AMANDA – The anatomy of the tsar and the sultan

The anatomy of the tsar and the sultanVladimir Putinand#39s Ankara visit and announcement to shelve the South Stream gas project linking Russian gas to southeastern Europe was not the only Russia-related development that made the news last week. Shortly after returning home to Moscow, Putin gave his annual state-of-the-nation address and delivered yet another anti-West tirade.

After declaring that Crimea is a sacred land for Russia, he complained about economic sanctions against his country and accused the West of following a policy of containment. In Putinand#39s own words: andquotThe policy of containment was not invented yesterday.

It has been carried out against our country for many years, always, for decades, if not centuries. In short, whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use.

andrdquo The last sentence bears a striking resemblance to how Turks see the West. How many times have we heard the same refrain that no one in the West wants a strong Turkey?Letand#39s look at Putinand#39s Ankara visit and the state-of-the-nation address from the perspective of Turkish-Russian economic and political relations to better decipher this Turkish-Russian convergence.

I think one can summarize how the two countries manage to improve bilateral trade relations despite major foreign policy divergence in regards to Syria, Ukraine and Cyprus in one word: compartmentalization. The Russian tsar and the Turkish sultan, unlike their imperial predecessors, have learned to compartmentalize foreign policy differences in a pragmatic way.

Oil, gas, and capitalism were obviously the missing ingredients in the historic rivalry between the Russians and Ottomans. Now, the two countries manage to pragmatically focus on trade and energy issues despite serious foreign policy disagreements.

In this endeavor, the great convergence between Russian and Turkish political culture should be taken into consideration. Such convergence allows the tsar and the sultan to put their foreign policy differences behind them and focus on their common anti-West narrative.

What is this convergence about? In a nutshell, it is primarily about parallel revivals of imperial state traditions. In both countries, the imperial state religion, Russian Orthodoxy and Ottoman Islam respectively, is back in the political picture — as manifest in the personal and publicly acknowledged beliefs of Putin and Erdogan — after a long period of absence.

Russia is becoming more tsarist with all politics increasingly focused on the central figure of the president and strong links between the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church. Similarly Turkey is becoming more Islamic and Ottoman under the sultan-like ambitions of its strongman.

There are other cultural factors that create kindred spirits in the Turkish-Russian duo. Both countries share the same proclivity for patriarchalism The cult of the state and the illiberal nature of politics in both countries generated two leaders who masterfully mask their drive for power and prestige as the national will of the people.

Today this tsarist and Ottoman style of populism are in their most powerful forms because they are based on economic success and control over the means of information. In fact, the legitimacy of both patriarchal traditions is based on economic performance.

To be sure, there are some structural differences in economic models. In fact, I used to be much more optimistic about Turkeyand#39s path to capitalist development compared to Russiaand#39s statist economic model fueled only by oil and gas.

After all, Turkey is not a rentier state and its economic model is based on productivity and exports. Yet, Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has managed to transform its political economy into an unprecedented level of cronyism Under Turkeyand#39s clientelism and corruption, foreign investors are now questioning whether the rule of law and basic principles of market dynamics still prevail.

At the end of the day, the sultan and the tsar have much in common in the way they do business. Add to this picture their distrust of the West and you can understand why their differences in foreign policy become insignificant under the weight of their converging mental maps and cognitive traps.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman