In the business of political risk and analysis, there is always a danger of seizing upon a single event and extrapolating wildly without a full measure of the circumstances, issues or players. In many ways, the pundit industry tends to reward this kind of behaviour; as the media penetration of a particular event or issue increases, the greater the market value for related analyses – particularly the sort with the boldest, even most shocking claims.
This has the practical effect of incentivizing commentary for its own sake – as a brand maintenance or business development exercise, rather than for the purpose of offering important and credible contributions to the dialogue. This dynamic also inadvertently grants a considerable advantage to those commentators whom prioritize the sensational over the true, and the short-term memory of the news cycle typically allows for the charlatans to evade any sort of analytical responsibility. Of course, no analyst gets it right every time (nor necessarily should), and analytical modesty has its limits too – the art of deduction and forecasting would be an empty pursuit in the perfect knowledge of all the relevant facts – but too often opinion is offered as analysis, and analysis as fact.
This is a circuitous way of prefacing a discussion about Turkey and its post-coup strategic role. Specifically, in the wake of the failed July coup, the idea that Ankara would backtrack from its geostrategic competition with Russia transmogrified from a novel observation to a kind of analytical conventional wisdom. From there, the over-churning of this idea has made it something of a truism: that awfully convenient friendship between Turkey and Russia is back, according to some segments of the international media. By some interpretations, Ankara and Moscow are forming a nascent anti-Western axis against which the Euro-Atlantic West has no recourse.
This notion does have some analytical basis, and it certainly holds a certain simplistic appeal, but it is also almost certainly overwrought. In my column earlier this summer, I wrote that while the Turkey and Russia relationship would see a boon in the post-coup environment, it does not mean that Ankara has reconciled its “geopolitical aspirations with Russian pretensions to regional primacy”. In other words, Turkey’s views of Russia have not necessarily changed so much as its priorities have shifted. Russian sabre-rattling in the Black Sea and Syria remains a kind of threat to Turkish strategic interests, but Ankara is no longer under any illusions over its ability to independently challenge Moscow directly.