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Research Report

AN INDEPENDENT ACTOR: Turkish Foreign and Energy Policy Toward Russia, Iran, and Iraq

Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 18
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    Turkey has sought to position itself as a vital country in the transshipment of oil and gas from its energy rich neighbors to Europe. This policy grew in importance following the 1980 military coup and the subsequent start of domestic reforms to liberalize the Turkish economy. Successive Turkish governments have engaged with energy-exporting countries in Turkey’s near abroad, both to diversify its energy suppliers and to increase Turkey’s relevance for transborder trade with Europe. These efforts have, at times, run afoul of US efforts to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, isolate Iran, or send a signal to Iraqi...

  2. (pp. 2-4)

    Turkish-Russian relations are complicated. Russia is Turkey’s historic geopolitical foe, but also Turkey’s most important energy provider.² Russian visitors help underpin the tourism sector, while Turkish construction businesses play a considerable role in the former Soviet Republics and in Russia itself.³ The two countries have been at odds in Syria, particularly over Russian support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. In late November 2015, the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian SU-24 bomber after it strayed into Turkish airspace while bombing Turkish-backed insurgent groups. The incident touched off a sustained period of political tension and retaliatory Russian measures on the Turkish tourism...

  3. (pp. 5-6)

    The Turkish government and Iran have long-standing energy ties, although disputes often arise about the implementation of signed agreements. For Turkey, Iran remains a lucrative trade market and an important energy supplier. Iran previously viewed Turkey as being of secondary geopolitical importance, divorced from Iranian actions in its traditional areas of interest: the Persian Gulf and the Levant.14 Turkish-Iranian tensions, therefore, stem from real and perceived challenges in areas each government defines as their own sphere of influence. The Turkish government has, in recent years, sought to deepen its influence in northern Syria and Iraq, where its policies are at...

  4. (pp. 7-11)

    The Turkish government’s relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has evolved considerably in recent years. For Ankara, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has emerged as a close ally, both within Iraq and against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, first formed in 1978, has waged an on again and off again insurgency against the Turkish government, first for outright Kurdish independence and, later, for political autonomy.27 The KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, is the dominant force in Kurdish politics, alongside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and a PUK splinter party, Goran. Together, these three parties are represented...

  5. (pp. 12-12)

    The findings of this paper are straightforward: Turkey has a history of acting independently and resisting pressure from the United States to curtail its energy relationships with supplier countries in its near abroad. The implications of this finding, however, are significant for US interests in the Middle East, Europe, and in Russia’s near periphery. In all three cases, Ankara should be expected to explore ways to deepen its energy relationships. For Russia, the implications in the short term will center on Turkstream and the subsequent effects of this pipeline on Ukraine and on Nord Stream 2. In the longer term,...

  6. (pp. 13-13)

    The United States is now involved in a conflict against ISIS in Iraq and has increased its military support for NATO’s Baltic States bordering Russia and Kaliningrad.55 The Trump Administration has also pledged to increase military and political pressure against Iran. Turkey, on the other hand, has energy interests in Russia, Iran, and Iraq and should be expected to pursue self-interested policies, intended to realize Turkey’s goal of becoming a regional energy hub. Turkey’s policies do not neatly align with those of the United States. Ankara, therefore, should not be expected to act as an economic counterweight to Iran, or...