Iran Believes Turkey’s Rapprochement With Israel and Saudi Arabia Is a Threat

The President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, and the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, and the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“This dual-track rapprochement, along with the aforementioned factors specific to Iraq and Syria, has created the perception in Iran that a regional front might be in the making… with the primary aim of confronting Iran…”

Turkey’s activities and recent rapprochement with regional actors have created a perception in Iran that a regional front might be forming against Iranian interests.  On 27 June, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Turkey amid concerns that Turkey is strengthening relations with Iran’s main regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  The Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit followed on the heels of visits by both Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.  The accompanying articles analyze the regional power competition through these visits.  According to the excerpted article from security news focused al-Monitor, Turkey’s improved relations with Israel worry Iran because Turkey and Israel have recently had a convergence of interests in countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East, especially in Syria.

The second article from pro-government Turkish daily Sabah states that the visits of MBS and Yair Lapid demonstrate the concrete results of Turkey’s desire to normalize its relations with the regional players and strengthen its role in the regional power balance.  The article notes that Turkey’s normalization of relations with regional players is not intended to threaten the interest of third parties, including Iran, even though it might influence the calculations of other players.  The article further states that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to repair their relationship quickly and strengthen their cooperation in trade, tourism, construction, energy, the defense industry, and new technologies.  Iran’s influence in the region through its proxies and the progress of its nuclear program concern the regional players, especially Israel.  Regional dynamics will likely have an impact on ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.  Ultimately, normalizing Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel will play a significant role in the power balance in the region and help curb Iran’s growing regional influence while ongoing, indirect negotiations continue between the United States and Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.


Amberin Zaman,“Iran’s foreign minister checks in with Ankara as Turkey courts Tehran’s foes,” al-Monitor (globally read security news site with regionally based reporting),27 June 2022.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian [visited] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara… part of an effort to manage growing tensions between the prickly regional rivals.

Upon his arrival, Amir-Abdollahian said he would be discussing “comprehensive long-term cooperation” between Iran and Turkey with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and Erdogan.

In any case friction over Israel, which has deepened as Turkey mends fences with the Jewish state, has taken a back seat to Iran’s other big concerns, observers say.  “Syria and Iraq are at the top of the list,” …“Iran is deeply worried about the prospect of a new Turkish military operation, especially if it’s going to involve Tel Rifaat,” Azizi told Al-Monitor.  He was referring to the Syrian town south of Aleppo that is close to the Shiite-majority town of Nubl and Al-Zahra that could also act as a gateway allowing Turkey and its Sunni rebel allies to expand their influence around Aleppo…

“From Iran’s point of view, this could be a prelude to the further expansion of the influence of Turkey toward central Syria, enabling it to limit Iran’s influence and create a new headache for the Syrian regime,” Azizi added.  Erdogan renewed vows to conduct another military operation against the Syrian Kurds today…

Iran’s other concern is Iraq, where Turkey is trying to limit Iran’s influence in the Iraqi political sphere by facilitating the formation of a unified front composed of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the country’s main Sunni faction.

At the same time, the escalation in Turkey’s military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan has raised concerns among Iran and its affiliated Shiite groups that Turkey may seek to establish a permanent sphere of influence in northern parts of Iraq.  Those worries were sharpened by KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s comments earlier this year about selling Iraqi Kurdish gas to Europe via Turkey to offset supply deficits stemming from sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

But on a wider regional scale, “what worries Iran the most is that Turkey has been improving its relations with Iran’s rivals, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia,” said Azizi, the Iranian analyst.

“This dual-track rapprochement, along with the aforementioned factors specific to Iraq and Syria, has created the perception in Iran that a regional front might be in the making with the participation of Turkey, Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf with the primary aim of confronting Iran,” Azizi said.

Source: Burhanettin Duran, “Bin Salman ve Lapid Ziyaretlerinin ardından… (In the aftermath of Bin Salman and Lapid’s visits…),” Sabah (pro-government Turkish daily),24 June 2022.

…official visits [by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid] were significant because they demonstrated the concrete results of Turkey’s normalization policy and the country’s strengthening role in balancing the regional power equilibrium.  It is especially important to note that the normalization process has been shaped by a mutual commitment, as opposed to a request by either party, so that the relevant expectations can be assessed on a rational basis.  At the same time, the normalizing parties strive to ensure that their new relationship does not hurt the interests of third parties.  Again, each normalization process has its own dynamics and influences the calculations of others.

Indeed, the joint statement points in that direction.  Accordingly, the two nations aim to strengthen their cooperation regarding trade, tourism, construction and energy, as well as the defense industry and new technologies.

Having turned over a new leaf in its relationship with Riyadh, Ankara finds an opportunity to play a more active role in the region…  Meanwhile, Iran’s proxies and the progress of that country’s nuclear program, which ostensibly can build nuclear weapons, remain a source of concern for the entire region.  That situation, in turn, encourages all countries in the region, starting with Saudi Arabia, to become nuclear powers themselves.

Indeed, Tel Aviv is among those capitals in the Middle East, which are most unhappy with Iran’s growing regional influence…

Image Information:

Image: The President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, and the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Source: The Spokesperson Unit of the President of Israel, via Wikimedia,,March_2022%28GPOHA1_1042%29.jpg.jpeg
Attribution: CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Uploaded with pattypan

Turkish Military Operation in Syria Risks Clash with Iran

Turkish Soldiers in Syria.

Turkish Soldiers in Syria.

“Driven apart by clashing regional interests, Turkey and Iran appear headed for a face-off in Syria, with Tehran explicitly opposing Ankara’s plan for a fresh military operation against Kurdish-held areas, wary of risks to its own posture in the region.”

The Turkish Government’s plan to launch a fifth military operation into Syria is back on the table.  The stated goal is to create a 20-mile “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria by targeting areas held by the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  A Turkish operation into this region and its related repercussions might jeopardize the security of U.S. troops remaining in the region to support and advise the SDF fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Turkish President Erdoğan announced he intends to start the operation in Tel Rifaat and Manbij and gradually extend to other areas, some of which include Kurdish groups, Iranian-backed militias, Syrian regime forces, and Russian control of the airspace.  The accompanying articles analyze the complexity and risks for Turkey, including that of a face-off with Iran. 

According to the first excerpted article from pro-government Turkish daily Hürriyet, the critical issue for Turkey is access to Syrian airspace, so it will need permission from Russia and the Syrian regime.  Moreover, especially in Manbij, Russia and Syrian regime forces currently control the areas north of the M-4 highway, while Kurdish groups control the area south of the highway.  In any ground operation against Kurdish groups, Turkey would find itself facing Russian and Syrian regime forces first in this area.  Since Turkey is unlikely to risk fighting Russia, it will seek Russian consent first.

The other critical issue is Iranian opposition and the presence of Iran-backed Shia militias in the area.  The second excerpted article from security focused al-Monitor states that Iran will resist Turkey’s operation both militarily and politically, and an operation might lead to a clash between them.  Iran perceives the Turkish military presence in Syria as a threat to its interests and has taken several steps to dissuade Turkey from launching a military operation.  First, Iranian high-level officials publicly warned Turkey not to launch the military operation.  Second, Iran is bolstering its posture by deploying militias to areas with Shiite settlements, including Zahra and Nubl.  Third, Iran and the Syrian regime are mobilizing support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units that Turkey vowed to clear from the area.  Fourth, Iran-backed Shiite militias tried to deploy Grad missiles to Turkey’s potential area of operations, but Russia stopped them for now.  Iran’s increased presence because of a potential Turkish operation may also impact U.S. forces in the region.


Sedat Ergin, “Tel Rifat ve Münbiç’te Rusya ve İran faktörleri ne? (What are the Russian and Iranian factors in Tel Rifat and Manbij?),” Hürriyet (a pro-government Turkish daily),3 June 2022.

“We are entering a new phase of our decision to create a 30-kilometer-deep safe zone along our southern borders,” [President Erdoğan] said, adding: “We are clearing Tel Rifat and Manbij from terrorists. Then we will gradually do the same in other regions.”

…if the operation area is to be limited to Tel Rifat and Manbij, we must take into account that Turkey’s primary interlocutor on the ground will be Russia…

But there are other players as well. The importance of Tel Rifaat is that it is a multi-actor geography in which Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and the YPG/PYD… have military presence…

A very critical issue to consider in a possible operation is that Russia controls Syria’s airspace west of the Euphrates. Its airspace east of the Euphrates is under the control of the USA. If [a Turkish Armed Forces operation] happens, the airspace will have to be kept open so that the radars of the Russian/Syrian air defense systems do not lock onto Turkish warplanes and unmanned aerial vehicles during the operation of the TAF [Turkish Armed Forces]…

Tel Rifaat is also a region where Shiite militia groups, which are directly under the control of Iran, also exist. This means that Turkey should also take into account the Iranian factor in any operation to be carried out in Tel Rifaat.

Source: Fehim Taştekin,“Iran, Turkey brace for face-off in Syria,” al-Monitor (globally read security news site with regionally based reporting), 10 June 2022.

Driven apart by clashing regional interests, Turkey and Iran appear headed for a face-off in Syria, with Tehran explicitly opposing Ankara’s plan for a fresh military operation against Kurdish-held areas, wary of risks to its own posture in the region.

Turkey has failed to get a green light from the United States to press ahead with the plan, while Russia appears to be stalling. The Iranians, meanwhile, have sent militia reinforcements to two Shiite settlements northwest of Aleppo, not far from a key area in Ankara’s crosshairs, while trying to talk Turkey out from making the move — apparently with little success thus far…

The notion of rivalry has become an understatement in defining Turkish-Iranian ties. The rifts between the two neighbors have deepened amid an array of issues concerning Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, coupled with frictions over the sharing of transboundary waters and a seemingly uncontrolled stream of Afghan refugees to Turkey from Iran…

…the Iranian Foreign Ministry slammed Turkey’s intervention plan, warning that it would only exacerbate tensions and humanitarian suffering in Syria.

…Iranian media outlets have described Turkey’s presence as an “invasion” and referred to the Syrian National Army (SNA), Turkey’s rebel allies, as “Turkish-backed terrorists.” They have accused Turkey of pushing demographic changes to the detriment of the Kurds, expanding the space of “terrorists” under the guise of safe zones, seeking gains to use against Damascus in future talks or laying the ground for annexing Syrian territory.

…“The Syrian regime and its Iranian militias have mobilized and [are] sending reinforcement to the YPG” — a reference to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which Ankara has vowed to oust from Tel Rifaat.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, meanwhile, reported that Iranian-backed Shiite militia attempted to deploy Grad missiles to the area May 30, but were stopped by Russian forces…

Could Iran go even further now at the risk of a showdown with Turkey? According to the Iranian journalist, Turkey is “well aware” that Iran will defend Zahra and Nubl, even though Iran has avoided directly confronting Turkey in Syria thus far, except for Iranian participation in a 2020 offensive in Idlib that resulted in Damascus recapturing the crucial M5 highway.

Though Ankara has not mentioned Zahra and Nubl as targets, they would fall within Turkey’s range should it take control of Tel Rifaat. The two settlements and Tel Rifaat are seen as a barrier shielding Aleppo…

Today, Kurdish and government control in Tel Rifaat and its environs prevents rebels in Idlib from crossing to the Turkish-controlled Euphrates Shield pocket and accessing Aleppo. The importance of the area feeds suspicions that Ankara’s aims may go beyond weakening the Kurds. 

According to various sources, local groups trained and equipped by Hezbollah, Iranian-sponsored Shiite groups such as Fatemiyoun, Hashemiyoon and Zainabiyoun and the Syrian government’s militia the National Defense Forces are all present in Zahra and Nubl. They are reportedly coordinated by the IRGC, which has a headquarters in the area.

Image Information:

Image: Turkish Soldiers in Syria.
Source: Voice of America, via Wikimedia,
Attribution: CC-PD-Mark | PD VOA

Turkey Tightens Grip on Black Sea amid War in Ukraine

TCG Yavuz, the lead ship of Yavuz-class frigate of the Turkish Navy.

TCG Yavuz, the lead ship of Yavuz-class frigate of the Turkish Navy.

“We want the balance [in the Black Sea] not to be disturbed… If the balance is disturbed here, the probability of events getting out of control is very high.” -Hulusi Akar, Turkish Defense Minister

Turkey has seized on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to increase its control of the Black Sea by closing it to foreign warships, stepping up natural gas exploration efforts, and holding naval exercises.  The three accompanying articles from Turkish sources discuss Turkey’s actions regarding the Black Sea in these areas. 

First, Turkey has closed off the Black Sea to Ukrainian and Russian warships by invoking the Montreux Convention of 1936, which gives Turkey the right to prevent warships of warring sides (other than those returning to their bases) from using the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits during war.  Accordingly, after Ukrainian forces in mid-April sunk the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Russia was unable to sail its two other ships of the same class into the Black Sea to replace it.  As noted in the first excerpted article from pro-government Turkish publication Hürriyet, in addition to blocking Russia and Ukraine from bringing warships into the Black Sea, Turkey has also warned its NATO Allies not to enter the Black Sea during the war in Ukraine to prevent the conflict from expanding.  Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar noted that this would mitigate the possibility of any rivalry and maintain the peaceful status quo in the Black Sea. 

According to the excerpted article from Turkey’s Daily Sabah, as of April 2022, Turkey had dispatched its three drilling ships to the Sakarya gas field in the Black Sea to harness 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas it discovered in 2020.  Russia supplies about 45 percent of Turkey’s natural gas imports, so this effort would reduce Turkey’s reliance on Russian natural gas by about a quarter when it reaches peak production.  Turkey plans to start pumping gas from this field in 2023 and to increase production in the five years after that.  However, this will depend on Turkey first building an offshore pipeline network and processing facilities.  Turkish officials have regarded natural gas discovery in the Black Sea as an important step toward Turkey’s energy independence.

In April, Turkey also showcased its naval power during the “Blue Homeland” exercises  in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas.  The article quotes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s televised address the last day of exercises saying, “We will continue to work until we become the strongest army in the region with our ships, submarines and weapon systems.”


Sedat Ergin, “Savunma Bakanı Akar’dan NATO’ya hassas Karadeniz mesajları: “Karadeniz’in dışında kalınırsa isabet olur” (Sensitive Black Sea messages from Defense Minister Akar to NATO: “It will be better to stay out of the Black Sea”),” Hürriyet (a pro-government Turkish daily),25 Nisan 2022.

[Defense Minister Hulusi Akar] reveals that Turkey made a series of suggestions to its NATO allies not to enter the Black Sea with warships during the war [in Ukraine]. The Minister does not hide the fact that Turkey’s expectation was conveyed to the NATO allies… and says:

…We want the balance [in the Black Sea] not to be disturbed… If the balance is disturbed here, the probability of events getting out of control is very high. Let’s not turn the Black Sea into a competitive environment.

Source: “Turkey to extend incentives for $10B Black Sea gas field development),” Daily Sabah (a pro-government Turkish daily), 20 April 2022.  

Turkey will be extending government support for the massive project to develop the natural gas field it discovered in the Black Sea…

Turkey is building an industrial complex that will process the gas the country discovered in the Sakarya gas field, located some 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. The facility is expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2023.

The country’s first drilling vessel, Fatih, has discovered 540 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas in the Sakarya gas field since August 2020.

Turkey is fully dependent on gas imports, mainly from Russia, but the Sakarya field is expected to reduce those imports by about a quarter once it reaches peak production.

Ankara plans to begin pumping gas from the southwest Black Sea field in 2023 but must first build an offshore pipeline network and processing facilities.

…Expansion of the project over the next 10 years is expected to eventually lift annual production capacity to 14 bcm.

…The gas extracted from the gas field will be brought onshore through a pipeline that will be laid beneath the Black Sea.

…Scheduled to be constructed this year, the 170-kilometer pipeline will connect the wells in the region to the main grid.

The first phase of construction of the Western Black Sea Natural Gas Pipeline section will be carried out in two stages…

Source: “Mavi Vatan 2022 tatbikatı tamamlandı (Blue Homeland 2022 exercises completed),” NTV (a pro-government Turkish news channel),21 April 2022.,9-YP3y3e4EWPSlU1jcnlng

…Participating in the Blue Homeland exercises through a live broadcast, President Erdoğan said: “We will continue to work until we become the strongest army in the region with our ships, submarines and weapon systems.”

Blue Homeland exercises… in coordination with the personnel in the Black Sea, Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, concluded successfully. Airplanes, ships and our personnel have shown that they are always ready for the exercise.

It is imperative for Turkey to have a strong naval force. We attach special importance to developing our naval forces in terms of equipment and personnel and to make the highest contribution to the defense of the homeland.

We will continue to work until we become the strongest army in the region with our ships, submarines and weapon systems.

Image Information:

Image: TCG Yavuz, the lead ship of Yavuz-class frigate of the Turkish Navy.
Source: Nevit Dilmen, Own Work, via Wikimedia,
Attribution: CC-BY-SA-3.0 | GFDL | Self-published work

Turkey Central To Reducing Europe’s Dependence on Russian Natural Gas

Map of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (the central part of the Southern Gas Corridor, which connects the giant Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Europe through the South Caucasus Pipeline and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline.

Map of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (the central part of the Southern Gas Corridor, which connects the giant Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Europe through the South Caucasus Pipeline and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline.

The two excerpted articles suggest that Europe could reduce or eliminate its dependence on Russian natural gas by using possible alternatives from the Middle East via Turkey.  The first article from Turkey’s state-owned news agency, Anadolu Ajansı, looks at a potential Turkey-Israeli natural gas pipeline that would pump Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves to Europe.  Israeli President Isaac Herzog revived this idea during his visit to Ankara in early March 2022.  Accordingly, the article states that the issue was on both Turkey’s and Israel’s agenda.  Turkish President Erdoğan reportedly signaled that the sides would continue to work to determine concrete steps on proposed routes.

The excerpted article from security news site al-Monitor explores the option of Europe importing natural gas from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq via Turkey.  It warns that this will likely increase the rivalry between Turkey and Iran, as Iran would perceive it as a threat to its energy market.  On 13 March, Iranian missiles struck Erbil and one target was the villa of a Kurdish businessman involved in the Kurdish region’s energy sector.  The article notes that a key trigger for the strikes was a plan to pump Kurdish natural gas into Turkey and Europe with the help of Israel.  The article refers to several statements made by both Kurdish and Turkish officials indicating such plans.  For example, President of the Kurdistan Region Masrour Barzani said on 28 March that the region would “become a net exporter of gas to the rest of Iraq, Turkey, and Europe in the near future and help meet their energy security needs.”  President Erdoğan also stated that Turkey was gearing up for new energy projects.


Haydar Oruç, “Türkiye-İsrail normalleşmesinin enerji boyutu (Energy Dimension of Turkey-Israel Normalization),” Anadolu Ajansı (Turkey’s state-owned news agency), 11 March 2021.

Undoubtedly, the issue that comes to the fore at first glance is energy cooperation…

…after the Russian invasion of Ukraine the issues experienced in energy supply, Europe feels the need to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supply. And this reality puts Eastern Mediterranean gas one step ahead of other alternatives.

When the [EastMed Pipeline] project is implemented, first of all, Turkey’s energy supply will be diversified… Iran, which has supplied most of Turkey’s energy needs previously, being subjected to international sanctions complicates the sustainability of the gas its gas supplies… In addition, Iran’s desire to use gas as a political tool from time to time also harms relations.

Similarly, recent international sanctions on Russia makes its [energy] source unsustainable. Therefore, the emergence of Eastern Mediterranean gas as an alternative source is extremely important in terms of energy security. This will increase the importance and value of Turkey in the energy market.

…if Turkey and Israel reach an agreement for the delivery of Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe via Turkey, energy supplies will be diversified, energy routes will be secured…

Source: “Erdoğan: Turkey-Israel Gas pipeline on the agenda,” Yetkin Report (blog of veteran Turkish Journalist Murat Yetkin),31 March 2022. 

Is Turkey-Israel gas pipeline project on the agenda as an alternative to Russian streams? Erdoğan answered Turkish journalist’s questions on March 33… stating that a gas pipeline crossing through Turkey is on the agenda.

“We discussed many issues in detail with Mr. Herzog, especially the energy issue. In the past, there were some relations, contacts between Israel and Turkey regarding energy… Laying pipes under the sea from Israel to Greece, to Europe, is not a feasible thing to do. As a result of the cost calculations, it is seen that the most suitable way for this is [the passage] of this natural gas [pipeline] through Turkey. Of course, they are already making assessment on the issue…”

Erdoğan added that he proposed a bilateral meeting between Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Energy and Natural Resources to discuss the energy issue in detail, and said that Israeli President’s response was positive on this proposal…

“…the cooperation between Israel and Turkey here will accelerate the process related to Eastern Mediterranean oil and natural gas. I am very hopeful about this,” [Erdoğan] said.

Source: Fehim Taştekin,“Ukraine war shakes up Turkey’s ties with both Russia and NATO,” al-Monitor (globally read security news site with regionally based reporting),08 April 2022.

Potential projects to carry Iraqi Kurdistan natural gas to Europe via Turkey, in order to reduce dependency on Russia, might also increase rivalry between Turkey and Iran.

…a potential plan to carry Iraqi Kurdish gas through Turkey with the help of Israel was one reason for Iran’s missile attack on Erbil on March 13.  

…Under an energy cooperation deal between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdistan in 2013, Turkey has already finished the pipeline linking its border with northern Iraq to a conduit which carries Azeri gas to Europe.

Erbil has amped up its efforts to boost its energy ties with regional actors amid escalating tensions between Russia and the Western capitals over Ukraine. Iraqi Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Feb. 2. Ali Hama Salih, the head of the energy commission in Kurdistan’s parliament, said Feb. 9 that the gas link to Turkey would become operational in 2025. …Most recently, [KRG Prime Minister] Masrour Barzani announced Mar 28 that Iraqi Kurdistan would “become a net exporter of gas to the rest of Iraq, Turkey and Europe in the near future and help meet their energy security needs…”

While echoing previous assertions that Israel has no involvement in the plans, Barzani also admitted that Iraqi Kurdistan’s expanding energy ties were not in line with Iranian interests…

In a similar vein, Erdogan said Turkey was gearing up for new energy projects. On his way back from Brussels, where he met with various NATO leaders, he told reporters, “God willing, through our meetings new avenues will be opened for Turkey in the energy field.” That hints at possible markets for Iraqi Kurdish and Eastern Mediterranean gas following normalization of ties with Israel. 

…But Ankara still has to find a middle ground between Erbil and Baghdad to advance its gas and oil cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Image Information:

Image: Map of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (the central part of the Southern Gas Corridor, which connects the giant Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Europe through the South Caucasus Pipeline and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline.
Source: Golden, Own Work, via Wikimedia,,
Attribution: CC-BY-SA-4.0 | Self-published work | Maps by Golden

Russian Invasion of Ukraine Detrimental to Turkey

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“… conflict… poses a significant risk to the Turkish defense industry.”

The accompanying articles highlight that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses significant risks to Turkey’s already troubled economy, energy security, and defense industry regardless of Turkey’s position in this conflict as it balances its NATO obligations with its relations with Russia.  According to the first article from globally read security news site al-Monitor, the war will have crippling consequences for the Turkish economy since Russia is Turkey’s key economic partner in many sectors, including tourism, construction, and energy.  The second article from anti-Turkish government daily Sözcü states that sanctions targeting the Russian banking system will negatively impact Russian projects in Turkey, including the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant that Turkey contracted to a Russian company for development.  The war in Ukraine will also make trade routes in the region insecure and negatively impact Turkey’s economic interests and trade with other countries in the region.  Furthermore, according to the Sözcü article, the war will likely disrupt the flow of natural gas to Turkey, leading to an energy crisis since Russia is the largest natural gas supplier to Turkish markets.  The two countries have nearly completed the construction of two natural gas pipelines carrying Russian natural gas to Turkey and some European countries.

The third article from independent Turkish news agency Anka Haber Ajansı highlights that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will also have significant implications for the Turkish defense industry.  Defense cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey is significantly larger than Turkey’s widely reported TB-2 drone export to Ukraine.  Ukraine’s two major firms in aviation engine and manufacturing, Ukrainian Motor Sich and Ivchenko Progress, a Ukrainian state-owned company, provide engines for the Turkish defense company Baykar’s Bayraktar Akıncı drone and the Turkish Aerospace Industries’ T929 ATAK 2 attack helicopter.  Turkey is also building a MilGem-class corvette for the Ukrainian navy, which the article notes, is one of the biggest exports for the Turkey’s defense industry.  The article points out that the conflict will hinder Turkey’s ability to sustain the supply of subsystems and products to its defense industry from Ukraine.


Amberin Zaman,“Russian invasion of Ukraine would spell more economic turbulence for Turkey,”al-Monitor (a globally read security news site with regionally based reporting),07 February 2022.

War would bring Turkey under intense pressure from its Western allies to join putative sanctions against Russia, a critical trading partner and supplier of natural gas. Turkey will do its best to remain neutral, as signaled anew by Erdogan in comments to reporters en route home from Kyiv.

Ukraine has bought at least 20 drones from Turkey since 2018 and has used one only once in combat against Russian-backed separatists in Donbas in October 2021, eliciting growls from Moscow.

However, Turkey’s worries go beyond having to balance its NATO commitments with Russia, a key economic partner and since 2016 security partner in Syria. An actual war could have crippling consequences for Turkey’s battered economy.

In Ukraine, Turkey’s flourishing defense cooperation would likely suffer in a Russian attack as well.

Recent deals between Turkey and Ukraine include the supply of gas turbines for Turkish-designed naval vessels by Ukraine’s Zorya Mashproekt. Ukraine has ordered four of the MilGem class corvettes for itself.

Tourism, which Erdogan is banking on to help with an economic recovery ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections that are scheduled to be held by 2023, is also at risk.

… At best, Turkey can provide the two sides with “an optional diplomatic channel of communication” through which their respective messages are relayed.

Source: Dünya Taşlardan,“Rusya-Ukrayna krizi Türkiye’yi nasıl etkiler? (How does the Russia-Ukraine crisis affect Turkey?),”Sözcü (an anti-Turkish government daily),22 January 2022.

A possible war may involve significant losses for Turkey. First of all, if there is a war situation in the Black Sea, it will be difficult for tourists to come from both Russia and Ukraine this summer. Another problem is that Turkey meets most of its wheat needs from Russia and Ukraine. Since the war situation will also affect these imports, there may be rapid price hikes in food products…

In case of war, natural gas pipelines such as TurkStream and BlueStream in the Black Sea, which seem to be an important source of income for Russia, may also be attacked. Such a case may lead to a natural gas crisis in Turkey. By inviting both the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to Turkey, Turkey is actually signaling that it will remain neutral in this crisis with its mediation offer…

Turkey does not recognize and does not implement the sanctions imposed by the USA and EU countries on Russia. In this sense, we can say that there is an understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Although Turkey may not implement the Russian sanctions, especially the sanctions that would be applied in the banking system will negatively affect the Russian projects in Turkey. The construction of Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant may be delayed.

Since there will be no dollar circulation, Russia may have to pause its projects. Again, as the Black Sea will become a war zone, the use of commercial roads will be difficult, which will be reflected in the prices.

Source: Arda Mevlütoğlu,“Turkey – Ukraine Defense Cooperation In Russia’s Crosshairs?,”Anka Haber Ajansı (an independent Turkish news agency based in Ankara),06 February 2022.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky signed several agreements on Feb. 3, during Erdogan’s visit to Kyiv. The deals included a free trade agreement and a pact on cooperation in advanced technologies, aviation, and space…

Turkey’s sale of armed drones to Ukraine has come under harsh criticism by Russia. The TB2, however, is not the only subject of the rapidly enhancing defense industry cooperation between Kyiv and Ankara. Ukraine has become a preferred supplier for Turkey, especially for engines. A potential conflict, therefore, poses a significant risk to the Turkish defense industry…

Ukraine has two major firms in aviation engine design and manufacturing, Motor Sich and Ivchenko Progress…

The Bayraktar TB2’s manufacturer, Baykar Savunma. has developed a strategic reconnaissance/surveillance and strike drone that is designated Bayraktar Akinci. The Akinci can be powered by various types of turboprop engines, among them the Ivchenko Progress AI-450T… Baykar Savunma signed another deal with Motor Sich for the MS500 engine for the Akinci drone.

The drones are not the only area of engine procurement from Ukraine. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TA) signed a contract with Motor Sich for the TV3-117 turboshaft engines last June for use with the prototypes of the T929 ATAK 2 next-generation attack helicopter project. The Ukrainian company is also offering the same engine for the T925 10-ton class general-purpose helicopter project of TA.

Marine gas turbine specialist Zorya Mashproekt has become a candidate for supplying gas turbines for Turkish-designed naval vessels, mainly for the MilGem class corvettes… The MilGem sale to the Ukrainian Navy is one of the biggest defense exports of the Turkish defense industry…

An armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine poses a major risk for sustaining the supply of subsystems and products to Turkey. The level of risk depends on the scale of the conflict.

In a limited-scale conflict scenario, where the clashes occur in and around the Donbas region, there is a lower risk of Ukrainian defense industry facilities being targeted by Russian armed forces…

The second scenario is a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces. This scenario is the worst for Turkey and the region. In such a case, defense industry facilities as well as strategic industrial and infrastructure elements would be primary targets for the Russian military. The destruction of manufacturing facilities as well as the loss of skilled personnel would deal a devastating blow to the Ukrainian defense industry as well as to Turkish defense projects.

There may definitely be other scenarios involving intervention by external actors, diplomatic resolution, or various types of armed conflict. However, one thing is certain: a conflict of any type or scale would be a worst-case scenario for Turkey.

Image Information:

Image: Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
]Source: Russian Presidential Executive Office,, via Wikimedia,, Files from
|Attribution: CC-BY-4.0 | Russia photographs taken on 2020-03-05

The Future of Turkish-Russian Relations

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“…as long as Turkey keeps its relations with the West strong, it will find a more comfortable space for itself against Russia.”

Turkey’s recent purchase of S-400 systems from Russia has led to questions about Turkey’s “western-ness” and trustworthiness as a NATO ally.  Traditionally a pro-Western country, Turkey’s increasing shift towards Russia despite their complex relationship is one of the biggest geopolitical shifts since the Cold War.  As such, the evolution of Turkish-Russian relations will have implications for the United States, NATO, and great power competition.  The accompanying articles from Turkish sources provide an outlook on Turkish-Russian relations, discussing both issues of contention and cooperation.

The articles, one from pro-government Turkish newspaper Hürriyet and another from the Istanbul-based independent think tank Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), note that the points of friction between Turkey and Russia are the implementation of the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh; developments in Libya; tensions in Syria’s Idlib Province; and changes in eastern Ukraine.  The Syrian conflict has the potential to impact Turkish-Russian relations the most because, as the Hürriyet article highlights, Russia continues to strike Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces around Idlib and Turkey’s areas of operation.  The tensions between Russia and Turkey will likely increase once the Russia-backed Syrian regime launches an operation on Idlib.  Both articles note the Ukrainian conflict will be another high-level point of friction between Turkey and Russia because of Turkey’s drone sale to Ukraine.  However, according to the EDAM publication, despite these frictions, Turkey and Russia cooperate in the energy sector, including Russia supplying natural gas to, and building a nuclear power plant in, Turkey.  Russia also maintains strong trade relations with Turkey, investing in its tourism and defense industry.  The Hürriyet article also refers to President Erdoğan’s statement from September 2021 that Turkey will deepen its defense cooperation with Russia and is considering purchasing other weapons systems in addition to the recently purchased S-400s.

The EDAM article states that the foundation of Turkish-Russian relations is built on a personal dialogue between their presidents rather than on an institutional foundation, and Presidents Erdoğan and Putin have managed to de-escalate tensions so far when they rise.  However, considering the points of friction, Turkish-Russian relations remain fragile.  Finally, the Hürriyet article notes Turkish-Russian relations are asymmetrical and the scale will further tilt in Russia’s favor if Turkey continues to drift away from its Western allies.  Therefore, the article suggests that Turkey should ensure its relations with its Western allies remain strong to counterbalance Russia.


Sedat Ergin,“2021’den 2022’ye Türk Dış Politikası (5)-Rusya ile çatışarak işbirliği modeli ilerlemeye devam ediyor (Turkish Foreign Policy from 2021 to 2022 (5)- Adversarial Cooperation model with Russia continues),” Hürriyet (a pro-government Turkish newspaper),04 January 2022.

The Russians see no harm in continuing their air operations in a region where TAF [Turkish Armed Forces] units are present. We can guess that with these attacks, Russia wants to maintain a certain pressure on Turkey, which prevented the regime’s army from entering Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria…

The previous day also witnessed the first telephone conversation of the New Year between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Brief statements with largely similar content were made from both sides. In the Kremlin’s statement, there was an indirect reference to the Ukraine-linked NATO-Russia tension. Apart from this, it was stated that the topics of the Caucasus, Libya, and Syria were on the agenda in both of statements. Intention and determination to further the cooperation between the two countries were also emphasized as an important common theme in the texts.

Meanwhile, the importance of 2021 was that it was a year…[of] cooperation in Turkish-Russian relations that would extend to the coming years… President Erdoğan went to Sochi at the end of September and during the meeting he held with Putin, he proposed to his counterpart the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Turkey, in addition to Akkuyu… Putin also offered to cooperate with Turkey on launching rockets into space by establishing platforms at sea and on land.

A more critical development was that Erdoğan also suggested to Putin “deepening cooperation” in the defense industry during this meeting. In this context, the President announced that they discussed the further development of the S-400 project, and listed aircraft engines, warplanes, warship, and submarine construction as new potential areas of cooperation.

In this respect, Erdoğan is also trying to intimidate the USA and European countries by stating that the weapon systems that Turkey cannot obtain or have difficulty in obtaining from the West can very well be obtained from Russia. Although the second chapter of the S-400 project has not been signed, it remains on the table…

President Erdoğan keeps cooperation with Russia as a bargaining card in his hand against the West…

… Erdoğan followed a delicate balance between the USA and Russia throughout 2021… In any case, the continuation of cracks, conflicts, and tensions within the Western alliance, as well as the realization of new potential arms sales to Turkey, will be developments that will please the Kremlin.

This asymmetry will be widened further [in Russia’s favor] as Turkey’s relations with the West deteriorate… It should not be forgotten that as long as Turkey keeps its relations with the West strong, it will find itself in a more comfortable space against Russia. The decline in Turkey’s foreign relations with the west will also weaken Turkey’s hand against Russia.

Source: Doç. Dr. Çiğdem Üstün,“2022’de Türkiye-Rusya İlişkileri: İşbirliği-Rekabet İkileminin Devamı Beklenirken… (Turkey-Russia Relations in 2022: Expecting the Continuation of Cooperation-Competition Dilemma…),” Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) (Istanbul-based an independent think tank), 13 January 2022.

Although relations with Russia have been handled on the axis of cooperation, especially in the energy and defense sectors in recent years, it is not a relationship model free from crises and problems… Because Turkey’s relations with Russia are based on bilateral relations between leaders rather than on institutional foundations, it has a relationship model that is difficult to be called sustainable…

​​The ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, the possible developments in Libya, the tensions in and around Idlib, Ukraine and Belarus are noticeable issues that have the potential to affect relations.

Of course, it should not be ignored that as much as their problems [need a resolution], there are areas where Turkey and Russia are trying to develop cooperation. After the Blue Stream, the Turkish Stream project is a step taken to strengthen the energy ties between Russia and Turkey. Energy takes first place in Turkey’s imports from Russia.

Considering the problems experienced in its relations with the West, both the EU and the USA, it is expected that Turkey’s relations with Russia will continue to be economically important. However, every step taken towards Russia has risks to further wear down Turkey’s relations with its Western allies… the issues that occupied the agenda in 2021 also occupy the agenda in 2022, and that it is more important to benefit economically and geopolitically for Russia in the framework of possible tensions, than to provide a permanent peace environment in the region…

Image Information:

Image: Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Source: Russian Presidential Executive Office,, via Wikimedia,, Files from | CC-BY-4.0 | Russia photographs taken on 2020-03-05

Syrian Kurds Balancing Great Powers To Secure a Future in Syria

Fighters of the YPJ.

Fighters of the YPJ.

“We have good relations with Russia. For the past two years, we have cooperated on the ground within the framework of the [Sochi] agreement. This problem cannot be solved without Russia.” Mazlum Kobane

The accompanying excerpts provide perspectives of Syrian Kurdish leaders about their discussions with the United States and Russia regarding their place in the future of Syria.  The passages also highlight the circumstances they face on the ground, particularly in light of Turkish threats of another operation and demands by the Syrian regime to relinquish their quest for autonomy.  As the final passage summarizes, the Syrian Kurds are “trying to achieve a status for themselves in the future of Syria…by following a remarkable policy of balance between Washington and Moscow.”

The first excerpted article, an interview with Mazlum Kobane, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), featured in security news site Al-Monitor, covers a range of issues impacting Syrian Kurdish territory.  The first issue is Turkey’s threats to launch another operation into Syria.  Kobane states that without consent from Russia or the United States, Turkey is unlikely to carry out such an operation because both countries have given the Kurds assurances.  Regardless, he takes Turkish threats seriously and prepares his forces accordingly.  Another topic is worsening economic conditions and increasing unemployment in Kurdish-controlled territory.  He claims this diminishes the authority of their de facto administration and that ISIS takes advantage of this to regain ground there.  Therefore, he says, an effective counterterrorism strategy requires addressing the economic situation of the region.  As such, he wants the United States to exempt the Kurdish region from Caesar sanctions to alleviate the declining economy. 

With respect to the negotiations with the Syrian regime, Kobane says that no serious negotiations have taken place so far, although they have engaged in some initial talks.  Kobane expects that Russia will be more proactive in its negotiations with the Syrian regime and play a determinative role.  Kobane notes the SDF’s good relations with Russia and ongoing cooperation on the ground within the framework of the Sochi agreement. He expects Russia will play a critical role in Syrian Kurdish negotiations with the Syrian regime.  To that end, on 23 November 2021, after receiving an official invitation from Russian officials, a Kurdish delegation met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.  According to the second excerpt, a press release by the Syrian Democratic Council, Russian officials reiterated their support and encouragement for Kurdish dialogue with the Syrian regime and discussed possible political solutions to end the Syrian conflict. 

The third article from pro-government Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, analyzes the aforementioned Kurdish delegation’s visit to Moscow.  The article highlights that the statement from Russian officials referenced the territorial integrity of Syria and the protection of the rights of all ethnic and sectarian groups.  The article also points out that Lavrov personally welcomed the Kurdish delegation to highlight to the international community Russia’s attempt to broker a solution between the Syrian regime and the Kurds.  The author of the article claims this role will likely push the Kurds towards Russia even though Kurdish officials have been trying to strike a balance in their relations with the United States and Russia as they try to maintain their current autonomous status and advance their rights within Syria.


Amberin Zaman,“Syrian Kurdish commander says Russia opposes further Turkish land grabs” al-Monitor (a globally read security news site with regionally based reporting),09 November 2021.

Al-Monitor: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making fresh threats to launch another military operation against the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria, and daily there is speculation in the media as to where and when yet another Turkish invasion might occur. Do you believe that Erdogan will follow on his threats? He’s certainly always done so in the past.

Mazlum Kobane: Erdogan has always sought the support of international actors before embarking on a military intervention here. He’s made threats and continues to make threats. He insists he will intervene and will continue to insist. In doing so he is looking to prepare the ground for an operation. However, the existing situation in northeast Syria is different now. The balances have shifted. In the past instances, there were no binding agreements between Turkey and the international powers…But now there are two agreements in place… In my view, unless Turkey gets the approval of either Russia or the United States, Erdogan cannot take such a step. And as far as I am aware there is no such approval.

Al-Monitor: Have Russia and the United States provided you with such guarantees?

Mazlum Kobane: Yes. The United States has given us such assurances. They were relayed to us officially. The United States said they were opposed to, and would not accept, any attack by Turkey against us. The US officials we spoke to… informed us that during the last meeting between Erdogan and President Joe Biden [on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome] that Erdogan was told that the United States would not accept any attack against us. The Russians also told us that they had not made any deals with Turkey…

…Like I said, a Turkish attack does not seem likely in the current circumstances. Besides, the Russians told us that they had told the Turks that they would not accept an attack against us. However, they are unable to determine what Turkish-backed forces might do. They said they would not accept an attack by them either. But it remains to be seen what will happen in practice, on the ground.

Al-Monitor: Are you saying they are not standing as firmly against Turkey as the Americans are?

Mazlum Kobane: No not at all. This is a very critical point and requires proper clarification. The Russians said there was no question of them allowing Turkey to attack but that Turkish-supported rebel groups might attack us without Turkey’s authorization…

Al-Monitor: Economic conditions in Rojava are getting harder by the day. On the one hand, there are the embargos imposed by Turkey and sanctions imposed by the United States on the Assad regime. On the other hand, there is the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most severe droughts in decades and Turkey’s continued suppression of water along with its threats of an attack. Can these factors give the Islamic State a new lease of life?

Mazlum Kobane: DAESH [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State] is active all across Syria. And these unfavorable economic conditions are impacting our struggle against DAESH. Its ability to regain ground is increasingly linked to economic conditions in Syria. There are way too many unemployed people. There is widespread poverty. All such factors diminish the authority of our administration. DAESH takes advantage of this. Therefore, the international coalition forces and all powers fighting against terrorism must take immediate steps to address the economic situation here. Bolstering the economy has become one of the pillars of combatting terrorism. We as the Syrian Democratic Forces say this openly. If we are to fight DAESH effectively we need to prioritize the economy.

…Our demand is that the whole of North and East Syria be exempted from the United States’ Caesar sanctions…

Mazlum Kobane: So far nobody has gone to Damascus for any kind of negotiations. And so far there have been no serious negotiations with Damascus. There have been some contacts but none of those meetings evolved into negotiations.

Al-Monitor: Why not?

Mazlum Kobane: Damascus is not ready for this. However much they claim that there will be no return to the pre-2011 era their mentality remains unchanged. They need to be pressured. Plus, there’s an issue of trust, particularly for Damascus.

Al-Monitor: Are they telling you to sever your ties with the United States?

Mazlum Kobane: Not exactly. They are telling us, “We do not want a state within a state. We do not want an army within an army.”… Our project is autonomy and we are implementing it at this time. However, they want guarantees from us with regard to the aforementioned concerns. Severing our ties with the Americans is not their precondition…

Al-Monitor: Are the Russians sincere in their mediations efforts? Or do they simply want you to capitulate so they can get the lion’s share of the oil pie from the regime as some claim?

Mazlum Kobane: We have good relations with Russia. For the past two years, we have cooperated on the ground within the framework of the [Sochi] agreement. This problem cannot be solved without Russia. I believe Russia could be more proactive and apply more pressure on the regime.

Source: “At an official invitation, “SDC” in Moscow to discuss the Syrian issue and bilateral relations,”, (Syrian Democratic Council Official website),23 November 2021.

The meeting was positive, as the two sides discussed the Syrian situation in general and methods to find a comprehensive settlement…

The meeting focused on many common points, the most important of which are the Syrian-Syrian Kurdish dialogue and Moscow’s support and encouragement for dialogue between the “SDC” and the authority in Damascus.

The two sides also talked about the need to work seriously for the participation of “SDC” in the political process and to represent it in a balanced manner in the international paths as a main and active party in the Syrian scene.

Source: Sedat Ergin,“Rusya Suriye’de YPG/PYD üzerinden özerkliğe kapıyı aralıyor (Russia opens the door to autonomy in Syria through YPG/PYD,” Hürriyet (a pro-government Turkish newspaper),26 November 2021.

As it can be seen, the Syrian Kurds are trying to achieve a status for themselves in the future of Syria, where they aim to have advanced rights, by following a remarkable policy of balance between Washington and Moscow, keeping the doors of negotiations with both sides open.

Image Information:

Image: Fighters of the YPJ.
Source: Jakob Reimann, via Wikimedia,, Flickr images reviewed by FlickreviewR 2 | Flickr images missing SDC source of file | Flickr images missing SDC creator |
Attribution: CC-BY-2.0