Russia’s Recent Severe Warnings to Turkey: Background and Future of the Crisis

Russia’s Recent Severe Warnings to Turkey: Background and Future of the Crisis


Oğul Tuna, Researcher


The relations between Russia and Turkey have been affected by the severe accusations and warnings from Moscow since the last week. The ongoing relations in the form of military partnership in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, and competition in Libya were hit by the aggravation of the Ukrainian crisis in April 2021. Crimean issue and Turkey’s support for the Crimean Platform have became the agenda that determined the relations since the meeting of Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine with President Erdoğan in Istanbul on April 10. The statement of the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Tanju Bilgiç, in response to a question regarding the anniversary of the Crimean Tatar Exile on May 18th,[1] caused an unprecedented reaction in the Kremlin. Severe warnings of high-level figures, from Russian Foreign Affiars Spokesperson Maria Zakharova to the President Vladimir Putin, were followed by the threat of interfering in Cyprus issue and “the internal affairs of Turkey”. However, this was not the first time Turkey has been accused by the Russian public opinion for pursuing a “Pan-Turkist” foreign policy and “interfering in Russia’s internal affairs” over Crimea.


Reactions from the Kremlin

Together with the remembrance of the losses of the Crimean Tatars and Circassians during their exiles in 1944 and 1864, respectively, the statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry underlined once again that Crimea has been annexed “illegally”. In addition, the Spokesperson gave the message that Turkey will continue to be “with its kinsmen in their struggle to overcome their aggrievement, attain peace and prosperity, and protect their identities”. In fact, Turkey has been releasing statements stressing that it does not recognize this “illegal annexation” on the anniversary of the referendum on March 16, 2015, which led to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.[2] Ankara has also condemned the detention and arrest warrants against Crimean Tatars by Russian authorities in September 2020 and February 2021.[3] The Russian side, on the other hand, rather responded to the Turkish reactions with the statements by claiming that it was “possible to convince Turkey of Russia’s position on Crimea, but Ukraine was unlikely” [4], and “Turkey would understand the correctness of Russia’s view”. [5]

What distinguishes today’s reactions from the past ones, is that the Kremlin bureaucrats and diplomats reacted harshly at an unprecedented scale, and warned Ankara that they would accuse Turkey of interfering in Russian internal affairs, and would react on the basis of reciprocity. While Mrs Zakharova and Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, directly targeted Turkey, Mr Putin’s latest harsh stance against the West -and China- about Siberia’s resources and Russia’s independence could also be interpreted within this framework. On May 20, the President of Russia w that “they will knock out its teehts, those who try to bite off” Russia’s territory.[6] Mr Putin mainly directed his message to the Western criticism of Russia’s exclusive possession of Siberia’s natural resources, and to its giant southeastern neighbour, along with the opposition in the mainland. But the subsequent statements by Mrs Zakharova and Mr Lavrov, on May 21 and May 24, respectively, indicate that the warnings from the Russian President cannot be excluded from the context.

Russian Foreign Affairs Spokesperson responded in an unusual tone, when Mr Bilgiç’s answer to the Crimean Tatar and Circassian exiles was asked[7]:

“We regard such statements as politicized and confrontational […] The role of the Turkish state as a “defender” of the rights of ethnic minorities is also doubtful […] As Sergey Lavrov says, we are polite people. We believe that Turkey should resolve its own issues on its owns, proceeding from its obligations. But if this rhetoric continues, we will also have to pay attention to similar problems in Turkey. We would not like to do this, so I hope that the Turkish Foreign Ministry will hear us today.”

Despite the warnings and threats in the tone of her message, Mrs Zakharova stressed out the importance of the relations with Ankara, and emphasized that such problems should be avoided. An interview with Russian Foreign Minister on global issues was released three days after this statement, which Turkish officials left unanswered. During the interview, Mr Lavrov discussed  about the recent affair with Turkey.[8] Mr Lavrov answered a question, which interrogated Turkey’s “partnership” with Russia over its support for Crimea and Ukraine:

“We have serious differences with Ankara on a number of international topics. However, this does not prevent us from maintaining an intensive political dialogue with our Turkish partners, and developing mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields – from energy to tourism. Let us also not forget that Turkey, being a NATO country, despite serious pressure from Washington, […] has already implemented a major contract for the purchase of the modern S-400 Triumph air defense system… [On Ukrainian affairs] we strongly recommend our Turkish colleagues to carefully analyze the situation, and stop feeding Kiev’s militaristic sentiments. We are very clear about the idea that the encouragement of aggressive Ukrainian initiatives in Crimea is tantamount to an encroachment on the territorial integrity of Russia. We hope that Ankara’s line will be adjusted in line with our legitimate concerns.”

Mr Lavrov’s restrained response was replaced by a threatening line on May 24, during the meeting with his Greek counterpart in Sochi. This time, the Russian side made a statement equating Cyprus to Crimea, instead of mentioning the ethnic questions. The Russian Foreign Minister explained that Moscow supports a bizonal, bicommunal federation, whose security would be guaranteed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). [9]Previously, on January 29, 2021, in Athens, Alexander Grushko, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, also underlined the examination of Cyprus problem by the 5+2 format (two communities of the island and the permanent members of the UNSC).[10]


Turkey’s support for Ukraine and Pan-Turkist foreign policy accusations

The current reactions from Russia started to intensify with the highlighting of the illegality of the annexation of Crimea and the support for the Crimean Platform by President Erdoğan during the visit of President Zelensky.[11] Together with Turkey’s military assistance to Ukraine, the flight of Bayraktar TB2 UAVs over Donbas[12] provoked another unnamed crisis between Ankara and Moscow. The Kremlin announced on April 13 that it suspended regular and charter flights with Turkey pointing to the increase of coronavirus cases in the country. However, the Russian public opinion commented on this incident differently: “Sorry, we will not be able to go to Turkey, because Erdoğan does not recognize that Crimea belongs to Russia.”[13] Another important point was the call from Mr Zelensky to the Ukrainian citizens to go on a holiday to Turkey to support Turkish economy in the absence of Russian tourists.[14]

It is also important to note that Russia has joined to Armenian and Iranian high-level figures, who for many years qualify the implementation of Turkish foreign policy in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Central Asia, and the Middle East as “pan-Turkism” and “Turanism”.[15] The military-technical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the increasing military and economic cooperation between Turkey and Turkic states in Central Asia are now more frequently discussed among thre Russian public.[16] Another source of disturbance is the organisation called the “Turkic Council”. On May 21, Armenian disinformation channels announced that Mr Lavrov announced that Russia, who had a significiant Turkic-speaking population, would join to the Turkic Council. However, this misleading information was later deleted.[17]

In parallel with all these developments, Russia has increased its security measures against its Turkic communities, who allegedly had ties with Turkey. They were also declared to be members of nationalist-extremist organizations.” As an example, Bashkortostan, a Turkic-speaking region with the fewest Russian minority in the Federation, has been in the spotlight of the Western media. Moreover, it is an important region, where differents nationalist movements have developed since the brief period of Bashkir independance in 1990. There, operations were recently conducted against people alleged to be members of a separatist organization called “Bashkort”, which the Russian authorities also declared extremist. The symbols of the organization were banned.[18] The St. Petersburg bust of Zeki Velidi Togan, a Bashkir historian and politician, known by his academic work in Turkey, was also brought to Russian justice, claiming that Togan had links to “Nazism”, “Pan-Turkism”, and “fascism”. [19]

“Eventually, the relations between Russia and Turkey have been through one of the most dangerous turning points of the recent period. “Wait-and-see” policy of the Kremlin bureaucrats, who are aware of the asymmetrical relationship between two countries, depends on Turkey’s actions and discourse. It is possible that Moscow will attempt to act as pointed out by Russian diplomats, if Turkey’s actual stance continues. Although the warning of intervention in Turkey’s internal affairs, or in Nagorno-Karabakh and Cyprus issues is unusual, it is estimated that Moscow could take more steps against Turkish national interests if the red lines are crossed.



[1] QA-21, 18 May 2021, Statement of the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Tanju Bilgiç, in Response to a Question Regarding the Anniversaries of the Crimean Tatar and Circassian Exiles, The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey,

[2] See: The statement of the previous Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on March 17, 2014 after the referendum: ; Statement on the ban on the activities of the Crimean Tatar Council on April 27, 2016: ; “The fourth anniversary of illegitimate annexation” message on March 16, 2018: ; “The fifth anniversary of illegal annexation” message on March 16, 2019: ; “The sixth anniversary of illegal annexation” message on March 16, 2020:

[3] “No: 217, September 19, 2020, Concerning the Convictions Against Crimean Tatars”: ; “No: 62, February 18, 2021, About Yesterday’s Detention Practices in Crimea”:

[4] TASS, April 16, 2021,

[5] TASS, March 10, 2021,

[6] TASS, May 20, 2021,

[7] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, May 21, 2021,

[8] Vitalyy Tselyaev, “Sergey Lavrov: Sanktsiyami i ugrozami Rossiyu ne ispugraesh”, Argumenty i Fakty, May 24, 2021,

[9] “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic Nikos Dendias, Sochi, May 24, 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,

[10] TASS, January 30, 2021,

[11] “President Erdoğan met with President of Ukraine Zelenskyy”, Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, April 10, 2021,

[12] Clement Charpentreau, “Ukraine flies its first Turkish-made armed drone over Donbas”, Aerotime, April 14, 2021,

[13] Fariza Dudarova, “Izvinite, Erdogan ne priznal Krym”, Novaya Gazeta, April 15, 2021,

[14] Izvestia, April 16, 2021,

[15] After the Second Karabakh War, the opposition from Armenia focused more on these accusations: Sputnik Armenia, December 10, 2020, ; Iranians clung to this claim upon a poem that President Erdogan recited at the March of Victory in Baku, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif severely condemned Turkey.: “Why did Erdogan’s poem infuriate Iranians, Al Jazeera, December 13, 2020,

[16] Important headlines and notes: “Turkey is turning into some kind of Soviet Union”: Argumenty i Fakty, November 12, 2020, ; An analysis claiming that Turkey is coveting the Russian territories as a result of the use of a map prepared by George Friedman in 2009 for propaganda on Turkish social media and some news channels in Turkey.: Vzglyad, February 14, 2021, ; “Russia, the heir of the Golden Horde, against the Ottoman Empire”: Zavtra, September 30, 2020, ; “Pan-Turkism as the New Ottoman Project”: Nezavisimaya, May 23, 2021,

[17] For the archived version:, May 21, 2021, ; On the other hand, Mr Lavrov made a similar statement in 2016 and stressed the importance of relations with the Turkic world.: RIA Novosti, July 22, 2016,

[18] Radio Svoboda, May 22, 2020, ; Bashinform, January 13, 2021,

[19] Fontanka, January 19, 2021,