Russia looking for regime change in Turkey

Many have been burned trying to predict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next foreign policy moves, but it’s a safe bet he will copy whichever U.S. policy he has been criticizing. That’s why Turkey, in particular, should pay close attention to what Russia has to say on regime change.

This pattern of condemn-then-copy foreign policy has been going on for some time. In 2007, Putin made a powerful denunciation of America’s addiction to military force, complaining — presumably as a man of peace — that “there is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died.” A year later, Russia openly used force beyond its borders for the first time since the end of the Cold War, invading Georgia.

In February 2008, America smoothly recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, a move Putin repeatedly attacked as violation of the territorial integrity of another sovereign nation. Before the year was out, he had recognized similar declarations by the Georgian separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

More recently, Putin has turned from the most ardent critic of U.S. airstrikes in Syria to launching his own bombing campaign, in support of President Bashar Assad. Russia has even mimicked the U.S. habit of showing cockpit footage of airstrikes on TV, to impress the home crowd.

These examples reveal a clear pattern. And given that regime change has for some time been the dirtiest phrase in the Kremlin vocabulary, Putin’s recent falling out with Turkey is worth careful monitoring.

Putin has ignored pressure from allies such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, signaling that he is unwilling to normalize relations with Turkey so long as Erdogan is in power. Indeed, Russia’s response to the Turkish shoot-down bears a close resemblance to the U.S. response to Russia’s interventions in Ukraine. First, it imposed economic sanctions. Then it attacked Erdogan’s inner circle, including in the media his son Bilal, accusing them of trading oil with Islamic State. And in the ultimate gesture of hostility, Russia invited Selahattin Demirtas, leader of Turkey’s Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, to Moscow.

As with U.S. sanctions policy toward Russia, Putin probably hasn’t set a goal of toppling Erdogan from power any time soon. For the foreseeable future, the Turkish strongman is as safely entrenched in office as is Putin. Like the U.S., though, Putin seems to have dug in for a long-term policy of sapping Turkey’s economy and undermining Erdogan politically.

What isn’t clear is whether the goal is to teach the United States and its allies to mend their ways, or to split them over whether to defend NATO member Turkey, or to join Russia in distancing themselves from its increasingly authoritarian Islamist government.

Full article: Russia looking for regime change in Turkey (The Japan Times)

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