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Mon May 6, 2013, 01:19 PM

Turkey Fears Russia Too Much to Intervene in Syria

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited Ankara on April 17th, but the event went almost unnoticed. Despite deep differences between Ankara and Moscow over Syria, Turkey has refrained from rebuking Moscow. That's because Turkey fears no country more than it fears Russia.

Ankara has nearly a dozen neighbors if you include its maritime neighbors across the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Emboldened by its phenomenal economic growth in the past decade and rising political power, Turkey appears willing to square-off against any of them; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly chided the leaders of Syria, Iran, and Iraq. In fact, none of the country's neighbors can feel safe from Ankara's wrath -- with the exception of Russia, that is.

The Turks suffer from a deep-rooted, historic reluctance to confront the Russians. The humming Turkish economy is woefully dependent on Russian energy exports: More than half of Turkey's natural gas consumption comes from Russia. Consequently, Turkey is unlikely to confront Moscow even when Russia undermines Turkey's interests, such as in Syria where Russia is supporting the Assad regime, even as Ankara tries to depose it.

Historically, the Turks have always feared the Russians. Between 1568, when the Ottomans and Russians first clashed, to the end of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Turks and Russians fought 17 wars. In each encounter, Russia was the instigator and the victor. In these defeats, the Ottomans lost vast, and often solidly Turkish and Muslim, territories spanning from the Crimea to Circassia to the Russians. The Russians killed many inhabitants of these Ottoman lands and expelled the rest to Turkey. So many Turks descend from refugees from Russia that the adage in Turkey is: "If you scratch a Turk, you find a Circassian persecuted by Russians underneath."

Having suffered at the hands of the Russians for centuries, the Turks now have a deeply engrained fear of the Russians. This explains why Turkey dived for the safety of NATO and the United States when Stalin demanded territory from Turkey and a base on the Bosporus in 1945. Fear of the Russians made Turkey one of the most committed Cold-War allies to the United States.



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