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By Aaron Stein
The ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) pursuit of a more muscular and independent foreign policy has helped change the perception of Ankara in Moscow over the past ten years from being in step with NATO aims to a more independent foreign policy actor.
"There have been some remarkable milestones that affected Turkish-Russian relations and paved the way for further co-operation," Habibe Ozdal, a researcher at the International Strategic Research Organisation, specialising in Russia and Black Sea Studies, tells SETimes.
One of these significant milestones was the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow the United States to invade northern Iraq from Turkish territory in 2003.
After this decision, "Ankara started to be evaluated as an independent actor in the region. From this standpoint, Moscow began to evaluate Ankara as an important actor that can stand for its national interests, even against a longtime ally," according to Ozdal.
On the local level, growing bilateral trade and tourism has contributed to the thawing of relations. However, close relations with Moscow are still new, and the two sides are working to build trust at the upper echelons of government.
"It [Turkey] has been a member of NATO since 1952, that together with the EU integration process, has built up a certain level of trust [with the West] … between Turkish policy spheres, state agencies, security, military and business elites," European Geopolitical Forum founder Marat Terterov tells SETimes.
"They don't have the equivalent of that in the Turkish-Russian relationship. They are in the process of building it."
One potential point of contention is Russia's stringent opposition to the NATO decision to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system, which includes the forward based radar on Turkish territory.
"While [most] Russians generally accept the US and NATO concern about countries with missile capability, such as Iran, they do not see that capability emerging in the near future," Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-proliferation senior fellow Nikolai Sokov told SETimes.
"According to Russian assessments, Iran is still pretty far from long-range missile capability. Hence they suspect that the real reason for missile defence is not the reason that is publicly declared."
The recently concluded agreements for the launch of the newer Phased Adaptive approach with Turkey, Romania, Poland and Spain has been met with sharp criticism in Moscow.
"This is not about the radar itself -- it clearly does not have capability vis-a-vis Russia. It was rather seen as further evidence that NATO proceeded with implementing missile defence plans without co-ordinating with Moscow," Sokov said.
"People are making the argument that the missile defence would undermine the Russian strategic potential," Pavel Podvig, director and principal investigator of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, tells SETimes.
"There is no way the system can be a threat to anyone," according to Podvig, but "the military and defence agencies [in NATO member states] are using it as a pretext for new programmes and for more money."
- Provided by Southeast European Times
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