Why does Turkey want to join the Eurasian Union?

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu states that Ankara and Moscow have come to an agreement on the purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. A number of Russian experts close to the Kremlin note that reaching agreement on this issue is a positive step before the upcoming meeting between the presidents Erdogan and Putin in the Russian city of Sochi. This deal symbolizes a new stage in the crisis in relations between Ankara, Washington, and Brussels. Moreover, it is an evidence of strengthening Russian-Turkish relations. However, in order to understand the logic of these processes, it is necessary to analyze the political background and geopolitical configurations that have been developing in the region and in the world. Over the past eight years, there has been a gradual deterioration in relations between Turkey and the countries of the West. This was exemplified by events following Erdogan’s imprisonment of representatives of the army elite. When the army -- as the guarantor of preservation of secularism -- was weakened, the arrests of opposition leaders began and a decision was made to close hundreds of media outlets.

All these steps allowed Erdogan to achieve the main goal -- to change the state system, transforming the parliamentary republic into a super-presidential one. The leader of the Turkish state believed that the Republican administration of the USA, unlike Democrat Obama, would overlook to repression inside Turkey. These expectations were erroneous. Certainly, President Trump congratulated his colleague, as it is required by the protocol, especially when it comes to allies within NATO. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that together with the congratulatory message from the leader of the White House, the State Department revealed its worries about the conditions under which the referendum was held. Ankara is unhappy with Washington's controversial reaction to the issue of changing the system of state administration as well as with the fact that Trump did not extradite Fetullah Gülen -- the main political opponent of President Erdogan. In addition, Ankara's expectations on the Syrian question were also not justified. Many influential experts wrote that, like Bush Jr., Trump would rely on Turkey as part of the policy in the Middle East. However, recent events have shown that the Kurdish factor remains extremely significant for America.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend declares that Kurdish units will participate in the operation to liberate the Syrian city of Rakka from ISIS. In turn, Ankara says that the country will not take part if Kurdish troops are involved. U.S. cooperation with Kurds in Syria raises serious irritation of Ankara. It has already cooled relations between Turkey and America. It is worth mentioning that last year in February, Erdogan demanded that Washington choose between the Kurds and Turkey. Today, Erdogan continues to insist that America cease all contacts with Kurds. However, it should be understood that Republicans are not accustomed to the language of ultimatums that could be used with former president Obama. Trump repeated many times that America's crucial task in the region is the elimination of terrorists. It would be difficult to achieve that goal without the support of Kurdish forces. This means that Washington will not risk its strategic plans to appease Ankara's desire to “solve” the Kurdish issue.

Americans are still firmly convinced that Kurdish detachments should stand in the vanguard of military actions in Rakka. Even commitments to NATO cannot force the USA to exchange Kurds for the Turkish military. Thus, Ankara risks being on the sidelines of the Syrian issue settlement, which can affect the domestic political positions of President Erdogan and his elite. In addition to America, many European powers criticized Turkish policy. The most acute conflict was between Ankara and Amsterdam. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was going to deliver what amounted to a propaganda speech in the Netherlands. Dutch authorities refused to allow Cavusoglu’s plane to land. In response, President Erdogan compared the Dutch people to Nazis and said that Europe was preparing a crusade against Turkey. After this incident, Turkey was criticized by the authorities of Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, and Spain, among others. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that Turkey's accession to the European Union is not going to happen.

This disappointment led Ankara into Moscow's political embrace. The deal to buy the S-400 system really symbolizes the fact that Turkey is trying to find its place in a changing geopolitical configuration. In this sense, Russia and Turkey are in a similar situation. They mistakenly expected that with the arrival of Trump, America's foreign policy would be less active. Sanctions against Russia are still functioning, but the internal political crisis continues to grow. Undoubtedly, Moscow would like to take advantage of the situation to involve Turkey in its integration project -- the Eurasian Union. Many high-ranking politicians, including Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev, made proposals on the necessity of Turkey's admission to that union. Kazakhstan -- one of the key members of the Eurasian Union -- does not hide its intentions to form the geopolitical axis "Russia-Turkey-Kazakhstan", which will become one of the leading forces not only in the Eurasian space, but the world.

In addition, for Kazakhstan, lobbying for Turkey's interests has not only political but also civilizational meaning. Astana seeks to change the predominantly Christian Eurasian Union with a strong Muslim power. Turkey is best suited for this role: apart from the religious factor, Astana and Ankara are united by Turkic roots. Many of the political ideologists close to the Kremlin also speak about the importance of Turkey's accession to the Eurasian Union. In numerous interviews, philosopher Alexander Dugin and political analyst Sergey Markov noted that Turkey's accession would alter the geopolitical balance of the continent. Political philosopher Eduard Bagramov’s theory about a Turkic-Slavic union is often discussed in Russia. This theory implies that the Turkic and Slavic communities must act together to successfully implement Eurasianism. Many high-ranking politicians are also sure that the Eurasian Union is aimed not at geographical but at civilizational unity, which will be successful if Turks and Slavs are united.

Earlier, Turkish leaders hoping for a positive outcome of accession to the European Union did not respond to opposing signals from Eurasianists. The crisis in relations with the West, which led Ankara to a standstill, forced the country's authorities to change their minds. Thus, Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekci stated that Turkey wanted to join the Eurasian Union and noted that negotiations had been conducted in this direction. Unlikely as this seems, considering such factors as membership in NATO and close economic relations with the European Union, it is important to take into account the serious internal split in the country after the referendum and the acute geopolitical crisis in the region. An important factor is Erdogan himself, who has the reputation of an absolutely unpredictability. For the Turkish president, the Eurasian Union can become not only a lifeboat, but also a new political opportunity. Aware of Astana's desire to form the triangle "Russia-Turkey-Kazakhstan" within the framework of the Eurasian Union, Erdogan seeks to expand that axis by including another Muslim-Turkic state -- Azerbaijan. It is known that the priorities of official Baku entirely depend on political well-being of Ankara.

It was the Turkish factor that allowed the Azerbaijani authorities to maintain a balanced relationship between the countries of the West and Russia. Nowadays, the situation has changed: crisis in the relations between the West and Turkey automatically spread to Baku, which no longer has serious geopolitical significance for Washington and Brussels. It could be that Azerbaijan's admission to the Eurasian Union with the support of Kazakhstan may be the first step in Turkey's accession.

The only serious obstacle to the implementation of this plan may be the position of Armenia -- another member of the Eurasian Union. It is well known that Yerevan has no diplomatic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan for a number of historical and political reasons. Thus, Armenia supports the Armenian Diaspora's aspirations for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 by the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, Armenia perceives the policy of denial by the current Turkish leadership as a threat to its national security. Meantime, Yerevan is a security guarantor of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and represents its interests in negotiations for the settlement of Karabakh-Azerbaijani conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.

A complicated situation has developed. If Russia supports the entry of Azerbaijan and Turkey, it risks spoiling relations with Armenia, where its only military base in Transcaucasia is located. The question is whether Moscow is ready to take certain risks in order to involve Ankara and Baku in the orbit of its influence. It is difficult to answer that question. However, there are some historical precedents: in the 1920s, the Soviet authorities gave the territory of Western Armenia to Turkey hoping to involve it in the communist bloc. A similar political gesture occurred when Karabakh and Nakhijevan, which were inhabited by Armenians, were included in the Azerbaijani SSR.