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.
Recently, Turkish-Russian ties have improved measurably. Russia is Turkey's number-one trading partner, and nearly four million Russians vacation in Turkey
annually. At the same time, Turkey's construction, retail, and manufacturing businesses are thriving in Russia. Turkish Airlines, the country's flag
carrier, offers daily flights from Istanbul to eight Russian cities.
Still, none of this has erased the Turks' subconscious Russophobia. In 2012, I asked a policymaker in Ankara whether Turkey would take unilateral military
action to depose the Assad regime in Damascus. "Not against the wishes of Moscow" my interlocutor said. Adding: "The Russians can make life miserable for us, they are good at this."
At least some of the Turkish fear of Russia appears grounded in reality. Turkey is dependent on Russia more than any other country for its energy needs.
Despite being a large economy, Turkey has neither significant natural gas and oil deposits, nor nuclear power stations of its own. Ankara is therefore
bound to Moscow, which has often used natural gas supplies as a means to punish countries, such as Ukraine, that cross its foreign policy goals.
There is also a security component: Russia helped set up the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group that led a terror campaign against Turkey for decades,
causing over 30,000 casualties. The PKK emerged under Russian tutelage in Lebanon's then-Syrian occupied Bekaa Valley during the 1980s, and it has enjoyed
intermittent Russian support even after the collapse of Communism.
Turkey recently entered peace talks with the PKK, and many in the group are likely to heed the advice of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and lay down their
weapons. Yet, a pervasive fear in Ankara is that some rogue elements and hardliners could emerge from the PKK, denouncing the talks and continuing to fight