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Turkey and Russia in Syrian war: Hostile friendship


[ 1 ] Turkish National Defense University, Konaklar, Org. İzzettin Aksalur Cd., 34334 Beşiktaş/İstanbul/Turkey | [ 2 ] Bilkent University, Üniversiteler, 06800 Çankaya/Ankara, Turkey

Year of publication


Published in

Security and Defence Quarterly

Journal year: 2021 | Journal volume: vol. 35 | Journal number: no. 3

Article type

scientific article

Publication language


  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Syrian War
  • Compartmentalisation

EN This study considers Russian-Turkish relations within the context of the Syrian war. We elaborate on both Russia’s and Turkey’s strategies and their understanding of the Syrian War, and consider how the two countries have managed to stay on the same page despite conflictual strategies and geopolitical interests in Syria. The current literature does not address this question and does not thoroughly compare their actions and engagements in the field. This article aims to clarify Turkey-Russia relations in the Syria and provides evidence of how they are in conflict and cooperate at the same time. In this regard, it is argued that the available evidence indicates that Turkey-Russia relations in Syria operate on the “compartmentalisation” strategy. In order to test this argument, the qualitative research method based on secondary resources is used while the theoretical framework previously formulated by Onis and Yilmaz (2015) is adopted. They conceptualise Turkey-Russia relations as if they do “compartmentalise economic issues and geopolitical rivalries in order to avoid the negative spillover of certain disagreements into areas of bilateral cooperation.” Furthermore, they claim that compartmentalisation can be hindered if there are deepening security concerns in an area like Syria. However, this article underscores that compartmentalisation does not only work by separating the economic issue from geopolitical rivalries; it also makes Turkey and Russia able to cooperate and conflict in a specific and fundamentally conflictual geopolitical issue such as Syria. The convergences and divergences that occurred in the Syrian field are conceptualised under the strategy of compartmentalisation. In this context, the cooperation – the signed agreements and established mechanisms, conflicts, and clashes in the field, are acknowledged as the consequences of the compartmentalisation strategy in Syria. The compartmentalisation strategy is specifically used in Syria in order to avoid the negative impacts of direct clashes in bilateral cooperation and agreements. It can therefore be concluded that the deepening divergence in security related issue does not necessarily prevent compartmentalisation; on the contrary, compartmentalisation paves the way for stabilisation of such deepening divergence.

Date of online publication


Pages (from - to)

77 - 92



License type

CC BY (attribution alone)

Open Access Mode

open journal

Release date


Ministry points / journal


Ministry points / journal in years 2017-2021