The downing of the Russian warplane by the Turkish Air Force did not at all meet the logic of the Russian-Turkish relations. What could be the real reason of such an abrupt turnabout in the Turkish policy and what may the escalation in the Ankara-Moscow relations result in?
'Syria' is not just a regional crisis like, say, the Ukrainian or even the Karabakh crisis. The Russian military intervention into Syria has direct influence on Turkey. Turkey and Russia could have prevented the regional crises (Karabakh, Crimea and Ukraine) together and this might have influenced their bilateral relations. However, Russia preferred to sacrifice its bilateral ties with Turkey and today both sides should act more cautiously. Russia could have understood Turkey's sensitivity to Syria and to the Turkish-Syrian border-zone. I think that maintenance of good relations with Turkey should have been more important than the few kilometers that might return Bashar al-Assad's regime to power. The Turkish-Russian crisis is no longer bilateral. In this light, the most important task is to stop the war, strengthen the borders and create favorable conditions for voluntary return of the refugees to Syria. The government is holding insufficient negotiations on this issue. Certainly, the Syria, from which Arabs, Sunnis and Turkmens have been transferred to the Turkish frontier services and are almost completely maintained by Turkish funds, is unacceptable to us.
Moscow believes that Ankara’s ban on the Russian Air Force flights over the Turkish territory creates a dangerous precedent of uncontrolled military activities. To note, the flights are stipulated by a relevant international agreement. Why do you think the Turkish leadership has taken such a decision?
I do not understand the question. Nor do I understand why the NATO member state should permit any Russian reconnaissance operations on its own territory.
On Feb 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again blamed Ankara for supporting international terrorism. Does Moscow have real levers of influence on Ankara and do you think Armenia is one of such levers?
I think Russia has not got many real levers. As regards energy, it is not taken into account as a weapon. I have recently heard that about 20% of Gazprom's revenues were from Turkey. A possible military threat against Turkey will result in a Russia-NATO conflict. I do not understand how Armenia can be a lever given that Turkey lacks relations with Armenia. Armenian leaders should not afford being too dependent on the anti-Turkish discourse of Russia. One should not accuse the state, which defends its air space and which has become the first country in the world to give shelter to the refugees, of imperialism. The total number of Syrians in Turkey will shortly be equal to the population of Armenia. I would like to note that both Syria and Iraq should pay more attention to the mid-term outlook, when the Russian and Iranian soldiers will be acting on their territories. We can also expect serious Turkish-Russian military escalation in case Russia continues its air campaign in Aleppo. This will increase the flow of refugees towards the Turkish border. At the same time, we certainly see some prospects for normalization of Turkey-Russia relations. I think the Turkish diplomacy will become more and more pragmatic given that Turkey is losing part of its maneuver effectiveness. Moscow should also take into account the price of the loss of direct communication with Ankara on regional issues.
Turkey actively participates in creation of a military bloc with Georgia and Azerbaijan. What can such a bloc be directed against?
I do not think that Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are establishing a military bloc. The matter concerns just Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan military cooperation aimed at defending the east-west corridors: gas pipelines, roads and trunk railways. The specified infrastructures have repeatedly proved their significance in the context of Russian sanctions against Georgia and Turkey. Certainly, the given cooperation helps Georgia and Azerbaijan raises their profiles in case of bigger attention by Russia. Armenia poses no military threat to Turkey. At the same time, I am convinced that even if Armenia suddenly starts posing a threat, Turkey will need no support from Azerbaijan or Georgia in a conflict with Armenia.
The EU has recently approved 3 billion euros in funding for Turkey to cope with the record number of migrants. Several analysts think that Ankara purposefully contributes to formation and growth of the inflow of migrants to Europe, first of all, to Greece. What can you say about this?
I have no idea of such a policy. I can only analyze the Syrian refugee crisis basing upon a year of work in Antalya within an international humanitarian mission. Today Turkey has the second biggest number of Syrian citizens on its territory. The total number of Syrians in Turkey will shortly be equal to the population of Armenia. I think the European Union has finally realized that it cannot be isolated from the consequences of the shocks in the Middle East or in the Caucasus. The EU has also understood that Turkey is not a buffer for Europe. I think further developments in Syria will play a crucial role in increasing the number of refugees, because if Russia continues its air campaign in Aleppo, it will inevitably increase the flow of the refugees towards the Turkish border.