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Global Insights: Turkey’s Russia Policy Put to the Test by Ukraine Crisis

Richard Weitz

Over the past few years, Turkey’s “zero problem with neighbors” policy has become something of a joke. After some initial successes at resolving problems with surrounding states, Turkey is now the only major country without ambassadors in Egypt, Syria and Israel simultaneously. One major exception was arguably Turkey’s relations with Russia, which have remained solid despite differences over Syria, Iran and other issues. Now the Crimea crisis has confronted Turkey with the most serious challenge to its Russian policy since the Cold War.

Until losing the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, the Ottoman Empire held sovereignty over Crimea, which was then dominated by a population of Muslim, Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatars who looked to Istanbul for leadership. During World War II, Josef Stalin forcefully changed this ethnic balance by accusing the Tatars of collaborating with the German occupation and sending them into exile. It was not until the last days of the Soviet Union that the authorities allowed many Tatars to return. …

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