Turkey prods at Russia’s underbelly in regional expansion drive - analyst

Turkey is prodding at Russia’s underbelly in a regional expansion drive that is becoming more achievable, regional analyst Emil Avdaliani said.

Ankara is hoping to form an alliance with the Turkic-speaking countries in Central Asia and northern regional countries such as Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Georgia, creating a “geopolitical arc” that challenges Russia’s dominance over hydrocarbon hubs and its military interests, Avdaliani said on Sunday in Eurasia Review.

“Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theatres, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions,” he said.

“There is an emerging two-pronged strategy. Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.”

Turkey-backed Azerbaijan’s victory in last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh war has transformed the country into a “springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia,” Advaliani said.

Ankara will also benefit from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan’s aims to develop a natural gas field under the Caspian Sea, and both Russia and Iran are opposing “Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy”, he said.

In Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s visits to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan at the start of March, new cooperation areas were discussed such as defence cooperation, preferential trade deals and a free trade agreement, Advaliani said.

“Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcomed and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate,” Advaliani said.

Turkey also sees Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as a geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus, according to  Advaliani,

“With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine,” he said.