As a kid, I sometimes watched the Turkish television network TRT. Regularly TRT showed military parades with infantry, tanks and fighter jets leaving red and white traces through the sky in honour of the Turkish flag. This was an uncommon sight for me, I wasn’t used to see this because my country didn’t have a tradition like that. We scarcely witnessed such a display of military might except for images that were shown from the Soviet Union, showing similar parades. When I got older I learned that the showing off military power like that could tell you something about the ambitions of a country and the position it sees itself taking in the world, or that it is meant to warn off possible adversaries. During the years, it became clear to me that Turkey is waiting for a situation in which it can become the dominant power in the Middle East again, a position it lost after the First World War.
When the Arab Spring reached Syria, Turkey seemed to see it’s chance and didn’t really hesitate to show it’s support for the opposition. The Assad regime is an ally of Iran and together they are keeping Turkey in check from becoming the leading power in the region. But now, the tide seems to be changing in favour of the Turks. With Assad gone, and thus Syria as a counter weight in the balance, Iran stands alone. The power of Iran might still be bigger than that of Turkey, but without a reliable ally and sanctioned by various countries, Iran’s power is waning. Following it’s ambitions, Turkey will be acting swiftly to fill the regional power gap that is created once Assad falls. Turkey will be back on the map as the dominant power in the region, a renewed “Ottoman power” so to say.
Russia is anticipating on this. Two weeks ago, Russia asked the Ukraine to settle their customs dispute regarding the transportation of weapons to the Black Sea Fleet which Russia wants to rearm. Russia has a contract with the Ukraine for the use of naval facilities in the Crimea, a contract which has been extended to 2042 (with an option for five extra years) in 2010. An up-to-date Black Sea Fleet in Turkey’s back will certainly put some weight in the scale against Turkey’s power ambitions. With the fall of Assad and the following loss of an ally in the region, the resulting decrease of power of another ally, Iran, Russia has to act to make sure Turkey doesn’t get too powerful and a regional hegemon. Although the relations between Turkey and Russia have improved since the fall of the Soviet Union, the two countries have a long history of wars against each other. Also, Turkey is an important NATO-member and although the Cold War is officially over, Russia is still keen on not having too much NATO influence in it’s own backyard. So Turkey’s power ambitions must be met with counter balancing by Russia in order to fill the gap that a possible (and seemingly inevitable) fall of Assad will create. A rearmed Black Sea Fleet could provide for that rebalancing, something for Turkey to keep an eye on.