dilem-
mas inherent in Turkey’s new Eurasianism mostly go unnoticed.
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Heading towards the East? 75
banks Halkbank, was found guilty of conspiring with Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza
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90 Altay Atlı
between Turkey and its Western partners, and political discourse often represents
Turkey’s foreign relations as a matter of a binary choice between the West and the
East, Turkey’s improving relations with China do not result from an ideological
preference. Neither is it a decision taken at the expense of other established part-
ners, with whom Turkey possesses deeply rooted economic, political and cultural
ties. As discussed above, Turkey’s economy is so strongly anchored in the West –
especially in the EU – that it is simply impossible to replace it with another actor,
not even with China. Turkey’s deepening relations with China are a sign of purely
rational and pragmatic behaviour. For Turkey, China is an economic power that
can support closing the country’s infrastructure and technology gaps, whereas
for China, Turkey is located on a strategic position along the BRI, as a connector
between Europe and Asia.
As Turkey’s current ambassador to Beijing, Abdülkadir Emin Önen, stated in
an interview with the Chinese media, “Turkey does not consider this array of
developing relations with China and other countries to replace its existing ties
with the United States or the EU. Turkey has the strength and condence to place
itself at a position where it can work with all these actors on an equal footing.
Turkey does not favour one partner over another. Our goal in developing relations
with China is to enjoy bilateral cooperation in a win-win setting” (Global Times
2018). The world of the 21st century is dened by concepts like interconnected-
ness and interdependence, and instead of using binary lenses, Turkey’s develop-
ment of its relations with China can be better understood within this context.
1 All the overall and bilateral trade gures used in this chapter are either directly taken
from or calculated using the data in Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK n.d.) unless stated
2 All the commodity-level trade gures used in this chapter are either directly taken from
or calculated using the data in ITC n.d. unless stated otherwise.
3 Ofcial investment statistics cannot always fully cover the actual amount invested
because they do not include retained earnings and investments through third countries,
but they are still useful for comparison purposes.
4 In the same period, the total number of entries into Turkey made by foreign passport
holders (including citizens of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) was 32,410,034.
Chinese citizens’ share in this total gure is 0.08% (Ministry of Culture and Tourism
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92 Altay Atlı
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106 Nicola P. Contessi
business as it is a major trading partner, the perfect client for Russian natural
gas and a prospective transit route for further gas exports. Realistically, Turkish
ofcials seem to understand this. Commenting on Turkey’s election as the chair
of the SCO Energy Club, Eşref Soysal, a deputy SCO representative for Turkey,
observed, “This is the main message sent to us by Moscow. This is how Russians
view Ankara’s membership in the SCO” (Chulkovskaya 2017).
However, while Moscow welcomes Ankara’s efforts to join, it appears that the
Russian military is more sceptical. One retired Russian colonel and military jour-
nalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, sentenced that Turkey could not
join the SCO without leaving NATO (Chulkovskaya 2017). Turkey’s position on
Syria prior to July 2015 illustrates the kind of discrepancies that could emerge
between Ankara and other SCO members on key strategic issues were Turkey
to become a full member (İdiz 2013). Nonetheless, during a visit to Turkey in
November 2017, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic
Party, afrmed that Erdoğan personally asked him to assist with Turkey’s effort to
join the SCO and that there was a possibility Turkey would leave NATO (TASS
At any rate, one day after Erdoğan’s second plea, Geng Shuang, a spokesman
for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, remained tentative and stated that Turkey was
already a dialogue partner and China “attaches importance to Turkey’s aspiration
to further deepen cooperation with the SCO”, afrming China’s willingness “to
consult with other SCO members about the issue to seriously study it on the basis
of consensus consultation” (China Daily 2016; Reuters 2016b). Yet the Uyghur
issue again loomed in the background as only one year earlier and just weeks
before Erdoğan’s ofcial visit to China in 2015, Istanbul witnessed a series of pro-
tests against China, during which Chinese ags were set on re near the Chinese
Consulate-General and a Chinese restaurant was attacked (Wang 2016).
In sum, it is difcult to judge whether Turkey may eventually obtain what
Erdoğan claims it wants as both China and Russia are allergic to pan-Turkism –
China probably more so than Russia today – and both may have misgivings about
whether they can trust Erdoğan and the durability of Turkey’s political commit-
ments in the future. Notwithstanding the numerous overtures, according to Murat
Bilhan, who is the vice chairman of the Turkish-Asian Centre for Strategic Stud-
ies, Moscow and Beijing still seem to consider Turkey “as a Trojan horse of the
West”. Even though Turkey has intensied ofcial visits and other contacts with
both China and Russia since 2016, it is likely, therefore, that more substantial
proof of loyalty will be expected on the Turkish part.
1 In the Russian context, Tsygankov (1998) referred to the equivalent perspective as
“hard-line Eurasianism”.
2 The year 2016 was quite turbulent for Turkey, recording the demise of Davutoğlu as
prime minister in May, the crackdown on an attempted coup against Erdoğan in July
and the rapprochement with Russia ofcialized in June, after the downing of a Russian
ghter jet by Turkish forces over the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24, 2015.
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Ankara has also deepened bilateral relations with every country in the Caucasus
and Central Asia, except Armenia. Yet despite the rhetoric and practice of strate-
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have been of limited capacity. Ankara will most likely never go back to its enthu-
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in the 1990s. However, the Caucasus and Central Asia have once again solidied
their place in Turkish foreign policy in the past decade. Despite the presence of
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1 The author would like to thank M. Yusuf Yılmaz and Beyza Aksoy for their research
2 For a detailed analysis, see Nicola P. Contessi’s contribution to this volume.
3 Interview with anonymous diplomat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, June 12,
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4 For the effect of the jet crisis on Turkish-Russian relations, see Baev’s and Erşen’s
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5 Interview with Khazar Ibrahim, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Turkey, August 16,
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6 Interview with anonymous ofcial at TANAP, August 14, 2018, Ankara.
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10 Author’s calculations based on TİKA’s annual development aid reports. To see reports,
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Turkey’s energy security in Eurasia 143
makers promoting the resurgence of a Eurasian orientation in Turkish foreign
policy can face challenges to be part of a winning coalition, which can be blocked
by the growing authoritarianism in domestic structures of the state. Consequently,
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1 When the EU Commission initiated a debate for the EU’s energy policy by publishing
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2 Turkey’s state pipeline company BOTAŞ initiated the project in February 2002, and a
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agreement in October 2002, and the project ofcially started.
3 The intergovernmental agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan was signed on
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(TANAP n.d.).
4 The rst natural gas agreement between Russia and Turkey was signed in 1986 for the
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1997, there was the second agreement to construct a sub-sea pipeline to transport Rus-
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5 There was an agreement between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)
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6 TANAP’s total capacity is 16 bcm/year. The remaining 10 bcm/year will be transported
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affairs slightly improved due to the reinvigoration of nuclear diplomacy. This era
clearly revealed that Turkey and Iran had their own tensions and clash of interests
over the region, in which the U.S. factored rather indirectly and remained mostly
instrumental. The analysis of the post-2016 developments shows that Turkey’s
disappointment with the U.S. and growing mistrust between the two allies fac-
tored positively in the realignment of Turkey and Iran. The tension served as a
stepping stone for Russia and Iran to align with Turkey and work together to shape
the region in line with their usually conicting interests. The recent concord in
Turkey–Iran affairs is also underpinned by a greater understanding of their disa-
greements and the recognition of the necessity of cooperation to resolve the crises
in their vicinity, as neither of them proved able to end the turmoil on their own.
Such cooperation is noteworthy for bringing stability to their neighbourhood and
extinguishing the ames of sectarianism engulng the region.
Having said so, the recent realignment does not denote an end of Turkish- Iranian
competition or a full-edged strategic partnership. It may at best signal a return to
earlier soft balancing mechanisms with many potential and actual areas for con-
tinuous rivalry in place. Given the fact that the conicts in Syria and Iraq are not
yet over, the fate of the recent thaw is far from clear. Bilateral relations will also
be tested by mounting political and economic pressure of the U.S. on Iran, a policy
that receives tremendous support from Israel and the U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.
This once again presents Turkey the perennial challenge of balancing Iran and the
U.S. and positioning itself in the region between the Arab world and Iran. Though
Turkey declared that it would search for “new friends and allies”, unless the U.S.
changes its current policies (Erdoğan 2018), Turkey is still a NATO country, and
its “pivot to Eurasia” has strategic limits. A possible warming up of Turkey–U.S.
affairs may roll back the realignment in Turkey–Iran affairs observed since 2016.
In this regard, the latest decision by U.S. President Trump to pull American forces
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complex web of relations between Turkey, the U.S., Russia and Iran. In any case,
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194 Mustafa Kutlay
majoritarianism and strong executives are constantly praised as an alternative to
liberal democracy and political pluralism.
The most powerful members of BRICS – China and Russia – appear to be
the most assertive representatives of this emerging paradigm. In a post-Western
international order, state capitalism seems to make its way into other countries as
well. This chapter placed the transformation in the Turkish political economy over
the last decade within this broader framework, with particular reference to the
push-and-pull dynamics in international affairs. To be clear, neoliberal policies
still carry signicant weight in Turkish political economy. However, the grow-
ing emphasis on alternative developmental paths, growing scepticism about the
liberal values and norms as well as the increasing emphasis on South–South coop-
eration imply that the current transformation reects more than an edited version
of orthodox policies. Finally, this chapter demonstrated that new developmentalist
models suffer from internal contradictions and certain constraints, which are also
discernible in the Turkish case. In this regard, the incompatibility of long-term
sustainable economic development within an extractive institutional framework
appears to be the major challenge for emerging states seeking status in global
1 The push-and-pull framework was rst sketched out in Öniş and Kutlay (2017).
2 Data retrieved from SIPRI database:
3 Data retrieved from
4 For a discussion on nancialization, see Krippner (2005). On the regulatory failures and
credit crunch in 2008, see Gowan (2009).
5 The JDP has been ruling the country as a single-party government since then.
6 For an analysis of the crisis between Russia and Turkey, see Erşen (2017).
7 This part partially draws on Kutlay (2018b).
8 For comparative analysis, see the OECD data:
GenerateHTML. The data belong to the PISA 2015 survey.
9 For an analysis of Turkey’s asymmetrical economic relationship with Russia, see Köstem
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