While the Turkish-Russian rivalry goes back at least to the 18th century, and has flared up recently over tensions in Syria, there have been signs in recent years of a possible alliance between the two countries. As Recep Tayyip Erdogan leads his country in an increasingly anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Israel direction, a realignment with Vladimir Putin seems more and more likely. Aykan Erdemir and John Lechner explain how a recent scandal involving the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, a joint Russian-Turkish venture, sheds light on Moscow’s plan to use private enterprise to bring Ankara to its side:
[O]n July 8, the U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison stated that Russia is trying to “flip” Turkey through the sale of the S-400 air-defense system and energy deals. While these state-to-state deals are certainly significant, they tend to overshadow a quieter, but equally important, Russian campaign to “flip” Turkey’s influential business community, . . . in what appears to be a gradual building of hybrid-warfare capacity against a key NATO member.
The term hybrid warfare has become a catch-all for Russia’s exploitation of economic, political, financial, covert, and military resources to achieve desired foreign-policy outcomes in the former Soviet Union and the West. Moscow utilizes economic resources and Russian companies to exert influence on key power-brokers in the target country, often lobbying to maintain or increase the country’s dependence on Russian energy at the state level. In the Kremlin’s playbook, Russian firms co-opt local businesspeople and decision makers via lucrative business deals and high-profile board positions—all via non-transparent, frequently corrupt processes. . . .
Akkuyu is one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pet megaprojects and . . . a key confidence builder in Turco-Russian relations. The $20-billion project will be Turkey’s first nuclear reactor, expected to supply the country with 10 percent of its energy needs. [The] Russian nuclear-energy company Rosatom provided the financing for Akkuyu in exchange for 51-percent ownership. . . . Russia is already the largest supplier of natural gas and the third-largest supplier of oil to Turkey. . . .
[The Russian government has recently arranged to place on Akkuyu’s board] Erdogan’s confidant, former senior adviser, and all-around fixer Hasan Cuneyd Zapsu. [He offers] Moscow effective channels of access to Turkey’s autocratic ruler. More importantly, it is likely that, given the sums and contracts at stake, the involvement of Erdogan’s inner circle in energy projects with Russia might [aid] Russia’s hybrid-warfare strategy. . . . And against a backdrop of growing calls in Washington for potential sanctions on Turkey for the procurement of the Russian-built S-400 air-defense system, such leverage might be worth more than ever.