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. Contact between the two countries have generally been excessively strained.

According to a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 30% of Turks view Russia's influence positively, with 46% expressing a negative view.[1]

Historical background[edit]

Early history[edit]

Slavic and Turkic peoples have been in contact for hundreds of years.

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.

Clashes of empires[edit]

Punch cartoon from 17 June 1876. 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 1568, 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. These increasingly went in Russia's favour. By nineteenth 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 Austria the Russian leadership demurred. Eventually, however, the desire for free passage through the Turkish Straits and Pan-Slavist feeling at home pushed Russia in that direction, leading to decisive intervention in 1877–78.

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

Turkey and the Soviet Union[edit]

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 grab of power in an Ottoman Empire defeated by the Triple Entente and their victory in the Armenian campaign and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22).[2]

Russian Embassy in Istanbul. Ottoman postcard

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,[3] 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.

The first serious tensions in the countries' bilateral relations emerged during the negatiations that led to the signing of the Montreux Convention in July 1936, whereunder Turkey regained control over the Straits which it was allowed to remilitarize.[4]

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,[5] as inimical to itself.[5] 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;[6] 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."[7] 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.[8]

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.[8] 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.[8] Turkey to 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.

Modern relations[edit]

Russian Consulate in Istanbul, 2011

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

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 multi-billion 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. [9][10][11]

Turkish support and Russian opposition to the state of Kosovo has been a major source of tensions. More recently, Turkey has opposed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, in light of the concerns of the Crimean Tatars.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 2013 World Service Poll BBC
  2. ^ В. Шеремет. Босфор. Moscow, 1995, p. 241.
  3. ^ Документы внешней политики СССР. Moscow, 1959, Vol. III, pp. 597-604.
  4. ^ Mango, Andrew. Turkey. Thames and Hudson, London, 1968, p. 63.
  5. ^ a b БСЭ, 1st ed., Moscow, Vol. 55 (1947), col. 381.
  6. ^ БСЭ, 1st ed., Moscow, Vol. 55 (1947), col. 382.
  7. ^ Внешняя политка Советского Союза в период Отечественной войны. ОГИЗ, 1947, Vol. III, p. 146.
  8. ^ a b c Mango, Andrew. Turkey. Thames and Hudson, London, 1968, p. 69.
  9. ^ "Erdoğan to visit Russia next month, report says". Today’s Zaman. 2009-04-25. 
  10. ^ "Erdoğan seeks Russian backing in Karabakh peace effort". Today’s Zaman. 2009-05-16. 
  11. ^ "Putin to visit Turkey next month". Today’s Zaman. 2009-05-20. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic missions[edit]