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Bilateral relations within the geopolitical triangle EU-RU-TU: State of Play, Preconditions and Consistency



The European Union, Russia and Turkey (EU-RU-TU) share common geopolitical interests within the Black Sea region. Тheir bilateral relations significantly change from conflict to cooperation and vice versa. This analysis explores the reasons for such current changes in the dependence between their internal needs and external attractiveness for partnership. It figures out what each actor aims to achieve in their relations with the other two, why, and what defines their capacity to implement it. 

The reason for selecting the European Union as one actor, despite that it comprises of countries with different interests, is because they create the EU’s external policy together. Russia and Turkey are its two most powerful south-eastern near neighbours, both with imperial past. Explaining the consistency of their current actions, this article aims to figure out how trustworthy the behavior of each actor is towards the other two. On this basis, it discusses what is most likely to be expected next.

For this purpose, I explore how three major factors affect the balance of bilateral relations within the geopolitical triangle EU-RU-TU. Through the neorealist perspective, these factors are the most significant for the pragmatic choices of a geopolitical power. The first basic factor is security, both internal and external, which is needed for the existence of an actor. The second one is economic welfare, which is needed for its material development. The third one is political stability, which is needed for fluent, consistent and successful international communication. Whether, how and why the bilateral relations of each pair affect the balance in the geopolitical triangle EU-RU-TU is still unknown. For this reason, I question whether the internal change of their individual interests in the three listed factors leads or not to deviation in their external attitude. For objectivity of the results, I assess the pairs of bilateral relations from the perspective of each player.

My initial assumption is that the three regional powers compete for exposing influence among the smaller states in their shared neighbourhood, the Black Sea region. At the same time, they need to cooperate in order to preserve their security from common external threats. Their shared economic interests provide field for cooperation, while their different internal order of political stability burdens the cooperation.

The overall aim of the next three chapters is to assess to what extend changes in the selected factors affect the mutual dependence between the three actors. First, a scholarly overview of the current state of play identifies the key lines for bilateral cooperation. Second, the internal needs and attractiveness are outlined as preconditions for consistency in each actor’s behavior. Finally, the short-term and long-term perspectives of the EU-RU-TU bilateral relations, in respect to their geopolitical trustworthiness are explained.

CHAPTER I. State of Play

This chapter identifies the key bilateral cooperation areas in the EU-RU-TU relations. The opportunities and challenges for each actor direct their individual external policies towards each other. The discussion over the cooperation factors importance for each actor searches for explanation of the most likely paths of behavior among them, based on criticism or mutual understanding, which would define the level of trustworthiness between the EU and each partner.

  • The EU-RU

The EU perspective: On the geopolitical scene, the EU sees Russia as a strategic partner for global security challenges, such as human traffic, “money laundering and terrorist financing, and cybercrime” (EEAS,2017). However, the conflict in Crimea led to a negative line of the EU policy towards Russia, resulting in restrictive measures and non-recognition (Council of the EU, 2018). The EU needs to apply stable political decisions, but also to provide security guarantees from external threats. The contradiction between seeing Russia as a security partner and applying measures in respect to the international law leads the EU to uncertain line of behavior towards Russia. The management of the EU-RU dispute is a major challenge (Secrieru, 2018). The EU aims to defend the international democratic standards, which requires influencing Russia’s decision-making process. At the same time, namely Russia’s pragmatic actions provide respect and stability when facing international security threats. Therefore, the question would be which stands as a higher priority for the EU at the moment – following the international democratic principles, or providing external security partner in times of raising international threats. The latter would undermine the democratic principles, so it is in the interest of the EU to require from Russia respect to the international law.

The RU perspective: The Russian Federation also addresses contradicting views on the areas of bilateral cooperation. It sees the EU as a trade partner, with whom the relations to be “based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit and respect for each other’s interests, including the settlement of conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan, in the Balkans” (PermRep RU, 2018). Russia has both traditional vs. modernisation and intravert vs. extravert cycle, and at the moment Russia enters new modernisation extravert cycle of expansion (Bekesi, 2008). Although economy and security are preferred cooperation lines, a major challenge is the common interests in their near neighbourhood. Russia sees the crisis in Ukraine as provoked by unilateral EU enlargement decisions, lacking “mutual respect” and coordination (PermRep RU, 2018). Thus, from Russian perspective, the solution is a clear definition of the influence in their shared neighbourhood and harmonization of their external policies. Russia requires respect to the zones of influence, which keeps the post-Cold war concept alive.

Post-Cold War confrontation vs. regional cooperation: The question on how to solve the EU-Russia partnership puzzle regarding the situation in Ukraine remains a blocking issue. Kortunov (2017) compares two models of EU-Russia relations – geopolitical confrontation and horizontal cooperation. First, the confrontation model between international players is “expensive and outdated, (…) but providing sufficient stability and predictability, (…) mutual respect, (…) recognized hierarchy” (Kortunov, 2017). Second, the horizontal cooperation model among non-state players expands “common spaces (..) of (…) education, science, and culture”, leading to long-term prevention of “unconventional security risks such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime, energy security, and cybersecurity” (Kortunov, 2017). The first model guarantees stability through governmental respect, while the second model is based on cooperation through different levels of non-governmental stakeholders. Kortunov assesses positively the soft power cooperation on regional level as an instrument to achieve hard power coordination on higher level. However, the response from Russia to the EU approach to regional units is “finding allies in the EU, in order to gain influence on policies such as the lifting of sanctions” (Dyner, 2017). Russia perceives EU’s engagement with its civil society as “aggression” towards its domestic policy, for which reason Russia supports “populist parties across Europe, including Austria’s Freedom Party and Hungary’s Fidesz Party” as opposition to the liberal concepts within Europe (Taussig, 2018). Thus, the EU approach of stakeholder cooperation for building trust faces Russia’s negative assessment as involvement in domestic affairs, instead of successfully reaching solutions on higher level. Russia responds through approaching member-states to counter-influence. The final result is, instead of building mutual trust through soft-power, actually provoking mutual mistrust and prejudice.

In conclusion, the core problem is that the EU searches for horizontal cooperation on different levels, while Russia searches for hierarchical respect between the governments. The EU sees Russia as a necessary partner for security and energy cooperation, but a political aggressor to the international law. Russia sees the EU as economic and security partner, but lacking mutual respect in distributing their common regional interests. The EU approaches different sectors of Russia’s civil society, which Russia assesses as aggression towards its domestic policy, undermining its hierarchical structure. Russia approaches different member states on sectoral matters, undermining the democratic principles of the EU. As a result, the communication from the government of the one to smaller units of the other one and vice-versa, instead of direct communication between the governments, leads to mistrust and conflict. Therefore, the current EU-RU relations are based on mutual criticism. Their standards for efficient cooperation differ, for which reason they have difficulties to enhance their shared economic and security interests.

  • The EU-TU

The EU perspective: The combination of Eurosceptic authoritarian Turkey sharing common interests with the EU leads to a stalemate - neither accession, nor foreign policy redirection (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). The EU continuously cooperates with Turkey “on transportation, the economy, and foreign policy (…) while sector-based dialogues (…) are keeping the lines of communication open” (Pierini, 2018).  After the Turkey Summit, the EU supports “cooperation in energy, security, the fight against terrorism and migration management” for which it provides financial assistance (EEAS, 2018). Due to the Turkish central position for migratory flows, the EU aims control over the “illegal refugees” (Haid, 2016). The EU and Turkey both need security cooperation against the threat from “jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq”, who Turkey treats as migrants, raising caution in the EU (Pierini, 2018).  However, the dual attitude of Turkey, “critical of EU contributions” after receiving “3 plus 3-billion-euro” support for the Syrian refugees shows inconsistency towards the EU (Pierini, 2018). Despite the economic benefits for Turkey, its changing attitude decreases its level of trustworthiness as a partner for the EU. Another challenge for the cooperation is the ‘deterioration of the rule of law’, EU’s negative assessment on Turkey’s political progress (Pierini, 2018). Also, the unfulfilled ENP requirement for reform within the regional countries receiving Turkish loans (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Despite the challenges, Turkey is a needed partner for the EU in terms of security, but the accession of Turkey is not possible (Pierini, 2018). To sum up, the EU needs Turkey in terms of security, the economic cooperation is ongoing as well as sector-based dialogue, while the political cooperation is not improving.

The TU perspective: dual policy towards the EU and Russia. The explanation of the above paradoxes lies in the economic interests of Turkey, which define its dual approach. ‘Turkey operates within two fundamentals: its biggest economic anchor by far is the EU, with few viable alternatives; and its proven security anchor is the United States and NATO. Save in the energy sector, today there is little in Russia’s economic or military attractiveness that can compete with these realities, other than a purely political narrative” (Pierini, 2016). However, depending on the raising challenges for the security it turns towards Russia.

If Turkey benefits from keeping good relations with both Russia and the EU, it is not interested in directly challenging either of them (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Turkey cooperates with Russia in the presence of the EU. First, the Turkish energy dependence from Russia and the presence of Turkish business on Russian market deter Turkey from challenging Russia (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Despite its strategic aim to “diversify its energy sources”, Turkey increases “reliance on Russian energy” (Taussig, 2017), which is a positive signal for Russia, and a negative one for the West. Furthermore, Turkey undermines the EU’s diversification aims via participating “in the Russian-proposed alternative projects to the Southern Gas Corridor” (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Second, contrary to the EU interest, Turkey keeps open “trade relations with Russia, after the latter’s annexation of Crimea” which undermines the “EU’s sanctions” (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Third, in terms of geopolitical security, Turkey benefits from the partnership with Russia “as leverage vis-à-vis its European and NATO partners” while through Turkey, Russia “can drive into NATO and transatlantic solidarity” (Taussig, 2017). Paradoxically, “Turkey is (…) a member of the U.S.-led alliance against the Islamic State, but thirty months into Russia’s military intervention in Syria, Ankara acts in far closer coordination with Moscow than with its (…)Western allies” (Pierini, 2018). Therefore, the relations TU-RU develop favourably in the context of solid Western presence.

However, the post-imperial competition between Turkey and Russia is ongoing. The foreign policies of both Russia and Turkey are based on “internal decision making processes, (…) powerful individuals, (…) ability to affect regional and global stability” (Taussig, 2018). Their inherited imperial thinking makes both alike in trying to subordinate states on their regional territory, oriented towards achieving their own interest, but also protecting each other in the presence of additional opponents. The key for their cooperation is the shared negative attitude towards the West approaching their internal order, which brings them to unstable partnership (Taussig, 2018). The perplexing nature of their relations is currently expressed via “counterterrorism campaigns, (…) but directly conflicting interests over Syria’s trajectory and the future of political Islam in the region” (Taussig, 2017). The current challenge for TU-RU cooperation is due to different positions on the regional frozen conflicts and Syria, leading to higher involvement of Turkey with the EU, mainly towards trade and business (Demirtas-Bagdonas, 2018). Despite the RU-TU competition for influence, in times of Western approach towards their zone of shared interest, or during external security threats for both, they are very likely to cooperate.

To sum up, Turkey is interested in the development of its business and economy with either partner. In case of Western approach, Turkey cooperates with Russia. In case of worsening relations with Russia, Turkey turns to the West. This shows a very good projecting of Turkey’s own interests, which is, however, deprived from trust behavior towards both partners. Following this logic, depending on opportunities for revival of the past, looking at possible common Muslim-Arab value system, Turkey might unpredictably turn towards the South-East.

In this context, the EU needs structured foreign policy approach towards Russia and Turkey (Trenin, 2013). Such as “more clarity and sincerity” towards Turkey, and respect to Russia’s “prioritizing strategic independence” when building the EU partnership (Trenin, 2013). Despite projecting well its own interests, Turkey’s attitude changes irrespective of any expectations for commitment, proving it as untrustworthy partner. Nonetheless, the EU needs Turkey in terms of security and migration cooperation. The political bargaining is the key in the EU-TU relations, containing a mixture of needs and interests. Either Turkey would benefit from its shifting policy towards the EU while the EU expects (reasonable or not) political compliance from Turkey, or the EU would change its approach. Similar to the relations with Russia, where the question is between security and democratic standards, in the relations with Turkey the EU faces a dilemma between security and trustworthiness. Therefore, the major question is whether the EU and Russia are able to build trustworthy relations, or they would stay captured in the political will of Turkey’s pragmatic, business-oriented decisions.

CHAPTER II. Preconditions.

This chapter explores the internal factors resulting in external need for cooperation or attractiveness as a partner. It shows the preconditions for consistency of actor’s behaviour. Best match, non-matching pairs and negotiable alliances are identified.

The readiness for cooperation of an actor is analyzed on two extremes. The first one is attractiveness for foreign partners, based on a solid advantage on one of the three factors. The second one is need, based on a solid disadvantage on one of the factors. A combination of factors is possible, and the best formula for cooperation at a given time is searched for, exploring the current moment and outlining the tendencies in short-term and long-term. A best match for cooperation is considered between an actor with the strongest advantage and an actor with the strongest disadvantage on a chosen factor, or two actors with middle values on a factor. Both provide a balanced, trustworthy cooperation. A non-matching cooperation is considered between two actors with the same extreme values on a given factor. A negotiable alliance is considered between two partners, when plenty of external factors predefine the cooperation.





Political stability

attracts external partially

needs internal

criticized; attracts in times of crises

Economic prosperity

attracts external fully

attracts external fully

needs external


needs external

needs internal, attracts external

attracts external

Table 1. Shows the attitude of an actor for cooperation, based on need or attractiveness on each of the three factors.

This table clearly shows that universally attractive are the EU in terms of economic prosperity, Turkey in terms of economic prosperity and Russia in terms of security. Ambivalent are Turkey in terms of security and Russia in terms of political stability, which means that they are both partially attractive, partially in need or criticized. The EU is partially attractive in its political stability, meaning that its values are accepted as good for some countries, while others do not aim to achieve them. Universally in need of cooperation are the EU in terms of security, Turkey in terms of political stability and Russia in terms of economy. Therefore, while exploring the bilateral relations among the three actors, namely the factors in need will be the trading coin for cooperation of an actor.

Further, it will be explained how the results in the table were drawn. Then the readiness for external cooperation of each of the three actors, based on these factors, will be discussed. Finally, the degree of matching of the pairs through the three factors will be outlined.

  • The EU – strengths and weaknesses in terms of political stability, economic prosperity and security.

Political stability (internal), resulting in external semi-attractiveness: The values of the EU include human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights, while its institutions are transparent and democratic (EU, 2018). Depending on the system to which they are applied, these values might have positive or negative effect. Positive would be the effect when applied to a system which is mature enough or ready to adopt the new changes. Negative effect would be achieved to a system which operates on completely different principles, therefore which is unable to adopt the described values. Too quick transformation to the unknown would lead to a complete clash. Therefore, attempts to teach other systems in operating in this regime should be done in small paces, adequate to the ability of the other system to accept them. Even though from the perspective of the EU these values might seem the most desired ones in terms of government and political stability, they could be introduced to other systems only with the speed they could be understood and applied in a way beneficial for the citizens of a country. It is not possible for the EU to unilaterally define these values as good for a country, disregarding any specific needs in its functioning. It is only possible to be applied when the country needs it internally, and its people would like to change their political regime. Otherwise it is a loss of resources and efforts by the EU to try transforming external governing system, if it is neither required, nor accepted at all.

The democratic values reaching their extreme liberty might lead partially to chaos, because unity of diversity is at times a challenge to achieve. For example, an internal EU crisis which illustrates the challenge of trust between the member states is Brexit, preceded by the referendums in Scotland and Catalonia, and the different reactions of the V4 countries towards the migration crisis. Therefore, the EU defines as stable its democratic and political values, exposing them to neighbouring countries. However, it is not always required or accepted by the external countries, so the EU needs to be convincing enough of how and why this change would be good for an international actor. For some countries this model might be attractive, but not obligatory for all.

Economic stability (internal), resulting in external attractiveness: The EU provides freedom of movement of people, services, goods, capital and labour, as well as single currency and lack of borders, which help for the economic stability and prosperity of the union (EU, 2018). The generally high economic prosperity of the EU makes it highly attractive for external states and citizens.

Security (internal), resulting in external needs: The statement by HR/VP Mogherini clearly shows that despite the willingness for internal unity and external cooperation, there is a very strong motive for the EU to seek stable partnerships, especially in its close neighbourhood. The EU needs strategic partners to tackle to common external security threats.

“Our Union is under threat. Our European project, which has brought unprecedented peace, prosperity and democracy, is being questioned. To the east, the European security order has been violated, while terrorism and violence plague North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe itself. (…) The EU will step up its contribution to Europe’s collective security, working closely with its partners, beginning with NATO.” (EEAS, EU Global Strategy, 2016).

In conclusion, the overall political and economic stability of the EU results in attractiveness for external partners. Despite being attractive in terms of economic prosperity, the EU is in need in terms of external security. What it might propose is democratisation to foreign partners. The perspective is for stability in the short term, while some uncertainty in the long term. “At a time when Europe is buffeted by multiple crises, including the tug-of-war with Russia and the fear of a renewed stream of refugees and asylum-seekers coming from Turkey, there are many across the EU who are willing to accept the offer and trade democratisation for ill-conceived ‘stability’” (Bechev, 2017). Its need for external security guarantees results in openness and search for cooperation with neighbour powers, due to shared risks such as terrorism, migration and cyber threats. However, Bechev calls for keeping the democratic principles strong.

  • Turkey - strengths and weaknesses in terms of political stability, economic prosperity and security.

Political instability (internal), resulting in external needs: Turkey characterizes with its young population, political regime in hesitation between democratization and authoritarianism, and geopolitical location between Europe and the Muslim/ Arab world. Its past legacy of the Ottoman Empire, spreading across the Balkans, reaching to Central Europe, should not be underestimated in examining the current political ambitions of the country.

In brief, the recent political situation of Turkey is very unstable, showing attempts for change of part of the population and huge willingness for total control by another part. For example, “after a violent military coup in July 2016 failed, a second critical phase started, marking a shift from majoritarianism to autocracy” (Pierini, 2018). This was only the act, while the process is much more inclusive. “In the past three and a half years, through a string of political decisions, two elections and a referendum, and repressive measures, Turkey has moved from a denial of liberal democracy to autocracy” (Pierini, 2018). Inevitably, the direction of choice of regime is outlined as the one of control. Every change happens for a reason, due to the need to solve internal problems. The challenge is that despite democratization in line with the Western expectations, Turkey turns back to values from the past. “The state has also sent highly symbolic signals (…) substituting the strictly secular societal codes that Kemal Atatürk introduced in 1923 with those of a religiously conservative society” (Pierini, 2018). Contemporary analysts outline that “Erdogan’s embrace of political Islam and his crackdown on civil society has elicited condemnation from democratic leaders in the United States and Europe” (Taussin, 2018). This political draw back questions the relation between political stability, economic prosperity and security at the current moment.

The lack of internal political stability results in crises, leading to raising needs for external support. In addition to the instability of the government and regime in this period, the country is vulnerable to security threats from within and from outside. Turkey needs internal political stability, and partnerships guaranteeing its security. Such political stability is searched through authoritarian regime of government. In times of political crises between democratic and autocratic values, Turkey remains unstable politically, in need for support. The question is whether its society is ready to accept political changes, and what kind of government is practically more efficient for the country at the moment - authoritarian or democratic.

Economic semi-prosperity (internal), resulting in external attractiveness: The results of economic growth are generally high for Turkey – it “achieved a 2.9 per cent real GDP growth in 2016. (…) Externally, potential mismanagement of the Syrian crisis, a sharp break in political relations with the EU (…) could all negatively impact the Turkish economy” (Toksoz, 2017). Even though the economy is growing, it is not isolated from instability of the region, the near crises, conflicts and relations with key partners. In addition to the external obstacles for economic prosperity, Turkey’s internal disorder is a challenge for it. “Since 2015, the Turkish economy has had to cope with two general elections in rapid succession, the 2016 attempted coup in July and its fraught aftermath, and multiple terrorist threats” (Toksoz, 2017). The combination of these factors makes Turkey unstable in the long term due to the unpredictable challenges its economy might face. However, Turkey is generally attractive as an economy partner, but its stability should not be undermined. Provisions are needed that its economy will continue growing. For external partners, attractive in terms of economy, but in need of stability.

Security ( internal and external), resulting in external attractiveness and needs: The security risks for Turkey are both internal and external. “Turkey has not been able to stop terrorist attacks on its soil. (…) Increased border security has not stopped ISIS (…), but has pushed fleeing Syrians to try riskier crossings” (Haid, 2016). The internal security lacks, partially because of the unstable region and partially because of the unstable situation of the country. For Russia and the EU, it is an attractive partner who could host the refugees and who at the same time is in need of cooperation facing the challenges of terrorism and migration.

In conclusion, Turkey in the short term is attractive economically, in political need, and both attractive as security partner at the border and in need of internal security by stronger guarantees from its external partners. In the long term, stability and security are needed for its economic growth. Therefore, Turkey is dependent on its external partners, needed for them, and attractive for them. It is in search for the best partnership according to the current situation, due to the plenty of security crises, resulting in its political and economic challenges. The perspective in short term is of rapid changes due to instability, which signals the necessity of deeper reshaping its policies in the long term.

  • Russia - strengths and weaknesses in terms of political stability, economic prosperity and security.

Political stability (internal), resulting in external semi-attractiveness: Russia characterizes with order and discipline on the one hand and possible oppression on the other hand. It considers itself a great power, in a bipolar world, which could be explained with the huge size of its territory and unity of its people. Despite being criticized or praised for its methods, an objective fact is that it provides internal stability in times of rapid changes and international security risks. Irrespective of whether it is assessed as a positive or negative actor, the fact is that Russia acts pragmatically. Russia is in geostrategic position for practical cooperation in economy and security with the EU and Turkey, as well as with countries sharing its political values from the post-Soviet legacy, and countries with similarities of their current regimes of government.

Russia is politically stable in terms of constant regime and leadership. This stability is often criticized externally. “In the absence of a real political contest, Russia’s 2018 presidential elections (…) are more or less a referendum on public confidence in Putin” (Kolesnikov, 2017). “Putin’s regime can be labelled a form of distilled or hybrid authoritarianism” (Kolesnikov, 2017). Once again, the question is why is such regime needed, and what does it provide to the country. If it continues to rule the same way, this means that the society accepts and supports such functioning. If the society needs a change, it would provoke minimum an internal crisis. Contrary to that, the authorities are evaluated as “strong and stable” while “the government as less corrupt and crime-ridden than before” (Kolesnikov, 2017). If the Russian society sees its regime as corresponding to its needs, then what is the right of external actors to interfere and require changes? According to the game theory, “no player can improve his outcome by changing his own strategy if the other players do not change their strategies” (Kolesnikov, 2017). Within this context, it is under question why and how reforms might add value. Possibly, “institutional reform makes no sense in isolation: if a country’s regulatory framework remains unchanged and if its leaders’ overall governing approach goes unaltered, then “the new institutional forms are likely to work less well than the ones they replace”” (Kolesnikov, 2017). All consequences should be considered before any action with major impact. “A system that makes no progress almost inevitably begins to rot (…), but this kind of erosion is likely to be a long-term process (…) while balancing (…) carry risks of a sudden and instantaneous collapse” (Kolesnikov, 2017). To avoid the collapse, sometimes the system avoids introducing changes. It stays the way its proven functioning was successful, irrespective to the change in time. This stability or consistency is a reason for being pointed by others who develop in line with the changes of time, moving further than post-cold war veiws. Reacting adequately to new trends is important, but keeping the own principles is a key to protecting one’s value system, with the risk of receiving criticism for dated approach.

Looking at the crises and conflicts in the near neighbourhood, strong internal order is needed to provide stable line of behavior, therefore security for the citizens and stable partnerships. Russia considers itself as attractive for partnerships due to its stability. In fact, it is attractive to actors with similar regimes. Contrary to that, the West considers Russia in need of democratization. Whether and to what extent it would be good for the country and its society depends on the internal development. For example, the positive effects of US democracy in its current government are questioned and doubted, so it cannot be accepted as an absolute truth that the view of either Russia or the West is optimal.

To sum up, Russia does not expose needs for political cooperation, but practical necessity of cooperation. Despite the criticism towards its internal arrangements, Russia is a stable partner with no major surprises in its political behavior. It makes it attractive for cooperation by other regional powers in times of shared threats, while it is criticized in times of regional prosperity.

Economic semi-prosperity (internal), resulting in external needs: In parallel with the political continuity, the continuity of the economic system is in the spotlight.  “The conflict that will dominate Putin’s fourth term is (…) between two economic schools: the industrialists, who believe the economy is made up of manufacturing machines, and the liberals, who are convinced that it consists of money” (Gaaze, 2018).  In both views, the economy of Russia needs growth, which is a reason why it needs to establish partnerships with practical value. The current situation is clear – mutual benefit is needed, as much as the current levels international communication allows it. “Due to the economic situation, Russia will continue to seek potential trade and investment partners” (Dyner, 2017). These could be in the current relations, or if obstacles appear, then in new partnerships. But in any case, economic partnerships are needed for Russia.

Security (internal), resulting in external attractiveness: Russia possesses the asset of projecting the image of a great power, a country with enormous territory, and a country of strong people’s sense of nationalism. “The new Foreign Policy Concept stresses the need to create an international coalition to fight terrorism” (Dyner, 2017), which is the common line for cooperation. However, “according to Russia’s military doctrine, NATO is still seen as the main potential adversary” (Dyner, 2017), which creates the dilemma between cooperation against terrorism and caution with the relations with NATO countries. In brief, Russia needs cooperation for international threats, while it continues exposing the image of a great power, opposing NATO. This ambivalent approach makes it searching for partnerships, but with caution towards involvement of NATO countries. At the same time, it is an attractive partner in terms of security in times of common threats.

In conclusion, Russia is widely criticized but stable politically, which results in both negative and positive reactions internationally, depending on the perspective and regime of the actor who defines it. It is judged by the West, but attractive for partnership with like-minded regimes. In terms of economic prosperity, it needs partnerships. In terms of security, it stands as a power ready to cooperate on international threats, but not allowing interference in its internal order, value system and zone of influence. These factors open grounds for economic cooperation and attract partners for security cooperation in times of shared threats, but keep caution to its political values. This short term perspective would be valid in the long term if the status-quo is prolonged.

 Russia is open for practical solutions - economic cooperation for mutual benefit, energy security, and cooperation against common threats such as terrorism. At the same time, Russia is not accepting interference in its internal order and political regime. It protects its image of a great power, which means that despite the security cooperation on issues of common international interest, it does not allow Western interference in its neighbourhood. Such argument continues the perspective of a bi-polar world, within which only NATO and Russia possess the greatest amounts of power.

  • Conclusions

The readiness for cooperation of each of the three actors is outlined on the basis of the needs and attractiveness in terms of the three factors – political stability, economic prosperity and security. An alliance is defined as a best match, non-matching or negotiable, according to their common features, mutually exclusive features and negotiable features.

In terms of political stability, relatively common are the regimes of Russia and Turkey. Despite presenting the image of a strong leader, “(…) an autocrat’s reluctance to transfer power through political institutions (…) indicates that he has something to fear in giving up power and influence. This hesitancy could weaken the very political systems they sit atop, and influence their countries’ international trajectories for the worse” (Taussig, 2018). Therefore, Russia-Turkey might cooperate well in times when different external regimes would threaten their authority, while competing in times of lack of external threats. For this reason, a best match is RU-TU in times of external threats to their political regimes. A non-matching alliance is between Russia and Turkey in times of external stability, for the pure reason that both autocratic regimes try to prove their possession of more powerful. A negotiable alliance is EU-RU and EU-TU, depending on their cooperation in other spheres, including economy and security, which would require tiny efforts for political balancing. In conclusion, the readiness for cooperation in political stability of all three partners highly depends on their current security, internal and external.

In terms of economic prosperity, a best match would be each of the three partnerships, EU-RU, EU-TU and RU-TU, working on their common interest to benefit. A non-matching is the alliance between each pair in times of political challenges, because it directly affects the economic cooperation. Depending on other political conditions, all three alliances are negotiable for common economic prosperity. In conclusion, the economic prosperity might lead to a best match in all three pairs, depending on their readiness to cooperate and political obstacles to negotiate.

In terms of security, the partnerships are vulnerable, depending on external threats and internal stability, so no best match could be identified. Considering the adherence of the EU and Turkey to NATO, a non-matching alliance is between the EU-RU and RU-TU. However, the EU-RU and RU-TU alliances are negotiable in times of crises and common external threats, such as cyber security, terrorism, natural disasters and illnesses. Furthermore, EU-TU is also a negotiable alliance, depending on their common external threats, such as the recent migration crisis. In brief, the security alliances depend on the ongoing crises and conflicts in the external to the EU, Russia and Turkey environment. The common threats stimulate their security cooperation, but under plenty of subordinate conditions. It could be concluded that all three partnerships are mainly negotiable related to their security.

As Table.2. shows, based on these pre-selected conditions, the most definite result is that all could fit in all configurations in regard to their economic prosperity, and all could negotiate in terms of security. Neither could be a best match in security cooperation by default, due to different starting positions of the three actors. Questionable are all configurations in terms of political stability and the security relations between NATO allies and Russia.


Best match

Negotiable alliance




All, according to the common external security threats and in times of crises

EU-TU, migration

RU-EU, RU-TU - terrorism, cyber attacks


RU-TU, RU-EU -  due to NATO membership

Political stability

RU-TU, in times of common security threats

EU-RU, EU-TU - tiny political cooperation for security or economic interests

RU-TU, in times of regional stability and lack of security threats

Economic prosperity

All, aiming common benefit

All, depending on the political pre-conditions

All, as a result of political sanctions

Table 2. Shows the results from the analysis regarding best match, negotiable alliances and non-matching pairs.

The following dependencies in the partnerships, according to the internal situation of the actors, based on the three explored factors, could be identified.

First, the importance of the security situation, internal or external, is primary for the cooperation. In times of common security crises, the political cooperation in any of the pairs is desirable. This shows their balanced position of equals. In times of internal security crisis in one of the actors, a proposal for political cooperation and change of the existing regime appears from an external partner. This shows unbalanced position of subordination.

Second, the importance of political cooperation is secondary, subordinate to the security conditions. It results in close ties during common crises and threats, but in teaching-learning power dependence in times of internal crisis in one of the actors. It is widely criticized by each actor, due to non-matching views of best regime of government within an entity.

Third, the cooperation for economic prosperity is generally a best match, but it depends on the current political cooperation. In times of peaceful political cooperation, the mutual benefits lead to full economic cooperation. Therefore, times of common security crises would lead to full political cooperation and beneficial economic partnerships. However, in times of political disorder, the economic cooperation is under question, because it could be used as a tool to implement political goals. Therefore, in externally peaceful times, in which an internal security crisis in one of the actors is present, political imbalances appear, leading to reserved economic partnerships.

Definitely, the security crises, internal or external, result in political cooperation or imbalance, which predefines the economic cooperation. Even though each of the three partnerships could be a best match, aiming common economic prosperity, it is the least in the line of importance, following the security and political interests. The political cooperation is the link between the necessity for common security cooperation and the benefit from economic cooperation. Therefore, it is driven either by need to protect the common prosperity in times of challenges for the security, or by the aim to construct common prosperity in times of peace.

CHAPTER III. Consistency. The result from short term – long term trustworthiness

So far this paper explores how trustworthy an actor is in their bilateral relations within the geopolitical triangle EU-RU-TU. It is expressed by the relation between changes in three factors of individual importance resulting in possible changes in the external behavior of the three regional powers. It is assessed via the interdependence between their current internal situation, being success or crisis, and the current external situation, being threats or opportunities, resulting in changes or not of their external behaviour. On this basis, the external policy of an actor is defined as either consistent or inconsistent, showing its trustworthiness as a geostrategic partner. As consistent behavior I understand the model within which no matter how the factors of individual importance change, the actor follows established and repetitive patterns of external behavior. As inconsistent behavior, I understand the model within which an actor unpredictably changes their external behavior in response to changes of one of the selected internal factors.

The EU sees Russia as undemocratically consistent, therefore, based on the democratic nature of the EU, harmful partner. Negative assessment. The EU sees Turkey as semi-consistent, therefore based on the democratic nature of the EU, negotiable partner. Semi-positive assessment. Russia sees the EU as inconsistent, therefore, based on the consistent approach of RU, unreliable partner. Negative assessment. RU sees Turkey as inconsistent, risk-taking, and long-term historical rival. Therefore, based on the consistent approach of RU, it sees as necessary to keep the relations with TU, but with great caution due to the risk of post-imperial competition. Semi-negative assessment. Turkey sees the EU as economic source, therefore, based on the inconsistent policy of TU, good investment in its own interest. Positive assessment. Turkey sees RU as an over-consistent neighbor, leading to economic benefit but with contradicting security interests. Therefore, based on the inconsistent nature of TU, RU is a good partner for tourism but a military opponent for the same zone of influence. Semi-positive assessment.

The analysis has shown that currently the cooperation EU-RU is assessed negatively by both actors, which keeps it on hold. The cooperation EU-RU is assessed as semi-positive by the EU, while as positive by Turkey, which makes it constantly developing. The cooperation RU-TU is assessed as semi-positive by both, which leads to cooperation with caution.

 The perspectives in short term are to continue as it is, while the perspectives in long term are to change according to the choice of attitude or assessment method of the partnership for the three actors. Possible results in short term and long term from the continuation of status-quo: EU-Turkey keep close cooperation as long as both have common security interests. The EU keeps sanctions on Russia as long as the question on Crimea is unsolved. RU-TU stay hostile as long as both have interest over the same geographical territory, the wider Black Sea region. Both support their RU-TU partnership, as long as the EU is approaching closely over their territory of common interest. The following results are envisaged:

  • Turkey wins short-term and long-term in both the relations TU-RU and TU-EU. Its system of bargaining and benefit results in economic prosperity, relative political stability and relative security.
  • The EU wins short-term in its relations with both RU and TU. However, it loses long-term. Its system of uncertainty in the perception of RU allows harsh reactions, while with TU allows negligence towards the expectations of the EU. The result for the EU is relative political stability, relative security and economic stability in the long term.
  • Russia loses short-term in its relations with both. However, it wins long-term. Its system of clearly defined order leads to political stability and security, but relative economic prosperity.

In the selected scenario of status-quo continuation, the EU-TU continue warm relations, isolating Russia. Russia finds other partners, corresponding to its understanding of predictability and trustworthiness, and starts building the relations with them. RU-TU and RU-EU keep the relations to a minimum, corresponding to their common security and economic sustainability needs. This choice is not a successful trilateral cooperation. It leads to maximum benefits for only one of the engaged actors - Turkey. It does not provide sustainable exchange of political regimes and trust. It shows minimum communication among three relatively equal powers that compete over the same goods within a region.


Finally, whether an actor is trustworthy and, therefore, preferred partner for cooperation would depend on one main question – whether it implements unexpected changes in their discourse of behavior, or their actions are predictable and consistent. In the case of the EU, its member states decide how its external policy to be defined. Certain values are defined and consistently followed, which makes it a trustworthy actor.

In the case of Russia, even though often blamed for authoritarian rule, its discourse of political behavior does not show any unexpected moves or major changes. This fact, despite the international disapproval of its actions in accordance to the international law, makes it somehow a trustworthy actor. Because it states what it would do, then it does it – no surprises at all.

In the case of Turkey it is different. Turkey very well negotiates what is the best for its interest with its international partners. As a result, it achieves the best out of the situation, while unexpected changes in its political behavior might happen at any time. This makes Turkey definitely not a trustworthy actor, but a needed one for cooperation.

If accepted that the EU is the desired partner for both Russia and Turkey, and that Russia and Turkey are in constant competition, then what does a ‘fair play’ mean? The facts are that after the migratory crisis in 2016, the EU invested in Turkey 3 + 3 mln euro. After Russia annexed Crimea, which was criticized by the EU as against international law, sanctions followed. In this regard, what is the difference in the approach towards the EU of Russia and Turkey, which might be defining the actions of the EU?

On the one hand, Russia acts from the position of power, showing post-Cold war understanding of the world order. This might seem ungrounded to the external actors, measuring its currently evident military power, technological development and economic situation, all of which are material factors. However, they compose only part of the total power, while the other part consists of the people – their mindset, sense of national identity, loyalty and number. Whether the people support Russia as a result of misinformation, false promises, threats, fear, or purely positive perception and true belief, it is not that important. But the fact is that numerous people in Russia support its external political decisions. Material evaluation is important, but the most important asset for the success of a country is its people, for both domestic policy and in the international power competition. However, the current effect from the relations RU-EU is restrictive measures towards Russia. This means that its demonstrative power leads to unfavourable effect for the bilateral cooperation, because the judging principles for trustworthiness of both do not match. If the EU assesses Russia in its own framework for democratic standards and economic development, Russia would fail. If the EU assesses Russia according to its implementation of promises and stability of taken decisions, then Russia would be assessed as a trustworthy and preferable partner. However, the EU assesses the way that Russia acts, not the results it achieves.

On the other hand, Turkey acts in a softer way. Political bargaining is the term that might best describe its stance towards the EU. It promises democratic developments, while its government shows trends of deviation from its commitment towards the EU, according to its current interests. For example, it agreed to accept migrant refugees to provide security at the EU borders, being compensated with 3+3bln euro. However, after receiving the money, it changed its attitude towards the EU in a negative aspect. Its methods are different than the Russian ones – not strong defense of the expressed opinion, but applying all possible methods to achieve the desired goal, diversifying strategy, changing attitudes, disrespectful to the undertaken commitments. Currently Turkey has one of the biggest young populations near Europe. It is oriented towards economic benefit, with a view for influence over the Muslim world. The fact that Turkey accepts large numbers of Syrian refugees and other migrants would raise the question: What if Turkey decides to revive its post-imperial Ottoman rule? Migrants are dependent on Turkey, which means that using their unfavourable situation Turkey could have the power to shape the minds of these people. The flattering Turkish approach towards the EU needs lead to solid funding and human resources allocated in the country. The worrisome fact is that Turkey unpredictably changes its approach, respecting only its own interests, therefore the EU have to be very cautious on the matter of allocating people and money in a country with imperial past.

Which is the appropriate EU approach?

In this context, the EU has chosen a soft approach towards Turkey, while a restrictive one towards Russia. The primary interest of the EU is for secure borders and international democratic standards. However, in certain international developments, these two values might be incompatible. Unfortunately, the democratic standards can be only applied to societies which are able to implement them. For example, fighting terrorism democratically is not an option. Radical threat requires radical measures, and these could be implemented by strict, authoritarian rule. Therefore, with Russia the EU has to communicate in mutually understandable way. The terrorist threat shows that the world has not reached this state of development yet, where democracy would prove to be best for all. Democracy is applicable to societies which are able to understand it, who are able to search for constructive development, but not who are applying destructive methods. For them, appropriate hard power should be applied, so that they would respect the approach. In such a situation, it is better for the EU to search for ways of mutual understanding with Russia, if needed through a pragmatic approach. Maybe the channel of taking decisions government-to-government would prevent from any action of Russia towards dependent countries in the neighbourhood. At least, Russia proves to be a trustworthy partner, undertaking the commitments it has. This should not be undermined in the current times of international lack of security, crises and conflicts.

Furthermore, tolerating a non-trustworthy neighbour like Turkey is equal to humiliating the long-term regional stability. If Turkey proves to implement its commitments, it would not raise any caution. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Therefore, the EU has to revise its policy of investment in countries where it is not certain whether they respect their commitments or exactly the opposite. It is better to have clear criticism to political action, rather than false expectations for undertaking surreal commitments. The EU has to rely on facts and to build its long-term trust in partners depending on how respectful to their commitments their actions are. Neither focusing on the value systems of a country, nor on expectation to accept the EU value system should be a major priority. But it is highly important to consider the progress a partner makes according to their undertaken commitments which defines the trustworthiness in international partnership.

In the short term, the EU has to re-assess the pragmatic approach and trustworthiness of its partners, stating clear rules of allowed and not-allowed actions. It is highly recommended to build the cooperation on the understanding of how consistent a partner is in their external behavior. If their actions are trustworthy, the cooperation would lead to an agreed achievement of common results. If their actions are unpredictable, then soon or later the cooperation will be harmful for one of the sides. The bilateral relations within each pair could be enhanced by trustworthy actions, and harmed by hiding significant information of common interest.

Alternatively, for trust-building, investing in common areas of trilateral EU-RU-TU dialogue which would not harm the interests of any actor is crucial. These could be education, culture and youth, with the purpose of creating common ground for the cooperation of future leaders in the policy-making. This action provides the highest long term stability, but it is measurable only in broad time scopes.


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* This research is part of a PhD program in International Relations and Security Studies at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. It is implemented with the support of the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) Research Excellence Award, Spring 2018.