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Turkey's relations with Russia in the context of transition process in Afghanistan.

The 2014 security transition process in Afghanistan is a major development that could have international implications beyond Afghanistan. Despite the differences in the Afghanistan policies Turkey as a NATO member and Russia as a non-member of ISAF, these countries also have shared interest in promoting security good governance and development in and around Afghanistan. This position is also shared by the members of international community too. It seems that Turkey's existing close coordination with Russia as well as its NATO allies in ISAF concerning security in Afghanistan will continue in the post-2014 period. In this context, NATO-Russia Council (NRC) could serve as an effective multilateral framework for facilitating international cooperation on Afghan security.

Since Afghanistan's security has had global security implications, it has been also affecting the strategic context of Turkey's relations with Russia. Both countries see their contributions to Afghan security as factors contributing to their role in global politics. In this respect, like other international actors, Turkey and Russia tend to increase their contributions to Afghanistan's security and development even after the end of the ISAF mission.

Historically speaking, it can be argued that Afghanistan has always been important for Turkey and Russia for a long time, although they adopted completely different policies towards Afghanistan with different motivations and policy instruments. While Russia considered Afghanistan in terms of its geopolitical value for its expansionist policies, Turkey considered the country and its people as a realm where its modernization and westernization projects could be adopted to get more international support and recognition from the West.

As compared to Russia, Turkey has developed its interests in as well as connections to Afghanistan for a longer period time. In fact, Turkey established its relations with Afghanistan during the early centuries of the Ottoman Empire. These relations have improved further after the foundation of modem Turkey in 1923. Taking Turkey as a model for Westernization; Kabul developed closer relations with Ankara by signing important agreements since the 1920's. Turkey continued to support Afghanistan's development efforts enthusiastically until the Soviet invasion of this country in 1979.

For the Russian Empire, on the other hand, Afghanistan was important with regard to its policy of having access to the Indian Ocean. Russia's struggle with the British Empire over the control of Afghanistan or the "Great Game" ended with the failure of Russia's expansionist designs when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917. This led to a pause in Moscow's expansionist policies for a while. Under the communist regime, Moscow continued to support the pro-Moscow communist groups in Afghanistan. After supporting the Afghan communists in their attempts at acquiring the political power, the Red Army started its full-scale occupation of the country in 1979. During this bloody invasion period that lasted for a decade, the Red Army caused the socio-political and institutional destruction in Afghanistan, which is mainly responsible for the chronic instability in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from the Afghan territories in 1989.

Ironically, the end of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was shortly followed by the end of the Soviets Union. In fact, the Soviet Union particularly the Central Asian republics were negatively affected by the socio-economic and political costs of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Besides, anti-Soviet nationalist movements have also developed among the Central Asian peoples as they developed close ties to their co-ethnic groups in the neighboring Afghanistan, particularly in the north and west of the country. The Soviet invasion had also huge economic costs too. This economic cost had become too much for Moscow to shoulder. This economic meltdown eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Converging Positions of Turkey and Russia over Afghanistan in the Post-Soviet Era

During the post-Soviet period, Moscow and Ankara have started to converge their policies over the Afghanistan problem due to their similar threat perception from radical Islamic organizations with links to Afghanistan. Taliban's rise to power in Kabul in 1996 played an important role on this convergence since this development was against the interests of Turkey, Russia and those groups in Afghanistan which have close ties to Turkey and Russia.

During this period, it was claimed by Moscow that components of Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan were responsible for the radical Islamist movements inside Chechnya and other republics in the North Caucasus. Similarly, Turkey has criticized Taliban for its brutal use of force against the non-Pashtun groups as well as radical Islamist policies in Afghanistan.

Eventually, the anti-Taliban groups located at the north of Afghanistan gathered under the name of the "Northern Alliance". Just like many other states, Russia as well as Turkey supported this anti-Taliban alliance.

Beginning of the end for the Taliban regime came when the horrendous terrorist attacks in the US cities of New York and Washington D.C. on 11 September 2001 were carried out by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Just like the rest of the world, Russia and Turkey were united with the United States in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban regime and international terrorism. This was an important moment in the international cooperation against the international terrorism.

With the support of the USA, Turkey and Russia's convergence over the Afghanistan issue gradually became stronger. Relations took an institutional form when Moscow agreed to join the NATO's initiative for NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in 2002 in Rome. Another development that strengthened these relations was the support of Russia to the NATO efforts at cooperation in the war against international terrorism as well as the stability and development of post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Ankara also supported the international efforts led by the USA for ensuring the security of Afghanistan. Along with assuming the command of the ISAF mission of the NATO in Afghanistan for six months terms several times, Turkey also made significant contributions through its Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Wardak and Jowzjan provinces. Since Turkey decided to perform non-combat missions in Afghanistan, Ankara has focused mainly on the stabilization and development projects. Not surprisingly, Ankara gained the support of the Afghan public to its Afghanistan policies. Both NATO allies and Russia found Turkey's policies in Afghanistan very constructive too.

Russia also made some direct and indirect contributions to the ISAF mission of the NATO in Afghanistan. Moscow opened its airspace for the NATO deliveries to Afghanistan and supported the NATO countries in their logistics needs in transportation and communications. Besides, some of the NATO members used the Russian territories or the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) for the withdrawal of their military equipment from Afghanistan to their countries via Russia. In this context, this had a symbolic importance for NATO since Moscow accepted the NATO troop presence in Russia for the management of this logistic support to Northern Distribution Network (NDN) for Afghanistan.

Prospects for Turkey-Russia Relations in the Context of the Afghan Transition

It is unclear to what extend that Turkey and Russia could continue their collaboration in the upcoming period. In 2014, NATO will transfer its authority on security totally to the Afghan government by ending its ISAF mission. It is also unclear to what extend Afghan security forces will be successful in solving the security problems of the country. What kind of policies Russia and Turkey will develop after 2014 depends on the developments in these issue areas. The continuing meetings of both countries on the issue give some clues for the establishment of certain coordination in the future.

From the Russian perspective, the worst case scenario after 2014 is the risk that Taliban might enhance its influence and the spread of this threat to the Central Asian republics. Against this potential, Russia is involved in attempts within the scopes of Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In this context, Moscow seeks to increase its influence in regional security by trying to get international recognition for the role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. This case is unacceptable for all of the NATO allies including Turkey. While memories of the Soviet invasion are still alive, Russia's military presence could make things worse. The best possible way is to strengthen its cooperation within the context of the NATO-Russia Council.

On the other hand, Turkey seems to be determined in continuing its support to Afghanistan. This support is important especially for state building, socio-economic development and establishment of peace among social groups in Afghanistan. Turkey's performance as a NATO ally so far is a positive indication for NATO's future role in the country too.

To conclude, it seems that Russia and Turkey continue their existing close relations about Afghanistan during the post-2014 period. Meanwhile, Russia sees the NATO-Russia Council as a fundamental mechanism for international cooperation. Moscow's policies that locate Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the center are negative for Turkey as well as other NATO allies. Turkey and Russia may work together about decreasing the negative implications of the Afghan security problem to the Central Asia's security. In this framework, the enlargement of tripartite solidarity mechanism between Turkey-Afghanistan -Pakistan to include Russia and Central Asia as well as the USA and other NATO allies of Turkey appears to be the greatest contribution that Ankara and Moscow can make for the security of Afghanistan and regional stability.

*The Turkish version of this article was first published in the May 2013 issue of USAK's monthly journal, 'Analist'.


(*) Prof., Middle East Technical University (METU).
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Article Details
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Author:Tanrisever, Oktay F.
Publication:USAK Yearbook of Politics and International Relations
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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