Carl Sacklen

Into Russia's Orbit

It is widely agreed that on the 28th of June 1914 Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the beginnings of the First World War. It set of a chain of events that eventually escalated into a war that decimated much of Europe.

The assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey yesterday has made many nervous to say the least, but unlike the fateful events on the 28th of June 1914, yesterday’s events will only bring two nations closer together.

Russia and Turkey have been working on defrosting their relationship for some time and now they’re on a path to being allies. Erdogan’s visit to St Petersburg in August signalled to the world a desire to restore relations following Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet over Syria in November and both leaders set about scrapping the Russian sanctions on Turkey.

The attempted coup in Turkey over the summer confirmed for the West that it wasn’t a viable member of the EU and a weak NATO member. Following the coup, it was Putin who was first giving his support to Erdogan and his hard-line regime, not the West. This is a curious turn of events considering the two nations were previously on different sides in the beginnings of the Syrian Civil War; Turkey saw the rebellion as the beginnings of Assad’s eventual fall whilst Russia saw it as an opportunity to back Assad and expand its sphere of influence.

This policy was made possible by the West’s weakness in the region between 2013 and 2015. It was the attempted coup and the relative lack of Western support for Erdogan following it that brought Turkey and Russia onto the same wavelength.

That wavelength is one of clamping down dissent. Erdogan’s regime has systematically shut down unsympathetic newspapers and arrested opposition journalists. Both his armed forces and civic institutions have been trimmed, although it has become more of a purge.

The statement issued by Turkey’s government following yesterday’s assassination – branding it an act of terrorism and promising Russia a full investigation and punishment for the perpetrators – will not polarise the two nations. Rather, it’ll bring them closer together and give them yet another justification for cracking down on dissenters, terrorists, and oppositions to their respective regimes, whilst also drawing Turkey into Russia’s orbit.

This increased cosiness between Russia and Turkey should set alarm bells ringing for the West for whom it signals a diminishing foothold in the region at the expense of Russia’s growing power in the Middle East. The assassination increase tensions but will not, however, trigger a world war.