Snub or strategy? Turkey toys with the idea of joining BRICS

Visits to Beijing and Moscow from President Erdoğan’s chief emissary suggest either that Turkey is bluffing, or that it may soon be the first NATO member to join a group dominated by Russia and China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan during a meeting in Moscow, Russia June 11, 2024.
Mikhail Metzel/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan during a meeting in Moscow, Russia June 11, 2024.

Snub or strategy? Turkey toys with the idea of joining BRICS

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is in Russia this week, holding bilateral meetings in Moscow and attending the BRICS+ session on the margins of the BRICS foreign ministers meeting in Nizhny Novgorod. The visit comes on the heels of Fidan’s visit to China last week, where he met his counterpart, Wang Yi, delivered speeches at panel events and gave interviews with the Chinese press. His visit certainly registered on the global diplomatic radar.

Turkey may be considering joining BRICS—an intergovernmental organisation comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It has been told it would be welcome. The choice of whether to do so is not an easy one, however. Turkey’s entry into an alliance with Russia and China would set it at odds with the United States and Western partners. Its flirtation in the past has not led to a BRICS marriage.

BRICs was originally a marketing term coined by bankers at Goldman Sachs to encourage investment in the four founding countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Today, Russia and China appear to favour the group’s expansion.

Trade imbalance

The volume of trade between Turkey and China is around $48bn—largely in favour of China— but Ankara wants better relations with Beijing. In part, this is to counter the trade imbalance, attract Chinese tourism and investment, and integrate into China’s giant Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including the Caspian Trans-Caspian East-West Central Corridor.

During his visit, Fidan expressed Ankara’s backing for the ‘One China Policy’ and emphasised that Turkey stands by China against terrorism, which could be read as a criticism of Western policies on Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet.

Fidan also brought up the plight of the Uyghurs—a persecuted Turkish-speaking Muslim minority community in China's Xinjiang region and part of the Turkic world. He visited two major historical and cultural cities of Urumqi and Kashgar in Xinjiang, yet his visit was coordinated and choreographed with the Chinese authorities, who benefited by showing the world that everything was in order in Xinjiang. For their part, Uyghur voices have criticised the tour as “stage-managed”.


In 2005, the European Union opened accession negotiations with Turkey, which Brussels saw as a bold step. A decade later, in 2016, the EU closed the route, citing concerns about human rights and the rule of law. Ever since, Turkey has been free to seek new alliances, and in Beijing last week, Fidan was reported to have referred to BRICS as a "good alternative" to the EU.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov picked up on his remarks, saying Russia welcomed Turkey's reported desire to join the club. If it did, Turkey would be the first NATO member to do so. Moscow may sense the chance to drill a hole in NATO's walls. For his part, Erdoğan expressed Turkey's interest in membership at the BRICS summit he attended as a special guest in 2018 but did not pursue his interest—at least not publicly.

Fidan's ferrying between Moscow and Beijing suggests that this may have changed. The timing is noteworthy, as Turkey seeks to boost its ailing economy by attracting foreign investment and funds. In the West, some NATO partners ask whether Turkey's embrace of the anti-Western Russia-China axis is Ankara swapping sides.

Complex relationship

Yet Turkey's relationship with Russia is neither rosy nor straightforward and has been under strain recently, in part because of weapons sales. In 2019, Ankara bought Moscow's advanced S-400 air defence system. Washington promptly cancelled its sale of cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighter jets to Ankara, fearing this would let the Russians learn about its showpiece planes.

Russia sought to sell Turkey its own jets, but in February 2024, hours after Turkey agreed not to veto Sweden's bid to join NATO, the US agreed to sell Turkey 40 F-16 fighter jets and update another 79 in a deal worth $23bn. That same month, the Pentagon announced a partnership with a Turkish defence company to produce ammunition (155mm shells) from a plant in Texas. Many assume these shells are destined for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Some now see Fidan's visit to Moscow as damage control. On the agenda will be Gaza, Ukraine, and Syria. Turkey's cross-border offensive against the YPG in Syria in 2019 irked several Western states that initiated arms embargoes in response. It remains to be seen whether Turkey seriously wants to join the BRICS or whether this is yet more clever manoeuvring by Ankara, reminding its Western partners that there are plenty more fish in the sea.

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