Russia–Turkey relations

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Russia– Turkey relations
Map indicating locations of Russia and Turkey



Russia–Turkey relations (Russian: Российско–турецкие отношения; Turkish: Rusya–Türkiye ilişkileri) is the bilateral relationship between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey and their predecessor states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a meeting in Istanbul, 3 December 2012.

From the late 16th to the early 20th centuries, relations between the Ottoman and Russian empires were often strained, as the two powers were engaged in a number of Russo-Turkish wars. However, in the 1920s, as a result of the Bolshevik Soviet assistance to Turkish revolutionaries during the Turkish War of Independence, the governments of Moscow and Ankara developed warm relations. In 1932 the Turkish Republic took its first foreign loans from the Soviet Union, and the first 5-year economic and industrial development plan of Turkey (1934–1938) was largely modeled after the 5-year plans of the Soviet Union, which seemed to perform well during the Great Depression; despite setbacks such as the Soviet famine of 1932–33, which was largely hidden from the outside world. The good relations between Moscow and Ankara lasted until Joseph Stalin demanded Soviet bases on the Turkish Straits after the Montreux Convention in 1936, most notably at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and placed itself within the Western alliance against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, when relations between the two countries were at their lowest level.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between Turkey and Russia quickly improved and the two countries eventually started to rank among each other's largest trade partners. Russia became Turkey's largest provider of energy, while many Turkish companies began to operate in Russia. In this period, Turkey became the top foreign destination for Russian tourists. However, the warm bilateral relations of the past two decades became strained after the November 2015 jet shootdown incident, when a Turkish F-16 combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 during an airspace dispute close to the Syria–Turkey border. Despite this, relationship between the two countries have been very steady, and improving following several meetings between the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Historical background[edit]

Early history[edit]

Slavic and Turkic peoples have been in contact for thousands of years along the Eurasian Steppe. Medieval Turkic kingdoms like Khazaria, Cumania, Volga Bulgaria, the Kipchak Khanate, the Khanate of Kazan, the Crimean Khanate, the Astrakhan Khanate and the Khanate of Sibir were established in parts of present-day Russia, with a continuing demographic, genetic, linguistic and cultural legacy.

The Turks in Anatolia were separated from Russia by the Black Sea and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the northwest and the Caucasus mountains to the east. The Turks founded the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia and began expanding outwards, while Russia was doing the same. The two empires began a series of clashes over the Black Sea basin.

The collapse of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans marked the end of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and Russia became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church and its rulers inherited the Byzantine legacy.[1]

Clashes of empires[edit]

Punch cartoon from 17 June 1876. The Russian Empire preparing to let slip the Balkan "Dogs of War" to attack the Ottoman Empire, while policeman John Bull (UK) warns Russia to take care. Supported by Russia, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire the next day. These clashes eventually triggered the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878.

Starting in 1549, the Ottoman Empire's support for smaller Turkic and Islamic vassal states in modern Russia (the Astrakhan Khanate, the Crimean Khanate, etc.) brought the two empires into conflict. The Black Sea was under Ottoman control when the Russians began their offensive against the Turks. In 1696 Peter the Great took Azov, but many more battles lay ahead. The Russo-Turkish War (1768-74) resulted in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774. This treaty granted Russia passage to the Black Sea, making it possible for Russia to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. It also allowed the Russians the privilege to intervene in the Ottoman Empire on the behalf of the Eastern Orthodox Christian populations. By the 19th century, Russia was helping Turkey's Slavic and Christian minorities to revolt against Ottoman rule. Russia did not always have in mind the goal of partitioning the Ottoman state, fearing this would aid the expansion plans of the Austrian Empire in the Balkan peninsula, which was largely Orthodox. Eventually, however, the desire for free passage through the Turkish Straits and Pan-Slavist feeling at home pushed Russia in that direction, leading to the decisive intervention in 1877–78.

The two empires fought each other for the last time during World War I. However, by the end of the war both monarchies had been either overthrown or defeated.

Turkey and the Soviet Union[edit]

The Republic Monument (1928) at Taksim Square in Istanbul, crafted by Pietro Canonica. The people standing behind Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, include Semyon Ivanovich Aralov, Ambassador of the Russian SFSR in Ankara during the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922).[2] His presence in the monument, ordered by Atatürk, points out to the financial and military aid sent by Vladimir Lenin in 1920, during the war.[2]

The Ottoman government was party to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between the bolshevik government of Russia and the Central Powers on March 3, 1918; the treaty became obsolete later the same year. Russian bolsheviks and the Soviet government headed by Vladimir Lenin, who emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War by 1921, viewed the Turkish revolutionary (national) movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal as friendly, and Lenin's government abdicated the traditional claims of the Russian Empire to the territories of Western Armenia and the Straits. The Soviet supply of gold and armaments to the Kemalists in 1920–1922 was a key factor in the latter's successful power grab in an Ottoman Empire defeated by the Triple Entente and their victory in the Armenian campaign and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22).[3]

Ottoman postcard of the Russian Embassy's summer residence in the Büyükdere neighbourhood of Istanbul, on the Bosphorus. The main building of the Russian Embassy (since 1923 the Russian Consulate) is on İstiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu (Pera) district.

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the second state to formally recognize the Kemalist government of Turkey with the Treaty of Moscow signed on 16 March 1921 between the RSFSR's Lenin government and the government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (the Sultanate was still nominally in existence). Under the Treaty of Moscow,[4] the two governments undertook to establish friendly relations between the countries; Article VI of the Treaty declared all the treaties theretofore concluded between Russia and Turkey to be null and void. The Treaty of Moscow was followed by an identical Treaty of Kars signed in October 1921 by the Kemalists with Soviet Armenia, Soviet Azerbaijan and Soviet Georgia, which formed part of the Soviet Union after the December 1922 Union Treaty.

After being exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1929, Leon Trotsky arrived in Istanbul and lived for nearly 4 years (1929–1933) at a house in Büyükada Island, the largest of the Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara, to the southeast of Istanbul.

The house inhabited by Leon Trotsky (1929–1933) in Büyükada Island near Istanbul.

The first serious tensions in the countries' bilateral relations emerged during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Montreux Convention in July 1936, when Turkey regained control over the Straits which it was allowed to remilitarize.[5]

Soviet stamp of Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet, who died in Moscow and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery.

While Turkey officially remained neutral during World War II until 23 February 1945, the USSR viewed Turkey's continued relationship with Germany, whose warships were allowed passage through the Straits,[6] as inimical to itself.[6] On 19 March 1945, the USSR's Foreign Minister Molotov advised Turkey's ambassador in Moscow that the USSR was unilaterally withdrawing from the 1925 Non-Aggression pact;[7] the decision was explained by asserting that "due to the deep changes that had occurred especially during World War II" the treaty did not cohere with "the new situation and needed serious improvement."[8] The Turkish government was subsequently informed by Molotov that in addition to bases in the Straits, the Soviet Union also claimed a part of eastern Turkey, which was assumed to refer to the districts of Kars, Artvin and Ardahan, which the Russian Empire (and the short-lived Democratic Republic of Armenia) had held between 1878 and 1921.[9]

At the Potsdam Conference (July 1945), Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin demanded a revision of the Montreux Convention; the Soviet demand that the USSR should be allowed to join in the defence of the Straits was rejected by Turkey, with the backing of the West.[9] In March 1947, with the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, the US underwrote the frontiers of Turkey (as well as Greece) and the continued existence of non-communist governments in the two countries.[9] Turkey sought aid from the United States and joined NATO in 1952. The USSR and Turkey were in different camps during the Korean War and throughout the Cold War.

Recent developments[edit]

Russian Consulate (until 1923 the Russian Embassy) on İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu (Pera), Istanbul, 2011.
Russian Embassy in Ankara, 2015.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, relations between the two nations improved; on May 25, 1992, a visit to Moscow by Turkish Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel saw the signing of a Russian-Turkish treaty.

Although disagreements regarding the border dispute over the Caucasus and support of each other's lifelong historical adversaries both linger. Russia is somewhat skeptical of Turkey's admission into the European Union which has the potential of damaging its relations with Turkey, but both countries are key strategic partners in the Transcaucasian region.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flew to Sochi, Russia for a 16 May 2009 working visit with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at which he stated, “Turkey and Russia have responsibilities in the region. We have to take steps for the peace and well being of the region. This includes the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the Middle East dispute, the Cyprus problem.” Putin responded that, “Russia and Turkey seek for such problems to be resolved and will facilitate this in every way,” but, “As for difficult problems from the past – and the Karabakh problem is among such issues – a compromise should be found by the participants in the conflict. Other states which help reach a compromise in this aspect can play a role of mediators and guarantors to implement the signed agreements.” Whilst on the subject of energy security Erdoğan stated that, “The agreement on gas supplies through the so-called Western route signed in 1986 is expiring in 2012. We have agreed today to immediately start work to prolong this agreement.”[citation needed]

Despite the disagreements of the past, relations between Turkey and Russia have improved and become exceptional under Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In May 2010, a high level visit by the Russian President to Turkey saw the signing of numerous deals such as the lifting of visa requirements. The deals are also expected to make the current trade value of 38 billion dollars increase to as much as 100 billion dollars within the next five years. Both countries have found a mutual interest in shoring up large investments between the two states, especially in the energy sector, where Russia has shown significant interest. Turkey and Russia also signed a multibillion-dollar nuclear power plant deal which will be built by Russian company Atomstroyexport. It will be Russia's first built and owned foreign power plant. The project is expected to cost up to 20 billion dollars and investment in land, labour and capital will all be covered by Russia under the agreement, but will make this money back through electricity sales. The construction of the power plant in Akkuyu, Mersin, is expected to take up to several years to build, according to Prime Minister Erdoğan in a statement released shortly after the visit by the Russian leader.

According to the Turkish foreign trade minister Zafer Çağlayan, Russia offered Turkey the prospects of setting up a joint bank to further boost trade between the two countries, an example of the good ties forged by both countries in recent years. [10][11][12]

According to a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 30% of Turks view Russia's influence positively, with 46% expressing a negative view.[13]

2015 jet shootdown incident[edit]

On 24 November 2015, Turkish F-16 combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 during an airspace dispute close to the Turkish-Syrian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the incident as "a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists" and further stated that "today's tragic events will have significant consequences including for relations between Russia and Turkey".[14]

Pertinent quotes by Russian President Vladimir Putin include:

"This incident stands out against the usual fight against terrorism. Our troops are fighting heroically against terrorists, risking their lives. But the loss we suffered today came from a stab in the back delivered by accomplices of the terrorists."
"IS has big money, hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, from selling oil. In addition they are protected by the military of an entire nation. One can understand why they are acting so boldly and blatantly. Why they kill people in such atrocious ways. Why they commit terrorist acts across the world, including in the heart of Europe"[15]
"It appears that Allah decided to punish the ruling clique of Turkey by depriving them of wisdom and judgment."[16]

Pertinent quotes by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev include :

“Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State [...] This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.” [17]

In response, Russia imposed a number of economic sanctions on Turkey. These included the suspension of visa-free travel to Russia for Turkish citizens, limits on Turkish residents and companies doing business in Russia and restrictions on imports of Turkish products.[18] Russian tour operators were discouraged from selling Turkish package holidays and asked to stop charter flights to Turkey[18] while Russian football clubs were banned from signing Turkish players and discouraged from organizing winter training camps in Turkey.[19] The day after the jet was shot down, a Russian law-maker, Sergei Mironov, introduced a bill to the Russian parliament that would criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide,[20] a political move that Turkey has strongly opposed when countries like France and Greece adopted similar laws.[21]

The Pan-Orthodox Council, or the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church as it is officially referred to, which had been due to be held in Istanbul after centuries away, in Hagia Irene, at April 2016, has been shifted to Crete. The move came after the Russian Orthodox Church indicated that it did not want to come to Turkey due to the crisis between the two countries because of the downing of the Russian jet.[22]

Normalisation of ties[edit]

The process of normalisation of ties between the two countries was started in June 2016 with Erdogan expressing regret to Putin for the downing of the Russian warplane.[23] Putin and Erdogan held a telephonic conversation on 29 June which was described as being productive by Russian and Turkish government officials. The Russian government later lifted the travel restrictions on Russian citizens visiting Turkey and ordered normalisation of trade ties.[24]

On 20 August 2016, Erdoğan told his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko that Turkey would not recognize the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea; calling it "Crimea's occupation".[25]

On 28 August 2016, the Russian government stated on its website that its ban on charter flights from Russia to Turkey, which it had announced on 28 November 2015, would no longer be in effect.[26]

On 19 December 2016, Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot and killed in Ankara, in protest of Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war.[27][28]

In February and July 2017, the two countries further normalised their ties through Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on the creation of de-escalation zones in the conflict region.[29]

On 12 September 2017, Turkey announced that it had signed a deal to purchase the Russian S-400, surface-to-air missile system.[30]

In June 2018, the Russian government-controlled news agency Sputnik, shut down its website in Kurdish language without mentioning any particular reason for the decision. Former employees of Sputnik said that the news agency decided to shut it down at Turkey’s request.[31]

In August 2018, Russia and Turkey backed one another in their respective disputes with the United States. Russia condemned U.S. sanctions against Turkey over the detention of Andrew Brunson,[32] while Turkey stated its opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.[33]

Territorial integrity and the Syrian conflict[edit]

On 28 September 2017, Russian president Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Ankara to meet with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This visit should demonstrate unity between the two powers although a number of bilateral problems, such as import restrictions for consumer products, are still in place. The meeting was held in reaction to the possible break-up of Iraq and Syria due to the popular referendum by the Kurds in Northern Iraq for the foundation of a sovereign Kurdish nation. The official Turkish leadership rejects the validity of such a movement, while Russia stated that a Kurdish separatist movement can destabilise the region even further.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ziring, Lawrence (1981). Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, A Political Chronology. United States: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-03-058651-8. 
  2. ^ a b İmren Arbaç. "Symbol Figure in Russian-Turkish Rapprochement in Taksim Republic Monument". Yeditepe University. 
  3. ^ В. Шеремет. Босфор. Moscow, 1995, p. 241.
  4. ^ Документы внешней политики СССР. Moscow, 1959, Vol. III, pp. 597-604.
  5. ^ Mango, Andrew. Turkey. Thames and Hudson, London, 1968, p. 63.
  6. ^ a b БСЭ, 1st ed., Moscow, Vol. 55 (1947), col. 381.
  7. ^ БСЭ, 1st ed., Moscow, Vol. 55 (1947), col. 382.
  8. ^ Внешняя политка Советского Союза в период Отечественной войны. ОГИЗ, 1947, Vol. III, p. 146.
  9. ^ a b c Mango, Andrew. Turkey. Thames and Hudson, London, 1968, p. 69.
  10. ^ "Erdoğan to visit Russia next month, report says". Today’s Zaman. 2009-04-25. 
  11. ^ "Erdoğan seeks Russian backing in Karabakh peace effort". Today’s Zaman. 2009-05-16. 
  12. ^ "Putin to visit Turkey next month". Today’s Zaman. 2009-05-20. 
  13. ^ 2013 World Service Poll BBC
  14. ^ "Turkey shoots down Russian warplane on Syria border". 2015-11-24. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  15. ^ "Putin: Downing of Russian jet over Syria stab in the back by terrorist accomplices". RT International. 
  16. ^ Al Jazeera: "Putin: Turkey will regret downing jet 'more than once'" December 3, 2015
  17. ^ "Ankara defends ISIS, Turkish officials have financial interest in oil trade with group - PM Medvedev". RT International. 
  18. ^ a b Turkey-Russia jet downing: Moscow announces sanctions, BBC News, 28 November 2015
  19. ^ Russian clubs banned from signing Turkish players, BBC News, 29 November 2015
  20. ^ "Russian deputies seek accountability for Armenia genocide denial". Reuters. 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2015-12-07. 
  21. ^ "Greece: Third Country to Criminalize Denial of the Armenian Genocide". Retrieved 2015-12-07. 
  22. ^ "Orthodox Council moved from Turkey to Greece over Russia crisis". 
  23. ^ "Erdoğan has apologised for downing of Russian jet, Kremlin says". The Guardian. 2016-06-27. Retrieved 2016-07-14. 
  24. ^ "Russia closes 'crisis chapter' with Turkey". Al Jazeera. 2016-06-29. Retrieved 2016-07-14. 
  25. ^ Erdogan Tells Poroshenko Turkey Won't Recognize Crimea As Russian, Radio Free Europe (20 August 2016)
  26. ^ "Russia lifts ban on charter flights to Turkey". Reuters. 28 August 2016. 
  27. ^ "Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov 'wounded' in gun attack in Turkey - BBC News". BBC Online. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  28. ^ "Russia's ambassador to Turkey shot to death in Ankara assassination". The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  29. ^ Russia, Turkey, Iran fail to agree on Syria de-escalation zones. Reuters. World News. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  30. ^ Turkey Signs Russian Missile Deal, Pivoting From NATO. The New York Times (Europe). Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  31. ^ Russian Sputnik shuts down Kurdish website at Turkey’s request
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ «Freunde» Erdogan und Putin zeigen Einigkeit bei Irak und Syrien(in German). Neue Zürcher Zeitung (International). Retrieved 28 September 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic missions[edit]