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Turkey’s Failed Coup May Have Unexpected Benefits for Putin
July 17, 2016, 9:59 am

An army coup in Turkey that on Friday night seemed a fait accompli swiftly lost its momentum and saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan come back on the scene strong as never before with allies and opponents alike rallying behind him.

However, the implications of the failed attempt to overthrow the president are going to be long-lasting, far-reaching and may yield unexpected benefits for the Turkey-Russia relationship.

Ever since the downing of the Russian Su-24 and the Kremlin’s harsh diplomatic response, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been regularly likened to Erdogan. Journalists and experts have argued that the two are so much alike in their nationalist views and foreign policy strategies that they simply can’t reach a compromise.

One may only guess what Putin must have been feeling watching the events in Turkey unfold but journalists in Moscow report that dozens of government limos flocked into the Kremlin after midnight, presumably for an emergency meeting with the president.

Some Western journalists claimed on Friday night that Putin must have felt victorious as the Turkish army was seizing government institutions in Ankara. But this is exactly where their analysis went amiss. The army coup runs counter to the Kremlin’s interests at the moment, both due to its military nature and its possible regional after-shocks.


People gather to protest the coup attempt in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016 [Xinhua]

Russia and Turkey are very similar in that the army plays a huge role in their state policies and in maintaining law and order. In fact Turkey has the second largest army in NATO and Russia has the second most powerful army in the world.

The possibility of a military coup in Turkey where Erdogan has a firm grip on the army should be alarming to Putin whose closest ally Sergey Shoigu is Russia’s army chief. Whether a military coup in Russia is possible is a matter of speculation, but recent developments in Turkey indicate that establishments with highly centralized power are not immune to internal regime change.

Russian reaction: Wait and see

The Kremlin’s muted reaction to the events in Ankara is also very telling. Putin’s eloquent spokesman limited himself to general statements. “Moscow is concerned with the news coming from Turkey,” he told Russian journalists and added that “special services keep Vladimir Putin updated on the situation in the country.”

The Kremlin did not condemn the coup attempt in Turkey like most world governments did but in the same breath Moscow did not voice concern over excessive use of force against mutineers by Erdogan, or the purge of over 2,700 judges.

Be it not for the sudden rapprochement between Russia and Turkey in June, Moscow would certainly have used the occasion to slam the unfavorable regime.

All in all, it seems that the Kremlin is just watching at the moment waiting to see how this situation plays out politically and what benefits Russia could derive from it – and there are a few.

Suspicious as he is, Erdogan may wonder whether his NATO allies knew of the coup plot and whether they decided to idly stand by and watch him deal with the crisis.

Turkey is of critical importance to the alliance because of the nuclear weapons stored at the Incirlik base; this means that American intelligence must keep a close watch on this country.

It is hard to say whether NATO was aware of the brewing coup but connecting the dots this way may be enough for Erdogan to become suspicious of his allies’ intentions.

Rift with NATO?

A rift between Ankara and NATO countries has been widening for months now and the fact that the supposed mastermind of the coup is based in the US only adds fuel to the fire.

This crisis presents a unique opportunity for Moscow to position itself as Ankara’s key ally by voicing support for Erdogan’s attempts that are already underway to tighten his grip on power and ignoring the crackdown on opponents, something the West will not be ready to put up with.

Further alienation of Ankara from Europe and the United States could prove highly beneficial for Moscow primarily in terms of relations with Europe.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to people in Istanbul July 16, 2016 [Xinhua]

Brussels, which is increasingly frustrated with Turkey’s inability to stop the flow of migrants to Europe, may turn to Moscow for political support. Numerous European politicians have already suggested that Putin who allegedly “weaponized refugees” may be the best partner in capping the flow of illegals.

However, the idea has been continuously brushed off. Brussels may return to this proposal if Russia becomes a powerful intermediary with Turkey, and in that way Moscow will have levers both in Syria and in Turkey, which are pre-requisites for dealing with the refugee crisis.

Erdogan, with his Islamist views, may be a troublesome partner for Moscow in the Middle East but a secular military-controlled government in Turkey could be even more contrary.

In fact, Erdogan’s unwillingness to launch a ground operation in Syria is exactly what the Turkish army would have done if they had managed to seize power. There is no guarantee that army generals would have views on Syria that are similar to those of the Kremlin’s.

On the contrary, their main objective would be to cover up their political weaknesses by overly relying on military power.

In this regard, Erdogan is a more predictable partner for Putin despite the differences on Syria and Assad’s fate that separate the two presidents.

While it is highly unlikely that the Turkish president will change his view of the Syrian conflict overnight, he could become more flexible and change a tentative geopolitical camp, which is all Putin may need at this point.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

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