Russia is afraid of Turkey

Written 24 April 2016

The ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, wrote: “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” By acting strong when you are weak, you intimidate your enemy. By acting weak when you are strong, you are enticing your enemy into a disaster. This situation applies to the modern situation between Russia and Turkey.

Recently, Vladimir Putin gave a speech to a delegation from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and said this about Turkey: “Should Turkey not stop supporting al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, I am indeed eager to end the job the late Tsar Nicholas II left. During the World War I , He [Tsar] sought to restore Constantinople (Istanbul) to Christendom and protect Russian maritime security by liberating Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits but fate prevented him.” Too bad the Turks withstood and defeated a massive barrage from the world’s major superpower, Great Britain, at Galipoli.

But historical realities are beside the point here. This provocative statement was made to the Ukrainians, no doubt in a reaction to the formation of an informal alliance between Ukraine and Turkey. This month, the two launched joint naval drills in the Black Sea, and last month, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Petro Poroshenko signed agreements on sharing military equipment and on creating a free trade area.

This is troubling for Putin, not only because it signals a Turkish attempt to contain Russia, but also something much more cunning. By doing what the United States and the West feared to do, Putin is realizing that Erdogan is a much more capable and bold statesman then he originally imagined.

In 2014, John Mearseheimer warned that attempts from the West to arm Ukraine would trigger an even greater crisis and perhaps a full-scale Russian invasion. By getting closer to Ukraine, it seems as if Erdogan is trying to provoke Putin into invading Ukraine. Whether or not this happens is not the point; the point is that Erdogan is trying. And an occupation of Ukraine would be a disaster for Russia, as this would only inflame the Ukrainian nationalism which both Stalin and Hitler struggled to deal with. Russia’s army would be stuck in a quagmire along with Russia’s economy.

Hence the provocative statements by Putin. Aside from this, Putin’s response would be refocusing the Syrian intervention away from supporting Assad, to supporting the Kurds and it seems as if he has done this. In my last video, I talked about how Kurdish fighting against regime forces and Russian promises to send support may be signaling. By attempting to get Russia involved in a quagmire, Putin is attempt to do the same to Erdogan.

Whatever happens, it seems like Putin was forced back on his heels. Judging by his threats to “liberate Constantinople”, he is quite furious about this. So in an attempt to hide the weakness which Erdogan revealed, he is bulking up. Erdogan’s moves, however, have been quiet and non-provocative, masking his true strengths.