Why is Russian TV talking about Turkey leaving NATO?

Written 19 December 2016

Vladimir Soloviev’s famous TV show, Vecher s Vladimirom Solovievom (Tonight with Vladimir Soloviev), recently had an episode featuring Duma members Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Semion Bagdasarov. The two were debating whether or not Russia should seek an alliance with Turkey and the claim that Turkey is leaving NATO was being discussed continuously. This is interesting because there are no major reports that Turkey is actually considering such a move. So why would Russian TV be talking about it?

Vladimir Soloviev is an interesting figure, in that in 2014 he won the Order of Alexander Nevsky, a prize normally given to civil servants who have worked in the Russian government for 20 years or more. The conclusion that some have come to is that Soloviev is actually an agent of a Russian intelligence agency, working as a journalist.

Another recipient of this prize is Zhirinovsky, which by itself is not too interesting since he has publicly been in the Russian military and the Duma for many years. What is interesting about him is the conclusion that some have come to about his boisterous persona: his role as an extremist on TV is actually meant to be a litmus test of how much the Russian people are willing to accept in terms of political decisions that the Kremlin might take.

If both of these premises are true, then it can be assumed that the debate format of Soloviev’s show is meant to be a type of public opinion poll that the Kremlin can use to determine the limits of their policies. As such, Zhirinovsky took the side that Russia should seek an alliance with Turkey while Bagdasarov (a deputy of Just Russia, widely considered to be part of the Kremlin’s controlled opposition) took the position that Russia should take a hard stance against Turkey.

This episode was aired not long after the Istanbul bombing by TAK, a PKK-affiliated terrorist group, that killed 46 officers and civilians outside of a football stadium. Many analysts are noting that the leadership of Turkey has reacted much more emotionally to this event than they have reacted to previous terror attacks, leading many to speculate that Turkey may launch a major offensive on the YPG in Syria. Of course, this move would put Turkey at loggerheads with the United States, which has been supporting the YPG for some time. This scenario is something I have written about before.

Given that the Kremlin pushed heavily anti-Turkish propaganda after the shootdown of the Su-24 by the Turkish Air Force, the Kremlin may be trying to figure out if Russians still feel strongly about this incident. Hence the live TV debate. If Russia gives support to the Turks in their war against the Kurds, then it might put Turkey into a situation where they will either be forced out of NATO or will leave the organization voluntarily. In this case, Putin wants to be sure that the Russian public is not against this support as that will no doubt damage his standing.

As such, while Turkey is mulling a greater intervention in Syria, it may be that Russia is also mulling whether it should support them. Although Russia has historically supported the Kurds, having Turkey in a situation where they might leave NATO would prove much more beneficial to Russia’s interests as it would weaken the alliance that it despises so much. Some have said that Russia was a major factor behind the “Brexit” from the EU. Now Russia may be plotting a “Turexit” from NATO.