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User Name: abdulruff
Full Name: Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal
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Turkey-Russia Ties: a Strategic Game?


As his first ever trip to Russia since becoming Turkish President, Abdullah Gul paid a four-day visit to the Russian Federation from February 12 to 15 and met the Russian leaders discussing various diplomatic and economic matters.  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin emphasized after his talks with the visiting Turkish President that Turkey is “a priority in our Russian foreign policy” and Russia and Turkey are set to forge strategic ties as foreign policy priority.. On February 14, Abdullah Gul held talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and adopted a joint declaration after the talks to promote ties and enhance bilateral friendship and partnership. In the declaration, announcing their commitment to deepening mutual friendship and multi-dimensional cooperation, the two Presidents urged action to take effective measures to settle frozen conflicts that could destabilize the situation in the South Caucasus.




The Government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has shown increasing impatience with not only Washington policies in the Middle East, but also the refusal of the European Union to seriously consider Turkey’s bid to join the EU. In the situation, it’s natural that Turkey would seek some counterweight to what had been since the Cold War overwhelming US influence in Turkish politics. Russia’s Putin and Medvedev have no problem opening such a dialogue, much to Washington’s dismay. Russia praised Turkey’s diplomatic initiatives in the region.


Following Gül’s visit, Medvedev will go to Turkey to follow up the issues with concrete cooperation proposals. The Turkish-Russian cooperation is a further indication of how the once overwhelming US influence in Eurasia has been eroded by the events of recent US foreign policy in the region. Meanwhile, NATO, as before, is busy devising strategies to prevent strategic cooperation among the great powers of Eurasia and keep the region under influence of the USA-led western powers. Russia and Turkey are neighboring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. The visits will in turn give a new character to their relations.




As Russia’s natural geopolitical rival in the 19th Century Turkey was considered by the Kremlin as a threat and new post-Soviet Russia also felt uncomfortable because of Turkey’s quasi-alliance with Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia until recently led Moscow to view Turkey as a formidable rival. Emerging Turkey’s close relationship with Central Asian states created a jerk in Moscow. The regional military balance has developed in favor of Turkey in Black Sea and the Southern Caucasus. As Russia and Ukraine argued over the division of the Black Sea fleet and status of Sevastopol, the Black Sea became an area for NATO’S Partnership for Peace exercises.


Now today, Russia is a major energy exporter to Turkey, pumping natural gas across the Black Sea through the Blue Stream pipeline, the largest Russian-Turkish energy project. As a major geopolitical Great Game, Turkey and Russia are gradually moving closer to cooperate on economic, strategic and other issues. Moscow and Ankara agreed that energy was a strategic sphere in bilateral cooperation that had potential for growth. They also vowed to move quicker in settling issues related to bilateral defense cooperation. Setting aside uneasy political issues of the past, Turkey and Russia are exploring further rapprochement to improve sociopolitical and commercial ties, to enhance the prospects for regional energy development projects and to have a broad stabilizing effect, especially around their borders.


Even as the greatest game between the “cold war” adversaries USA and Russia make every possible effort to outsmart one another globally and regionally, Russia, for quite some time now, has been wooing its neighbors for beneficial ties. As former empire lords, Russians and Turks have lived side by side for centuries both collaborating and confronting with one another. Following his stay in Moscow, Gul traveled to Kazan, the capital of Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Tatarstan, mainly consists of Muslim Tatar Turks, and discussed joint investments.



Taking advantage of the cool relations between Washington and longtime NATO ally, Turkey, Moscow invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to a four day state visit to discuss a wide array of economic and political cooperation issues. Both Russia and Turkey, apart from USA, try to influence the Central Asian states and pull them toward themselves. Geographical proximity and an ethno-cultural background provide a resource for both countries to forge closer ties with the Central Asian republics. In the 1990’s in sharp contrast to the tranquility of the Cold War era, talk of regional rivalries, revived ‘Great Games’ in Eurasia, confrontations in the Caucasus and Central Asia were common. Russia does not want too many enemies around its borders and cultivates economic and security ties with Turkey too to restrict any geopolitical rival as in the 19th Century.






Both Turkey and Russia share substantial ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with Central Asia. The populations of Central Asian countries are mostly Sunni Muslims, like those of Turkey. Russian and Central Asian gas and oil need to be exported via Turkey to other countries. From ordinary citizens to regional experts and political authorities, all want dialogue and cooperation between the two countries in order to improve prosperity, peace and stability in the region. Medvedev commended Turkey’s actions during the Russian-Georgian war last summer and Turkey’s subsequent proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). The Russian President said the Georgia crisis had shown their ability to deal with such problems on their own without the involvement of outside powers, meaning Washington. Turkey had proposed the CSCP, bypassing Washington and not seeking transatlantic consensus on Russia. Since then, Turkey has indicated its intent to follow a more independent foreign policy.




 Cooperation in energy



As of now, Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade volume reaching $32 billion in 2008, making Russia Turkey’s number one partner. Given this background, bilateral economic ties were a major item on Gul’s agenda and both leaders expressed their satisfaction with the growing commerce between their countries.



Besides the oil and gas industry, Turkish companies benefit from major investments in Russia and Central Asian countries, such as the construction of airports and pipelines and operating hotels and supermarkets. Russia’s economy is now reeling from the sharp fall in oil prices, and its stock market is down 75 percent since last summer as the world economy collapses into recession.



Cooperation in energy is the major area. Turkey’s gas and oil imports from Russia account for most of the trade volume. Russian press reports indicate that the two sides are interested in improving cooperation in energy transportation lines carrying Russian gas to European markets through Turkey, the project known as Blue Stream-2. Previously Ankara had been cool to the proposal. The recent completion of the Russian Blue Stream gas pipeline under Black Sea increased Turkey’s dependence on Russian natural gas from 66 percent up to 80 percent. Furthermore, Russia is beginning to see Turkey as a transit country for its energy resources rather than simply an export market, the significance of Blue Stream 2.



Russia is also eager to play a major part in Turkey’s attempts to diversify its energy sources. A Russian-led consortium won the tender for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear plant recently, but as the price offered for electricity was above world prices, the future of the project, awaiting parliamentary approval, remains unclear. Prior to Gul’s Moscow trip, the Russian consortium submitted a revised offer, reducing the price by 30 percent. If this revision is found legal under the tender rules, the positive mood during Gul’s trip may indicate the Turkish government is ready to give the go-ahead for the project.




Russia’s market also plays a major role for Turkish overseas investments and exports. Russia is one of the main customers for Turkish construction firms and a major destination for Turkish exports. Similarly, millions of Russian tourists bring significant revenues to Turkey every year. Importantly, Turkey and Russia may start to use the Turkish lira and the Russian ruble in foreign trade, which could increase Turkish exports to Russia, as well as weakening dependence on dollar mediation.



Russia strives for membership of WTO. In addition to opening to Turkey, a vital transit route for natural gas to Western Europe, Russia is also working to firm an economic space with Belarus and other former Soviet republics to firm its alliances. Moscow delivered a major blow to the US military encirclement strategy in Central Asia when it succeeded earlier this month in convincing Kyrgyzstan, with the help of major financial aid, to cancel US military airbase rights at Manas, a major blow to US escalation plans in Afghanistan. In short, Moscow is demonstrating it is far from out of the new Great Game for influence over Eurasia.




The Russian aim is to use its economic resources to counter the growing NATO encirclement, made severe by the Washington decision to place missile and radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic aimed at Moscow. To date the Obama Administration has indicated it will continue the Bush ‘missile defense’ policy. Washington also just agreed to place US Patriot missiles in Poland, clearly not aimed at Germany, but at Russia.



Post-Script: Warmer relations




As the post-Cold War tensions got reduced a relatively peaceful atmosphere came into existence with countries with different politico-economic philosophies forging beneficial ties across the globe and the scene of Russo-Turkey relations is a case in point.  Russo-Turkey relations are marked by non-confrontations and devoid of mutual mistrust. Ever since Russia became independent from USSR in 1992, the Russian leaders began charting a foreign policy with fewer conflicts across the world and that seems to have worked positive for Moscow. The CIS, floated by Russia following the fallof USSR, seen in Moscow as its traditional sphere of influence, became one of the foreign policy priorities under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states.



The main message of Gul’s visit to Moscow in Feb 09 was for greater energy coordination and the development of stronger political ties between the two neighbors. Presidents Medvedev and Gul, as well as Putin, repeated the position that, as the two major powers in the area, cooperation between Russia and Turkey was essential to regional peace and stability. That marked a dramatic change from the early 1990’s after the collapse of the USSR when Washington encouraged Ankara to move into historically Ottoman regions of the former Soviet Union to counter Russia’s influence. The declaration signed mirrors a previous ‘Joint Declaration on the Intensification of Friendship and Multidimensional Partnership,’ signed during a 2004 visit by then-President Putin.



Turkey, a rarest nation to openly slam, face to face, the Israeli holocaust in Palestine when the entire Arab world was just watching the genocides show on screen . Following Gul’s visit, some press in Turkey described Turkish-Russian relations as a ‘strategic partnership,’ a label traditionally used for Turkish-American relations. Russia elevated Gul’s trip from the previously announced status of an ‘official visit’ to a ‘state visit,’ the highest level of state protocol, indicating the value Moscow now attaches to Turkey. There seems to be shift in approaches. In previous years, Moscow was convinced that Turkey was trying to establish Pan-Turanism in the Caucasus and Central Asia and inside the Russian Federation, a huge concern in Moscow . Today clearly Turkish relations with Turk entities inside the Russian Federation are not considered suspicious as it was once, confirming a new mood of mutual trust.





The short-term fluctuations in Russian-Turkish relations arise from issues such as commercial land transit, customs regulations and the use of the passageway of the Turkish Straits. Despite the problems of the ruble and the weak oil price in recent months for the Russian economy, the Russian Government is pursuing a very active foreign policy strategy. Its elements focus on countering the continuing NATO encirclement policy of Washington, with often clever diplomatic initiatives on its Eurasian periphery.




The rapprochement between Turkey and Russia is to consolidate a long period of peace and stability and to address their current economic problems. This would, politically, improve the situation in the conflict-ridden zones in the Caucasus. It may, in the long run, further contribute to normalizing diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia, Georgia and Russia, and especially to a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moscow also wishes to increase its investments in the countries whose economies could be reinforced by expanded trade with Turkey.



Turkey functions as a bridge between continents and cultures, not as a barrier to the common good. The Turkish president's visit should be interpreted as expanding relations in the political, economic and cultural fields rather than as a minor political gesture or a shift in Turkish foreign policy. This rapprochement does not threaten Turkey’s ties with the USA, Europe, and other countries in the region or Turkey’s NATO membership. With the backing of the USA, Ankara also expects Moscow’s influence as part of EU-Russia Permanent Partnership over its EU bid, although Russia is still struggling to obtain equal status with EU. The European Union is Russia’s largest trading partner and the largest consumer of Russian energy, while Russia is the largest energy supplier to the EU. As it stand now, the Russo-Turkish relations are bound to flourish further.



Yours Sincerely,


Columnist & Independent Researcher in World Affairs, The only Indian to have gone through entire India

South Asia.

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