Relations between Russia and Turkey have recently swung from comprehensive discord to wide-ranging cooperation, spanning the energy, economic, military and diplomatic spheres. But their rapprochement remains far from a strategic partnership, defined more by tensions and uncertainties than by clearly shared national interests. The pendulum could swing back again.

For centuries, relations between Russia and Turkey have been characterised by geopolitical rivalry, mistrust and conflict. Recently, they have swung from comprehensive discord to wide-ranging cooperation. Fundamentally, however, the relationship remains unstable, and it is unclear that the current honeymoon will last.

Bumpy ride

The recent history of Russian–Turkish relations has been anything but predictable. After finding themselves on opposite sides of the Arab Spring, the two countries forged a new partnership in 2013–14, largely on the basis of shared disdain for Western criticism of their increasingly authoritarian governments. While Turkey did not condone Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it refused to endorse any Western sanctions on Moscow. However, Russia’s military intervention in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who openly backed Assad’s overthrow. Ankara shot down a Russian military jet over northern Syria in November 2015, for an alleged Turkish airspace violation. Russia retaliated by imposing wide-ranging economic sanctions on Turkey, with over 4.5 million Russian tourists cancelling holidays.

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