During the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Turkey has engendered goodwill in the West by serving as a mediator between the two nations. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's public warning that Turkey may block Sweden and Finland's bids to join NATO risks destroying that goodwill. How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected Turkey's standing and geopolitical calculations? Has Moscow's military blunder led Ankara to rethink its defense ties with Russia? Is this an opportunity for Turkey to take advantage of a more isolated Russia and advance its interests in places such as Syria and the South Caucasus? What does Erdoğan's stance on Sweden and Finland's bid mean for Turkey's own standing in NATO? Please join us on May 27th at 11.00 am EST to discuss these questions and much more.
Senior fellow, Europe Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
General (Ret.) Philip Breedlove
Retired Air Force general and former supreme allied commander for Europe; distinguished professor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Tech; distinguished chair, Frontier Europe Initiative, MEI
Professor of international relations, Kadir Has University
Gonul Tol, moderator
Founding director, Turkey Program, MEI; senior fellow, Frontier Europe Initiative, MEI
Five key takeaways:
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated Turkey’s role as a regional peace broker: Turkish Foreign Ministry veteran Alper Coşkun explained that Turkey’s good standing with both Moscow and Kyiv created high expectations in the Turkish political establishment to elevate Turkey’s role as a regional peace broker when the war broke out in its initial stages. However, U.S. (ret.) General Philip Breedlove noted that Russia’s invasion has moved into a long-term phase of attrition. This has created greater difficulties for Turkey in maintaining its balancing act between the warring countries and reduced the prospects for successful negotiations.
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated Turkish geopolitical calculations in the Black Sea: Mr. Coşkun defined Turkey’s approach to the Black Sea through three central pillars: 1) advocating regional ownership, 2) precluding escalation, and 3) protecting the Montreux Convention. However, as Turkey prepares for the upcoming NATO summit, it will likely articulate recalibrations to the first two pillars, which have become increasingly difficult to uphold in a wartime atmosphere. Additionally, Turkey is attempting to retain a position where Moscow perceives it as a neutral and non-threatening actor in the Black Sea. Turkey wishes to avoid a confrontation with Russia in the Black Sea, especially because the Montreux Convention would allow other actors to enter and exit the scenario cleanly while Turkey would face continuous conflict.
- A weakened Russia has provided Turkey opportunities in Syria: International Relations Professor Serhat Güvenç explained that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan perceived the world in terms of opportunities. A weakened Russia would provide Erdoğan with the opportunity to resume his 2019 invasion of Northern Syria to establish safe zones to send Turkey’s Syrian refugees into. Erdoğan would pitch this mission as a resolution to Turkey’s problems with Syrian refugees and terrorism.
- Evaluating prospective scenarios: How would Turkey interpret a Russian victory?: Professor Güvenç explained that a Russian victory would create tension between the neo-political elite and the security bureaucracy in Turkey. A Russian victory would vindicate the politicians in Turkey that perceive Russia as the great international balancer against Western global hegemony, creating an opportunity to enhance Turkey’s voice in the world. However, the security bureaucracy will perceive Russia as a greater threat, especially if it gains access to the Ukrainian Black Sea coastline.
- Evaluating prospective scenarios: How would Turkey interpret a Russian loss?: Mr. Coşkun explained that Turkey perceives Russia as a potential future partner in its balance against Western influence. As such, Turkey currently hopes that Russia will come out of the war relatively well-off in order to facilitate Turkey’s strategic autonomy in the NATO context. A Russian loss would rob Turkey of this opportunity.
Detailed speaker bios
Alper Coşkun is a senior fellow within the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. His research focuses on Turkish foreign policy, especially in relation to the United States and Europe.
He is a retired career diplomat of thirty-two years with extensive experience in both bilateral and multilateral settings. He was the director general for international security affairs at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016-2019), covering NATO, transatlantic relations, as well as Euro-Atlantic security/defense and arms control/disarmament matters. Before that, he was ambassador to Baku, Azerbaijan (2012-2016), where he oversaw one of Turkey’s most active and largest diplomatic missions with a wide multiagency composition.
He has held positions within the Turkish Foreign Ministry at various levels on issues related to maritime jurisdiction affairs, counter terrorism/intelligence, and NATO/Euro-Atlantic security matters. He has served in the cabinets of both the minister of foreign affairs and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His foreign assignments include Turkish missions in Moscow, Athens, and the United Nations, as well as NATO, where he was the deputy permanent representative. Previously, he was a faculty member of the NATO Defense College in Rome.
General (Ret.) Philip Breedlove
Philip Breedlove is retired General of the United States Air Force. Highly decorated, he reached the pinnacle of the United States Military as one of six geographic Combatant Commanders and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. During 39 years of service, he held a variety of demanding command and staff positions: Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Commander of US European Command; Commander, US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa; Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force; and Assistant Chief of Staff for Air Operations, Plans and Requirements.
Gen. Breedlove is a proven strategic planner, a motivational leader and talented communicator. He currently serves on the Georgia Tech Advisory Board, serves as a Distinguished Professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech, as CEO of Emerald Coast Strategic Solutions, and is on the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council.
Gen. Breedlove earned his Bachelor of Civil Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology and a Masters of Science in Aerospace Technology from Arizona State University. He completed a Masters of International Security Affairs from the National War College, a Fellowship in International Security Affairs, Seminar XXI from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed Leadership at the Peak at the Center for Creative Leadership Colorado Springs.
Serhat Güvenç is a Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University. He also Works as a Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences and Acting Department Chair in School of Foreign Languages at Kadir Has University. Previously he held fulltime, adjunct and visiting faculty positions at Istanbul Bilgi University, the University of Chicago, Koç University, and Boğaziçi University.
Dr. Güvenç’s research interests include Turkish foreign and security policy and Turkish naval policy and history.
He is the author of: The Ottomans’ Quest for Dreadnoughts, Istanbul, 2009, Turkey in the Mediterranean during the Interwar Era (Indiana University Turkish Studies, 2010) (with Dilek Barlas) and 60 Years in NATO: Turkey’s Contributions to Transatlantic Security, (Istanbul, 2013). His articles have appeared in Middle Eastern Studies, International Journal of Naval History, Uluslararası İlişkiler, Exotierika Themata (Greek), Journal of Strategic Studies, GMF Mediterranean Papers, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, International Journal, Turkish Studies, Turkish Policy Quarterly, The Journal of Military History and the Journal of Cold War History.
Professor Güvenç is a board member of the Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants. He received his BA and MA degrees from Marmara University and his PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey.
Gonul Tol, moderator
Gönül Tol is the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey program and a senior fellow for the Frontier Europe Initiative. She is the author of an upcoming book titled “Erdogan’s War: A Strongman’s Struggle at Home and in Syria."
Photo by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images