Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs
Assistant Head, US and the Americas Programme

Based on a workshop which played out a scenario of rising tensions between Turkey and Russia, this paper finds that the situation would have to escalate dramatically to threaten transatlantic unity.

A protester waves Turkey's national flag in front of the Russian consulate during a demonstration against Russia's Syria policy on 24 November 24 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images.A protester waves Turkey's national flag in front of the Russian consulate during a demonstration against Russia's Syria policy on 24 November 24 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • Chatham House brought together 22 participants over a two-day period in May 2016 to discuss US and European responses to a potential conflict between Turkey and Russia. This was the third of four scenario roundtables (the first two involved a conflict between China and Japan and a potential breakdown in the Iran nuclear deal, respectively).
  • The scenario was designed and the roundtable took place before a number of crucial subsequent developments, including the partial restoration of Turkish/Russian relations, the British vote to leave the European Union (EU), and the attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This paper should be read and understood in that context.
  • In our simulation, the United States and Europe worked closely together, with cooperation particularly in evidence between the US and Germany. While the US was slightly more willing than Europe to threaten sanctions against Russia, transatlantic unity was not seriously threatened by a Turkey/Russia conflict.
  • Western states were wary of bringing NATO into the picture for fear that this would be perceived as militarizing an already tense situation. The EU was also sidelined in favour of more ad hoc negotiating strategies.
  • Russia was effective in using international law to defend its position, even as it took steadily more aggressive action in Syria. Neither the West nor Turkey deployed an effective countermeasure to this tactic.