26 Nov 2020 14:07

Russian expert sees danger in Turkey's aspiration to become Islamic world leader

MOSCOW. Nov 26 (Interfax) – An expert meeting on the subject of 'Turkey under Erdogan: Global Interests in Polycentric World' as part of the IMEMO-Interfax project titled 'Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation' addressed Turkey's aspiration to become Islamic world leader, prospects of Turkish weapon system trade, and expectations concerning U.S.-Turkish relations during Joe Biden's presidency.

Leader aspiration

Turkey's aspiration to play a leading role in the Islamic world is fraught with entailing unpredictable consequences for Turkey, independent political analyst Alexei Malashenko, who has a doctorate in history, said.

"The Turks want to play, if not the leading role in the Muslim world, then one of the leading roles. As a result, they are encountering certain disagreements with Arab states, primarily Persian Gulf countries," Malashenko said at the expert meeting that took place on Thursday.

"In my opinion, it is increasingly dangerous for the Turks to play the role of the Islamic leader or one of the Islamic leaders, and this might lead to unpredictable consequences. Though, of course, [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking risks, and we clearly see it," he said.

Turkey uses Islam in its relations with radical and extremist organizations, a circumstance which "causes a certain lack of understanding and even rejection," he said.

"Of course, Erdogan will continue his activity on the Islamic track. It is beneficial and convenient for him, but it is also fraught with the most unpredictable consequences, including for Turkey itself," Malashenko said.

Malashenko said that he "wouldn't overestimate the Islamic factor in Turkey's international policy."

Weapon systems

Azerbaijan's use of Turkish weapon systems in the Karabakh conflict has brought in new buyers, Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (RAS IMEMO) Feodor Voitolovsky said.

"A short time ago, we saw the support given by Turkey to Azerbaijan in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. There was military assistance, military advisors, and military hardware. The latter was quite modern, demonstrated the potential of the Turkish military industry, in particular, on the arms market and, as I think, brought in a fair share of potential buyers," Voitolovsky said at the online expert meeting of the joint project of RAS IMEMO and Interfax.

As reported earlier, Azerbaijan was using Turkish weapon systems, among them Bayraktar TB2 drones.

Meanwhile, Turkey may stop buying Russian S-400 air defense systems due to U.S. pressure, Alexei Davydov, a research fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (RAS IMEMO) Center for the Middle East Studies, said.

"It is possible that [the United States] may set terms Turkey will be unable to turn down. In that case, it may have a better chance to deepen cooperation with the United States, in particular, in the field of air defense," Davydov said at the meeting.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on October 25 that Ankara did not plan to reject Russia's S-400 systems because of the threat of U.S. sanctions.

Turkish Defense Ministry spokesperson Nadide Sebnem Aktop said on October 24 that S-400 systems purchased from Russia would be put on combat duty irrespective of the possibility of their integration with the NATO air defense network.

S-400 is a long-range air defense missile system designed and manufactured by Almaz-Antey. Turkey purchased four battalion sets of S-400 systems from Russia. Rosoboronexport said on October 23, 2019 that Russia fulfilled the contract ahead of time and supplied all S-400 components, including missiles, to Turkey.

Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov said in July that Russia supplied $2.5 billion worth of S-400 systems to Turkey.

Head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shushayev said in an interview with Interfax in March that Russia was hoping to agree on the delivery of an additional batch of S-400 systems to Turkey in the foreseeable future.

Tricky area for the U.S.

It looks like the Joe Biden administration will try to bring the distressed U.S.-Turkish relations onto a more pragmatic level, Alexei Davydov, a research fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (RAS IMEMO) Center for the Middle East Studies, said.

"Most likely, the United States will first try to establish a pragmatic dialogue and to consolidate the Euro-Atlantic space. If this policy fails, most likely, they will apply various sorts of pressure, including pressure in the field of human rights, [to Ankara]," Davydov said at the online meeting.

"Previously, [the United States] viewed Turkey as an exemplary model of democracy, which should be promoted in other countries of the Middle East. However, the transformation of the Turkish political system has become if not the subject then at least the reason for the escalation and the negative change [in U.S.-Turkey relations] initiated by the United States. So, there is a chance of pressure unless more pragmatic variants are found," the analyst said.

In the opinion of the expert, Turkey will be a relevantly difficult area of the U.S. foreign policy. "In the near and medium-term future, the Biden administration is likely to focus on two mutually contradictory tasks. First of all, it will demonstrate solidarity with the European allies, on one hand. On the other hand, it will try to avoid further antagonism in the relations with Turkey," Davydov said.

Experts and politicians often express opposite views on possible measures of influence on Erdogan, Davydov said. "There is an opinion that Turkey should be forced to sit down at the negotiating table. There is also an opinion that Turkish efforts should be refocused from the European to Eurasian space," he said.

Some viewpoints in the United States suggest a "direct or indirect influence on the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey in 2023," he said.

'Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation' is a new joint project of IMEMO and Interfax. A series of expert meetings dedicated to the most important events in global politics and economics take part within the project's framework. Discussions involving scientists, public figures, and officials take place monthly in an online format and broadcast on YouTube.

The first online expert meeting as part of this project took place on October 29. It addressed the expectations governments around the world have for the U.S. presidential election.