Geopolitical Struggle between Russia and Turkey: The Intersection of Ukraine and Syrian Crises

Rahman Dag, PhD

* Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Zonguldak Bulent Ecevit University,


As a new but uncertain international system has been operating for decades that can be regarded as a transition from unipolarity to something resembling multipolarity. Therefore, established and possible future great powers have been determining their foreign policies according to their future projections of the regional conflicts. This paper investigates Turkey and Russia’s stances in the Syrian and Ukrainian Crises. It might sound odd that Russia and Turkey are comparable in a struggle for the sphere of influence that intercepts each other. However, their good bilateral relations and different, even conflictual, approaches to regional and international issues provide a suitable ground to claim that a new international system is about to emerge. It will continue until the positions of established and newly emerged great powers are embedded. In practice, Russia’s stance in the Ukrainian crisis and Turkey’s stance in the Syrian crisis represent ontological threads to the vision of their own countries. However, they can still work together at a certain level because of third-party involvement in the issues.

KEYWORDS: Geopolitical Struggle, International System, Syrian Crisis, Ukrainian Crisis, Turkey, Russia

Introduction: The Dynamism of International Order

The world states prepared themselves for new conditions and struggled to find the most suitable place for themselves in the emerging international system. Once almost a half-century world system collapsed and the US appeared victorious in the cold war, the rest of the world looked for alternatives. In this sense, the last decade of the 20th century was spent trying to find balance in the post-Cold war world system. The post-Cold War era, which resulted in the victory of the Western bloc under the leadership of the USA, paved the way for all components of the West to dominate world politics and began to be the determinant of all national and international politics throughout the 1990s. Therefore, the way national and international conflicts are being dealt with has been taken as a basis for how and according to what national and international problems would be resolved. Being one of the two poles of the Cold War era, the West represented a liberal/capitalist and free market-based, politically liberal-democratic, culturally secular and multicultural, and socially open and participatory structure. Therefore, the world’s post-cold war approach to potential problems was built on these ideas and values.

In this context, it was thought that the preservation of these values ​​and putting them into practice in other countries were better serving their and intervened states’ national interests. The integration of Germany in all the mentioned areas can be considered a result of this idea. To put it more clearly, by giving up its structural features, East Germany, which had a socialist and closed economic, social, cultural and political system, united with West Germany, which has a liberal and open economic, social, cultural and political system. The practices of the idea of ​​victory were not limited to the unification of Germany but also played an active role in the First Gulf War, Kosovo, Bosnia and Rwanda crises in the last decade of the 20th century. In solving these international conflicts, the American and Western European states, which intervened with the vision of a unipolar world, had a say in the resolution method of the issues and the final political, economic and social structures to be established. This situation has been evaluated as one of the signs of the transition from bipolarity to a unipolar system in which the global balance of power, which was thought to have been achieved in the post-Cold War period, was led by the United States (Layne, 1993).

The methods and tools used by the West in every intervention during the 1990s have become a source of legitimacy for the international system based on national interests or expectations. The most striking of these methods is to create a peace-keeping force and operate under international organisations’ umbrella (Neack, 1995). During this period, the United Nations and its relevant units (development aid, peace-keeping, disarmament, etc.) laid the groundwork for both legitimacy and multilateralism in the interventions of the First Gulf War, Rwanda, Kosovo and Bosnia (Tallberg et al., 2018). The most influential international intervention discourse created in the same period is the concept of humanitarian intervention. This concept, which will mean a violation of the sovereign rights of states over their lands, has made the right to intervene in state administrations possible with international institutions based on human and humanitarian values ​​(Weiss, 2016).

The turning point of the 21st century in terms of international politics is the September 11 terrorist attack. The policy developed by the USA against this terrorist attack was explained with the concept of preventive intervention, and the then US President George Bush gave the clues of a harsh and interventionist foreign policy against terrorism with the statement that you are either with us or against us (Ikenberry, 2004). Afterwards, the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions brought along the discussions of a unipolar world order dominated by military power. Although the military success of the American interventions was quickly announced, the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-intervention years failed to solve the economic, political and social problems (Bailey and Immerman, 2015). At the same time, the idea that the USA’s military, political and social interventions, which have begun to be seen as a global police force in the unipolar world, are not economically and politically sustainable has been discussed. The lack of economic and political support for unilateral international politics by other countries, especially the representatives of the Western bloc, has made these discussions meaningful in terms of global politics (Fettweis, 2017).

Another global issue that started in the 1990s and continued to increase its effectiveness in world politics has been revolutions or social movements (Tüfekçi and Dağ, 2022). The efforts of the countries in the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union (Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East) to establish their own political and economic system after the Cold War continued on the prevailing ideas mentioned above. In other words, third-world countries, which took positions as satellite states during the Cold War period, started to experience their own cold wars within their national borders. Therefore, since the union of East Germany with the West, all countries of the world have witnessed political, economic and social struggles within themselves about where and how to position themselves (Sarotte, 2014; Öniş, 1995).

Post-Soviet newly established countries, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern and Far East countries experience this transformation as internal turmoil, revolutions, civil war, coups or social movements. The national movements in question form the basis for the interventions of great superpowers in line with their national interests or values. The conceptual framework that provides the legitimacy of these interventions is based on reasons such as the humanitarian intervention that emerged after the cold war, replacing dictatorships or autocracies with democratic regimes, punishing those who support terrorism and states that create instability at the global and regional level (Verhoeven, 2009). The inhumane treatment of Serbs against Bosnian Muslims has revealed the concept of humanitarian intervention, mass killings in Rwanda paved the way for the international community to intervene to prevent massacres based on human rights. In Latin America and the Middle East, each military intervention was opened to change the regimes of the dictators or the countries that support terrorism, and the methods of punishing the national governments with economic and political sanctions came to the fore. Supporting civil and military opposition to socialist dictators in Latin America has also added variety to the intervention methods of international politics.

In the process of rebuilding the international system after the Cold War, the unipolarity experiment was put into practice by the USA. Before the unipolar international system becomes well established, there is still a global dynamic that showed the transition to multipolarity in the 21st century. It may be premature to argue that a multipolar global system has become instituted, and its tendencies, norms, and rules have settled. However, when looking at the sides of every international problem, the existence of regional and great powers operating at the regional and international level, which increases their resistance against a unipolar system, is now an indisputable fact of international relations (Itzkowitz Shifrinson, 2020). While the USA is still the world’s most significant power and its policies towards international conflicts are of great importance, regional or great powers oppose the policies of the West or Russian Federation at the regional level. States that refused to be satellite states (as in the cold war) began to act in their own interests. The power politics that continues under these conditions has been conducted not as a direct opposition to each other but as having a different approach to international conflicts from the United States (Tudoroiu, 2015).

The Arab Spring and its subsequent political and military developments are essential examples of 21st-century power politics. More specifically, the Syrian Crisis, for which no military and political solution has yet been found, continues to exist as a field of struggle for regional and great powers who want to design world politics in line with their interests. On the other hand, the Ukraine Crisis can be seen as an area where an active struggle between the Western and Eastern blocs took place after the Cold War period. The crucial sides of these two crises can be listed as the USA, European Union, Russia, China, Turkey and other Eurasian and Arab countries. Turkey and Russia, the significant actors in both crises, considered them an existential threat to national security. While the Syrian Crisis represents a challenge that may lead to the recognition of its great power or regional power status for Turkey (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2014: 140), the Ukraine Crisis is seen as an area where its cross-border policy-making power is tested. Considering its active role, the Syrian Crisis represents Russia’s struggle to re-exist outside the Soviet sphere of influence. At the same time, the Ukraine Crisis expresses the most critical point of the contraction of the Soviet-influenced sphere. While both countries are trying to determine and implement international policies in line with their interests, it is seen that they have both different and resemble policies. The same issue is valid for comparing other great powers (USA, European Union and China) in terms of defining international problems and their resolution policies. This study will try to reveal the geopolitical importance of these two crises for Russia and Turkey by focusing on how Russia and Turkey approached the Syria and Ukraine Crises.

The article will continue with a section revealing the reasons and scope of the Syrian and Ukraine Crises. Later, how Russia and Turkey approached these crises and what they base their approach on will be discussed regarding their domestic and foreign policies. It will be completed with the conclusion section, which includes a general evaluation.

Syria and Ukraine Crises

Although a state’s political and social turmoil is considered the country’s internal problems, this situation makes the state in question open to the interventions of regional or great powers. Global powers, which have good relations with the current regime or administration of that state, develop policies to protect the relationship between them by providing political and, if necessary, military support to not lose their sphere of influence on the relevant state. At the same time, global or regional powers that are disturbed by the regime or administration of that state also support alternative political or military groups, mainly oppositional groups. Therefore, with a state that does not have a settled political structure, they become open to the intervention of other powers due to the political movements they experience within themselves. In opening the door for such an intervention, only the opposition groups against the regime or the administration openly demand foreign powers’ political and military support to come to power. The correlation between the demands of the sub-national groups that want to come to power and the increase in the number of regional or great powers that want to gain influence over the national group makes solving the conflicts more challenging. On the other hand, unsolved problems transform into protracted conflicts and cause national, regional and international instability. To put it more clearly, the conflictual policies developed to protect the interests of opposition groups and regional/great powers at the national level bring along intransigence.

Syrian Case

The social mobilisation known as the Arab Spring broke out due to the popular revolt against the dictators and authoritarian regimes in power for many years. When these social movements turned into square movements and spread all over the Arab countries, they caused the establishment of a new administration with the resignation of the political power or the departure of the heads of state (Alhousseiny and Atar, 2021). When the way to establish a new system was opened, opposition segments united against a single dictator or regime, leading to further instability due to differences among themselves. It is because regional and global actors have provided support to one of the fractions of opposing groups per ideational or strategic interests. As it can be understood from here, the group that will establish the new administrations after the social movements, that is, which group will come to power, has a significant effect on the continuity of the problem.

In the case of Syria, the repression regime that started with Hafez Assad’s seizure of the Baath Party leadership with a coup intensified discomfort in the country. The implementation of the Alevi sect as a condition for official cadres was met with backlash by the Sunni majority, and an ethnic opposition group was formed against Arab nationalism with the rejection of the Kurdish identity. Even though the differences among the opposing Arab Sunnis and ethnic Kurds, their common enemy, the regime, caused them to meet on the common ground of the opposition cumulatively (Lund, 2019). Particularly, during the periods when Bashar Assad and the Baath Regime weakened against the opposition armed groups, the disagreements within the opposition were seen as a sign of new conflicts in the post-Assad period. As seen from the practice, the power struggle between the religious references and the opposition armed organisations led to a terrorist organisation such as ISIS flourishing and controlling a significant part of Syria for a while.

On the other hand, the Syrian extensions of the KDP and PKK tried to gain space by entering into a political and armed struggle as an intra-Kurdish conflict. The struggle between the two central opposition veins interrupted the political and armed conflict against Hafez Assad. It caused the Baath regime led by Assad to recover and maintain its power. The popular uprising that started in 2011 continues with a state of deadlock in which three different groups are active. These are the Assad regime that controls the area around Damascus and Southern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is based on the PYD/YPG (PKK’s Syrian branch) in Northern Syria, and the Free Syrian Army, which seeks to maintain its presence in a limited area of ​​North-West Syria (Lund, 2019). Russia and Iran support the first of these three groups, which try to protect their areas of dominance, American and European countries support the second one, and Turkey and Qatar support the last.

Ukrainian Case

Ukraine, which gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, was caught between Russia and Europe. The most general and vital reason for the Ukraine crisis is the domestic struggle over what will be the main ideas that will shape the future of the country (Cengiz, 2020). On the one hand, it has brought about sharp polarisations between those who want close cooperation with Russia and, on the other hand, the political views that advocate political, cultural, social and economic integration with the West. Ukraine, which has geostrategic importance in transferring Russia’s and Central Asian energy resources to Europe, is crucial for Russia and European states. Therefore, both sides make the Ukrainian administration closer to them as a national-interest issue. In the last years of the 20th century, the efforts of Eastern European countries to integrate with Western European countries became effective in Ukraine in the 21st century. With the orange revolution in 2004, people filled the streets, and the 2004 presidential election between pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko and pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych ceased to be an ordinary election and resulted in a social movement known as the Orange revolution. The streets were filled with demonstrators protesting the election results when pro-Moscow Yanukovych was declared the winner of the election, which took place on November 21, 2004, according to the uncertain outcomes of the National Election Commission. After harsh criticism of internal and external interference in the elections, the Supreme Court of Ukraine decided to renew the elections. Then, pro-Western Yushchenko won the presidential election held on December 26 2004 (Kuzio, 2005). In short, Ukraine is politically caught between a pro-Moscow and Russian-speaking social and political bloc and a pro-Western Ukrainian nationalist bloc (Arel, 2018).

At the same time, similar to the conditions in Syria, the conflicts among the blocs increased political instability. Especially the crisis of management style between pro-Western Yushchenko and Tymoshenko prevented Ukraine from developing a solid domestic and foreign policy in the post-Orange Revolution period. The social ambience created by the orange revolution lost its strength with the failure to form a pro-Western coalition government. The personal hostilities of critical political figures within the same group caused political disagreement (Labbare, 2010: 39). On the other hand, the fact that some pro-Moscow political groups are pro-Russian enough to undermine Ukraine’s independence and the Russian oligarchs’ strength in Ukraine’s politics and the economy still exist as a factor that fuels the power struggle between the supporters of Moscow. Under these conditions, just like in the Syrian crisis, the great powers had no difficulty finding local groups they would support financially, politically and militarily, in line with their interests.

At the end of 2013 and in 2014, the Ukrainian administration’s unwillingness under Yanukovych’s leadership to sign the European Association Agreement was evaluated by the pro-Western groups as the decline of democratic reforms and the increase in the political power of the pro-Moscow. However, this political transformation was achieved when the square movements turned into armed conflict. As a result of the armed conflicts between the pro-Western and pro-Russian groups, Russia annexed Crimea, and at the same time, a unilateral declaration of autonomy was made in areas where the Russian population and influence were dominant (Donetsk and Lugansk). Under these circumstances, the Ukrainian government continues to follow a pro-Western policy, Russia does not give up on the annexation of Crimea, and the EU and America impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea. On the other hand, Turkey does not recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea (Rüma and Çelikpala, 2019:75) and continues to develop good relations with the Ukrainian government.

Ontological Approaches of Turkey and Russia towards the Syrian and Ukrainian Crisis

For Turkey and Russia, the Syria and Ukraine crises are essential in increasing their regional activities as they respectively lie by their adjacent borders. They clearly intend to become a regional or great power through their foreign policies. It is possible to see these intentions in their approaches to the Syria and Ukraine crises, respectively. The geography where these crises are experienced has a crucial role in their geopolitical visions. Although Turkey and Russia are on different sides in both crises, they do not hesitate to expand their cooperation areas. Despite Turkey’s anti-Assad and Baath Party statements, Russia does not give up its cooperation with Turkey in the Syria Crisis.

On the other hand, despite the fact that Turkey did not recognise the annexation of Crimea and stated in its foreign policy discourses that it was against international law, Russia continues its economic, political and military relations with Turkey. This situation is explained by the concept of “compartmentalisation” in the literature (Tüfekçi, 2017a; Rüma and Çelikpala, 2019). Although there was a short-term interruption experience after Syria shot down the Turkish plane, and then Turkey shot down the Russian warplane, it can be claimed that Turkish-Russian relations continue despite all the differences (Kınık and Tüfekçi, 2018).

For a better understanding of the situation, it is necessary to explain the roles of both countries in regional and global politics and why they continue to act together in certain areas despite the conflicts between these roles. To start with Russia’s regional and global vision, it claims that it defined the Soviet-era borders as its sphere of influence and that it has a privileged position in these areas. If the states in the sphere of influence cannot prevent their desire to integrate with the West, Russia’s military intervention would be possible in the so-claimed soviet hinterland.

The willingness of the Eastern European countries, which gained their independence after the USSR, for membership in the European Union and NATO, caused them to integrate into Western Europe’s political, cultural and economic structures one by one. In this process, Russia, the heir of the Soviet Union, watched the developments from afar because it did not have enough power (Larrabee, 2010). Russia, which recovered under the leadership of Vladimir Putin after the 2000s, showed that it would not allow countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus to leave their sphere of influence. The closeness of Georgia and Ukraine to the EU and NATO was again perceived as a threat to Russia. In particular, the possible NATO memberships of Ukraine and Georgia have been evaluated as the containment of Russia (Larrabee, 2010: 36). The threat perception on this issue caused Russia to use the option of military intervention when it realised that it could not control the governments of the relevant countries. Therefore, Russia intervened in Georgia, controlled South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and tried to prevent the presence of other great powers, especially America, in the geography it saw as its sphere of influence by making bilateral and multilateral agreements with the post-Soviet Central Asian countries. In this context, the article by Malyarenko and Wolff provides an essential perspective on Russia’s approach to the Ukraine crisis. They explained that the ultimate goal of Russia’s Ukraine policy is to ensure that a pro-Russian and stable government remains in power. If this is not possible, if the emergence of a pro-Western Ukraine is inevitable, they claim that Russia is trying to destabilise this country to prevent its continuous integration with the West (Malyarenko and Wolff, 2018).

Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, in particular, and its perspective on the post-Soviet countries that gained their independence, in general, are considered an integral part of its field of activity for Russia. It thinks that the increase in the population of other great powers in the geography harms their national interests and status as a great power in the international system. In this respect, it is trying to establish a monopoly on the extraction of energy resources in Central Asia and their distribution to the world markets. On the other hand, it does not remain silent about the political developments in the region by opposing the shaping of the political structures of these countries according to the West, interfering in the elections from the outside, establishing political and military pressure, and gathering the opposition groups around itself. Russia developed policies according to its national interests and great power status in post-Soviet countries and prevented international intervention by using its veto right as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and controlled the activities of the United States and other European countries. Thus, it can prevent resolution suggestions that will increase tensions.

Ukraine is of vital importance for the Russian hinterland. The fact that Ukraine, which will be regarded as the last stronghold connecting to the European mainland, has a pro-Western administration will mean Russia’s closure to its post-Soviet borders. At the same time, Russia’s location on the energy supply route to Europe has geostrategic importance in terms of the continuity of Russia’s regional and global energy policies. On the other hand, its military and strategic importance for the Black Sea navy located on the Crimean Peninsula of Russia is too important to be ignored (Terterov, Van Pool and Nagornyy, 2010: 192). Russia cannot be expected to give up on such geostrategic importance. In particular, it cannot be expected to consider the conflicts in the Caucasus, Belarus, Syria, and Libya outside Russia’s national interests. Still, it can be argued that the Ukraine problem is of much greater importance in the context of the historical power struggle between Western Europe and Russia.

It is seen that the international great power status of the Soviets outweighs it. As in Ukraine, it does not have the characteristics of being a buffer zone between the EU and Russia, being on the route of energy lines (Terterov, Van Pool and Nagornyy, 2010: 195) or hosting the most critical Navy fleet. However, it would be more accurate to consider the Soviets as the last satellite state in the Middle East during the cold war period (Blank, 2018). Even if the Russian naval base in the Syrian port of Tarsus is considered an indicator of Russia’s international power, the Russian navy in Crimea is more important in protecting the Russian mainland. In this context, it is necessary to read Russia’s Syria policy to confirm its status as a major power and thus have a say in international issues. Russia’s Syria policy has an important function not only in terms of increasing its sphere of influence but also in narrowing the sphere of influence of other great powers (Tudoroiu, 2015; Lund, 2019). However, with respect to Syria, it cannot be compared with the policy of blocking Western influence in Ukraine in terms of importance due to Ukraine’s proximity to the Russian borders.

On the other hand, Turkey was considered the eastern border of the Western bloc during the cold war and had a position expected to comply with the world and regional policies of the American and European states. After the 2000s, it is possible to talk about that Turkey sought to establish ties with all the countries in its region and to be a determinant in regional politics based on its historical heritage (Terterov, Van Pool, & Nagornyy, 2010: 197; Tufekci, 2017b). In other words, from being the policy implementer of the West in the region, Turkey has entered into a struggle to become a policy-making country in the region and the world. With the discourse and policies of zero problems with neighbours (Aras and Fidan, 2009), Win-Win, Turkey has sought to increase its effectiveness in the regions such as the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, and Persian Gulf (Aras and Karakaya Polat, 2008:507) and North Africa (D’Alema, 2017). It tries to deepen its economic and political relations with each of the regions mentioned above by using its historical, religious and ethnic ties and the concept of civilisation in the broadest sense (Dağ, 2016). Turkey, which redefines itself in a comprehensive framework, has also redefined its foreign policy from the idea of ​​a country surrounded by enemies to one full of potential good relations on all four sides. Turkey has tried to have a say in its own geography by playing the role of a mediator in all the aforementioned surrounding regions and has made progress in becoming an influential power, although it cannot be claimed to be entirely successful (Taşpınar, 2012).

Trying to revive its historical and cultural heritage, which forms the basis and existential ground of its new foreign policy, Turkey tries to expand its sphere of influence by using its ethnic identity in the Caucasus, its religious identity in the Balkans, the interaction of Muslim democracy in the Arab world and the Ottoman heritage in North Africa. The fact that it tried to persuade Bashar Assad to democratic reforms in the Syrian crisis is due to its Ottoman heritage, religious and historical ties, and the feature of being a Muslim democracy. The protests turned into armed resistance when the reform demands were not met, and the Baath administration opened fire on the demonstrators. Turkey, which directly opposed the Assad administration, wanted to gain influence over Syria after Assad by supporting all opposition groups. Due to the support given to the opposition and the belief that the Assad regime would collapse in a short time, Turkey has implemented an open-door policy for the oppressed Syrian people and has evaluated this policy as a historical responsibility. Thus, the problem of irregular migrants has become a significant problem for Turkey. The fact that Syria has a long border with Turkey and that Syria was seen as Turkey’s gateway to the Arab world before the crisis has made the Syrian crisis very important in Turkey’s foreign policy. The establishment of a de-facto administration in Northern Syria by the PYD/YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist organisation, which it has been fighting within its borders for years, has been a factor that increased the vital importance of the Syrian crisis (Dag, 2018; Rüma and Çelikpala, 2019: 77; D’Alema, 2017). The PKK’s exploitation of the power vacuum in Syria and the safe coordination of its terrorist attacks against Turkey have deeply affected Turkey’s approach to the Syrian crisis.

Another point that makes the Syrian crisis ontologically important in Turkish foreign policy is that Turkey’s effort to have a say in international problems as a regional and global actor is considered an application area. In other words, the Syrian crisis is a test board for whether the policies of being active rather than passive have an equivalent in the field and whether they have the power to implement these discourses in a sustainable way. It has tried to exist in all political and military manoeuvres for the solution or non-solution of the Syrian crisis, to protect its own national interests, and not to stay out of regional re-designing.

Turkey’s perspective on the Ukraine crisis, although not as vital as the Syrian crisis, is based on the doctrines of protecting the rights of the Crimean Turks and defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Providing political support to social movements and revolutions in Ukraine, Turkey wants to increase its effectiveness in the Black Sea by entering into military cooperation with Ukraine. The basis of this foreign policy is the historical ties with the Crimean Khanate dating back to the Ottoman period and the discourses of having a common ethnic identity (Terterov, Van Pool and Nagornyy, 2010: 199).

Foreign Policy Convergence and Cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the Syrian and Ukraine Crisis

The Arab Spring and the revolutions in the countries that gained their independence after the Soviet Union provided the political and social ground for the people and possible opposition groups living under the dictator regimes that were destroyed one by one. As in all revolutions, the content of the demands gives clues to the administration’s economic, social and political structure that will be established after the revolutions. In the 21st century, the dominant global ideas of concepts such as human rights, freedom, a free market economy, and democracy were either supported by almost all opposition groups or studies were carried out to implement different versions. In this context, Turkey, which presented an example with its Muslim, democrat and EU candidate country identities, was shown as a model country and displayed a stance in harmony with Western values. On the other hand, the fact that Russia is seen as the representative of values ​​such as oppressive, authoritarian and socialist democracy is shown as an example by groups that want to maintain their current power, not by the opponents. Therefore, the new regional dynamics provided an excellent opportunity for Turkey to increase its influence, and for Russia, it offered a chance to regain its influence in the Soviet period. While Turkey stood on the side of the people who rebelled by using Western values ​​in both the Syrian and Ukraine crises, Russia took the side of the dominant oppressive regimes.

The ontological strategies that Turkey and Russia follow in foreign policy intersect and even conflict with each other in all geographies they are struggling (Tufekci, 2017a). They are confronted by supporting rival groups in almost all international problems, including Central Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea region (Babali, 2010). At the same time, it is seen that they have agreed on common working areas in energy, bilateral economic relations and even political solution channels (Astana Process). Within the framework of the article’s main argument, while the Ukraine crisis is of vital importance for Russia, the Syrian crisis is at a more secondary level. The Syrian crisis is crucial for Turkey, while the Ukraine crisis is secondary. If attention is paid, both countries consider it vitally important for their national interests to be active in their own environment and region. Although they see each other as rivals, the main reason they can carry out joint activities is that the American and Western European countries, which they see as rivals in great power politics, want to prevent their activities in the region.

However, when the Arab Spring turned into the Arab winter, with the failure to establish new administrations after the revolutions and the struggle for power of different political groups, a new field of struggle for regional and global powers emerged. Despite the support of the European states and the United States to the opposition, the fact that they could not be sure of the power alternatives for Syria after Assad prevented them from directly intervening in the Syrian crisis. Russia, on the other hand, considered excluding itself and ignoring the sovereignty of a country under the name of humanitarian intervention as contrary to its own interests and its status as a great power, as in the case of Libya, and therefore did not approach Assad’s removal from the administration despite criticising the Syrian regime (Deyermond, 2016; Ruma and Celikpala, 2019: 68). Especially as in the examples of Egypt and Libya, Russia and Turkey were dissatisfied with being excluded from the newly formed Middle East balance.


How can it be explained that Russia and Turkey are at opposite poles in two international conflicts that are of vital importance to each other and that they have good relations in general? The answer to this question is based on the international system. While Turkey and Russia continue to struggle among themselves in many geographies where their spheres of influence intersect, they continue to engage in political and military dialogue to expand their range of action against other great powers, rather than directly clashing with each other because of the discomfort they feel in the current global power system. Both countries are trying to revitalise their historical activities and spheres of influence and to have a say and take a share in solving all the problems remaining in the hinterland of these areas. To this end, it would be reasonable to claim they resist a unipolar world system.

Russia and Turkey’s approach to the Ukraine and Syria crises, respectively, has revealed the conflicts that are essential for their national interests. While the conflict of the leading foreign policy approaches of both countries may cause them to be in a great struggle, including the situation of armed conflict, they cannot give up on working together to prevent other regional and global powers from getting involved in the issues that are of vital importance to them in the multipolar world system. In the Ukraine and Syria Crisis, where the USA, the EU and China are in a struggle for their sphere of influence, Russia and Turkey will continue to struggle with each other and with other international great powers to be compelling actors and to be among the decision-makers for a possible resolution. While this situation has the potential to perpetuate the deadlock, it also reveals the potential to find a permanent solution to all international problems, including the Ukraine and Syria crisis, through multilateral agreements.


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