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Putin and Erdogan: Architects of Revisionism

Putin revisionism
Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit: Kremlin/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0

President Vladimir Putin is now showing the world signs of Russian revisionism by violating international law and disregarding international treaties. In Putin’s logic, justifying his invasion of a neighboring country, if Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union, why shouldn’t it be part of Russia now?

Some of the excuses the Russian leader used were that Ukraine is governed by a strawman and it harbors many “neo-Nazis” who are a threat to the lives of Russians living in the country. Nevermind that its President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Prime Minister, Denis Schmyhal, are both Jewish.

Last year, the Russian President stated that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” while in the past, he had called the 1991 Ukrainian referendum for independence “a mistake.”

Putin’s rhetoric and justification of the invasion to another country reminds Greeks of the openly revisionist stance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin and Erdogan follow similar paths

Ankara claims that Greek islands close to its shores should belong to Turkey or that the Turks of the 1923 population exchange living in Western Thrace are Turkish citizens; therefore Thrace also belongs to Turkey.

The close ties and exchanges between Putin and Erdogan make the two leaders appear to be architects of revisionism in sensitive geopolitical terrain including Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Putin’s double talk—promising the West that he will not attack Ukraine and yet invading the country two days later—shows complete and utter disrespect for Western powers and the EU.

At the same time, Russia threatens Sweden and Finland that if they dare join NATO, they will have to face the consequences. The Russian hegemon seems to view Europe as a soft military power that does not pose a threat to his might.

Similarly, the Turkish President exhibits his own revisionism by speaking of his vision to revive the Ottoman Empire of old while at the same time negotiating with Europe for Turkey’s accession to the EU.

On his part, as regards the military, Erdogan tries to keep one foot in NATO and the other in Russia. He buys the S-400 missile system from Russia, and at the same time, pledges allegiance to the Alliance.

For Putin, it is Ukraine. For Erdogan, its is Greece and Cyprus, two countries that he and his staff openly bully and threaten while repeatedly violating their territorial rights.

Greek and Cypriot analysts see that Erdogan is likely to follow Putin’s Ukraine strategy in Greece and Cyprus. Not now that the Turkish economy is at an alarming low, perhaps, but later on in the future, depending on the outcome and repercussions of Russia’s aggression.

Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus

Analysts believe that the occupied part of Cyprus is the easiest target for satisfying Erdogan’s taste for an empire of his own.

A large Turkish military presence in north Cyprus and the establishment of a pseudo-state is something that, of course, has been ongoing since the 1974 invasion.

There are also always the repeated violations of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and claims that the island’s natural resources belong to the Turkish Cypriots, as well.

As for Greece itself, it appears to be much less likely to become ground for Ankara’s revisionism than Cyprus.

The two neighbors are NATO allies while, at the same time, Greece’s military strength and preparedness do not pass unnoticed by Turkey’s general staff.

Turkey’s pretexts that Greece refuses to demilitarize its islands and the alleged “oppression” of Muslim minorities in Thrace are weak excuses for a possible attack against the country.

There are opposing views—albeit only few—to this argument, saying that Erdogan is unpredictable and may make a final move to attack Greece in hopes that the rest of the world continues to focus on Ukraine at the moment.

Such a move, however, would be the final blow to the staggering Turkish economy. Considering  sanctions  imposed by the international community on such an aggressive act, it would be the last nail in the coffin for Turkey’s economy.

For Erdogan, it is difficult to keep his balance between Moscow and Brussels, between NATO and Putin. Each choice would cost him. Additionally, after the invasion of Ukraine, Erdogan’s tango between Moscow and Washington is becoming even more dangerous.

Revisionism: A threat to international peace

International treaties and agreements, which reflected the positions of the powerful—and secured the safety of the less powerful—are shaken, if not annulled, today.

Ukraine is the blackboard on which Putin attempts to rewrite history based on nationalistic mythology and on a delusion of grandeur of a past Russian Empire.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the world, he chose to rewrite it in blood.

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