On the sidelines of the scientific-education program “Dialogue in the Name of the Future – 2015” of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, Vladimir Avatkov, Director of the Center of Oriental Studies, International Relations and Public Diplomacy, Senior Lecturer at Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and MGIMO, told EADaily about his vision of the Russian-Turkish conflict and the attitude of Turkey’s political elite and business to it.
How far will the Russia-Turkey conflict go? May it spiral into an armed conflict?
Turkey has deployed troops in the territory of Iraq and is not going to pull them back. All this meets the foreign policy conception of Turkey called “Neo-Ottomanism.” Turkey will start recalling all its historical documents to substantiate its actions, I am sure. In fact, these are vain efforts, as Turkey has violated the sovereignty of Iraq.
Turks have already deployed troops in Syria to transfer the remains of the grandfather of the first Turkish Sultan Osman. I am sure they will be using this factor in Syria again and again. However, the situation in the region is rather complicated, as the troops of almost all countries are there and it is very dangerous as clashes are possible. For instance, U.S. and German fighter jets are deployed at the military base Incirlik in Turkey. There are English fighter jets in Cyprus and the French ones not far from it. Between Turkey, Syria and Cyprus, there are warships of all the countries in the world as far as I can see.
It is a hair-trigger situation. ISIL is not the most destabilizing factor, as ISIL is fighting there and everything is clear with it. What destabilizes the situation most is Turkey, as it may be used now (and it may do it on its own as part of its foreign policy ideology) to unleash large-scale military actions in the region. Actually, Turkey is looking for a war. That is why it deployed troops to Iraq. [President of Turkey Recep] Erdogan is gaining political dividends from such nationalistic statements.
Will Erdogan continue escalating the situation in the region until the constitutional referendum?
He needs a presidential republic. He needs an expansionist, trigger-happy, and strong Turkey and he will continue behaving the way he does now. I really thought it will stop after the parliamentary elections, but, unfortunately, the elections to the parliament proved insufficient to him, as his party failed to receive enough votes to adopt a new constitution without a referendum. To adopt it, Erdogan needs an absolute support of the population to all his actions. I’d not say that he will manage to do it easily, as there are very different forces in Turkey.
Traditionally, the fight between different actors is severe. He had a chance to do it only through nationalistic rhetoric and through hostilities, I think, because all the other methods are very hard to use. At present, many forces are emerging in Turkey and (it is necessary to work with them) they are extremely unhappy with what is taking place in Turkey’s foreign policy.
We can see that none of the four parties elected to the parliament, except the pro-Kurdish Party of Selahattin Demirtaş, openly opposes the foreign policy of the incumbent authorities. Are the elites at one with Erdogan?
It's not all that simple. The Justice and Development Party is not monolithic. It consists of many parts, though fewer than before. I would not say that all the parties support Erdogan’s policy and it is a noteworthy fact. If the components forming this party have disagreements, it is hope for future.
As for the other parties, the second largest one is the Republican People’s Party. These are Kemalists and it is very good, but it was the Kemalists that led Turkey to NATO and cooperate with the West. Actually, this is a moderate social-democratic party. It is a sound historical party, but, unfortunately, it is too westward and it remains to be seen whether we will be able to cooperate with it.
The third party is the Nationalist Movement Party. It seeks to have “Turkey from Baikal to Adriatic Sea.” It is a party extremely dangerous for us. Although the nationalist rhetoric of Erdogan and his entourage has affected the party’s rating, but it has a youth chapter – The Grey Wolves. They have proved that they are capable of anything and everything.
The last party is the Kurdish party (Democratic People’s Party – editor’s note), but it is not entirely Kurdish – that is the question. Unfortunately, it is not the right part of the Kurdish population to work with. It consists of various minorities, including the vehemently anti-Russian Circassians. The problem is that Demirtaş Party is now a liberal alternative to the ruling conservative party made by the West. It seeks to somehow legalize the liberal alternative. That is why it has just emerged and it was a very canny move.
How does the Turkish business perceive this situation? After all, it is the business that will be affected most…
Well, the Turkish business is wary of that process, as many suffer big losses and I think they will soon “present the bill” to Erdogan… They have already started doing it. Such situation will be pressing on [the state] Turkey, but the issue will be settled within military economy.
Can business have any impact on the policy of the government?
I think the business class can influence it through its lobbying organizations inside the Justice and Development Party, but there will be no short-term results. In addition, it is very important for us that these businessmen that will leave Russia and return to Turkey feel hatred towards the Turkish government rather than Russia. Therefore, we should avoid any unlawful actions against those people in the territory of Russia. It is important that they make claims to the ruling regime in Turkey not to us.
There is another important thing: all possible lobbying centers of Turkey must be closed in Russia, it is right, it is high time to do it. I have been highlighting this for a long time already. At the same time, it is very important not to let centers of influence of ethnic Turks living abroad and opposing Russia to replace them. I am speaking about Fethullah Gülen who lives in the United States. Closing official Turkish centers, we should not ignore the private ones that are developing lobby loyal to Turkey. Maybe they are not loyal to the ruling regime, but they are loyal to Turkey as country. They have become quite active now, organize events and, I think, their activity will intensify even more.
After Çavuşoğlu and Davutoglu visited Baku, the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone has grown tense. Do you anticipate further escalation of the conflict?
At present, the United States seeks to foment tensions along the entire perimeter of Russia: Ukraine, Caucasus, Russia’s operation in Syria, something will happen in Central Asia as U.S. is obviously switching to Central Asia and Afghanistan now. I think, in the Caucasus, they will play the Karabakh card, first. Turkey will either play that card or manage that process. It is very important that Armenia and Azerbaijan are not interested in all these provocations. It is in favor of external actors. It is very important to understand that neither of the parties should try to change the status quo amid the current developments in the world. Otherwise, it will be in favor of anyone but the people living in the Caucasus.
The recent actions of Turkey show that the talks about the consolidation of Kurds are a myth. What is the reason for that?
Kurds are different. It is not a monolithic, single union at least so far. Turkey’s policy towards Kurds is based on Turkey’s interests only. They try to use Kurds as a factor of influence in the region. Yet not so long ago, Turkey bombed Kurds to trigger a nationalistic wave that could help it achieve a victory in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK – editor’s note). They bombed them in the territory of Iraq and repeatedly deployed troops in that country, though they deployed and withdrew them rapidly within a day. Now they have deployed troops in Iraq again to help the Iraqi Kurds. Furthermore, Barzanî had recently traveled to Turkey. All these contacts trigger questions. Most probably the United States are behind this, as they support the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.
Generally speaking, it is necessary to understand that Turkey entered the north of Iraq not to support Kurds, but for the rich energy resources of Mosul. Everything is within the interests of Turkey. It will be using the Kurdish factor. In fact, by deploying troops to the actually Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey shows that it will not let external actors “touch its Kurds” or somehow interfere into their affairs. Moreover, it is ready to influence Kurds even outside its territory. It is a very dangerous and solid part of the huge Neo-Ottoman plan.
Despite the active support of the Russian air force, the Syrian troops failed to make progress in the fight against anti-Assad forces. What do you think, in what situation will Russia increase the air strikes or launch a land-based operation?
We are gradually implementing our task in Syria. We have destroyed rather a big number of oil-pumping facilities, many supply points that operated also due to the contacts with Turkey. In this respect, we have pulled the plug on Erdogan; it is evident. They should not supply weapons to Syria, trade in oil and human lives. If the terrorists are not funded, if they are afraid of Russia’s strikes, many will flee to Turkey. Let’s them flee if they manage to.
Therefore, our air strikes are quite effective, though without land troops in the territory of Syria, it is very hard to settle these issues. However, I think, Russia must not send troops there. It is the regional powers that must do it first. Actually, we are destroying terrorists, their supply and delivery points, and it is very important. It is much more important than anything else. ISIL militants are gradually running away and they will be fleeing more rapidly as soon as they have no money, weapons, and oil.
Interviewed by Hayk Khalatyan