Western observers are increasingly worried and puzzled by the apparent rapprochement between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, which is taking place despite an escalating Russo-Turkish competition for influence extending from North Africa through southeastern Europe and the Caucasus to Central Asia. A shared aspiration to legitimate the idea of regional powers policing their respective neighborhoods and building regional orders outside the framework of Western-led multilateral institutions and based on hierarchy, limited sovereignty, and the disruption of smaller states’ territorial integrity provides a basis for Russo-Turkish cooperation. Yet by inserting themselves more directly into their neighbors’ disputes and conflicts, Russia and Turkey have multiplied the number of friction points between them. This combination of deepening political-economic relations alongside escalating confrontation throughout their shared periphery rests on unstable foundations. Which of these tendencies wins out—a shared interest in moving toward a less Western-centric global order based on post-imperial spheres of influence, or competition over defining the nature and extent of those spheres—will be a critical determinant of the future course of Russo-Turkish relations.
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Jeffrey Mankoff is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.