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How Durable are Relations Between Turkey and Russia?

The main risks for the future of relations between Turkey and Russia are related to the exerting of external pressure and provocations in order to prevent their further development.

Soviet Russia was the first country that recognized the new Republic of Turkey, even before its official proclamation in year 1923. In the forthcoming year, 2020, the two countries will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between them. Besides the fact that this is a significant anniversary in itself, it is also a good occasion to analyze what has been achieved over the century and to think about the prospects of development in bilateral relations.

The leader of the Bolshevik revolution and the founder of the Soviet Republic Vladimir Lenin and the leader of the War of Independence, the founder and the first president of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, by joint efforts, set a new vector of relations between the two countries, as the successors of the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the fact that the century of relations between the two new states was marked by many ups and downs, often accompanied by acute political crises, the main task set by the leaders at the very beginning was solved: peoples’ perception of each other ceased to be only hostile, as it was during several centuries. And, moreover, mutually beneficial cooperation resulted in concrete results and visible projects that laid the foundation for the future. The parties started to establish a new positive historical memory and laid its foundation, in particular, by cooperation at the most difficult stage after the proclamation of two young states. The memory about this still lives both in Russia and in Turkey.

Numerous Russian-Turkish wars of the past gradually faded into the background and remembered in the context of making predictions for the future less often. Rather, the societies of the two countries perceive the clashes of the past as two neighboring empires at a time when war was the main instrument for settling interstate disputes and disagreements. Moreover, and this is also essential, the Russian-Turkish wars have never been wars of annihilation, unlike the Second World War, which is still a non-healing wound for Russian society.

Fortunately, times have changed in the direction of resolution, even the most controversial issues through dialogue. Moreover, modern Russian-Turkish relations demonstrate a success story: the disputed political issues are localized by the parties and considered separately, mostly without affecting trade and economic relations.

Modern Russian-Turkish relations demonstrate a success story: disputed political issues are localized by the parties and considered separately, mostly without affecting trade and economic relations.

It is extremely important not to forget about the projects implemented by the parties in the 20th century and, in particular, about the Soviet industrial heritage that is preserved and continues to operate in Turkey, including textile, metallurgical, chemical, glass, energy facilities and enterprises. That is why the project on the inventory and documentation of this heritage, with making the results public, is one of the priorities for the Russian-Turkish Project Development Association (TUR RUS), headed by undersigned.

At the center of modern trade and economic relations between the parties are several foundation stones, including energy trade, mutual investments, tourism and humanitarian ties.

Separately, it is worth noting the projects that have become a symbol of bilateral relations, such as the first Turkish nuclear power plant “Akkuyu,” the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline and cooperation in the defense industry, which will start after the delivery of the Russian air defense systems S-400 to Turkey at the end of this year. The strategic importance of each of these projects lies in the fact that these are not just purchase and sale agreements, but triggers new opportunities and areas of long-term cooperation in technology areas with high added value.

Regarding humanitarian ties, it may be noted that the year 2019 was declared the Cross Year of Culture and Tourism by the presidents of the two countries. Those 6 million Russian tourists who visited Turkey in 2018 by themselves contribute to an intensive dialogue between the Russian and Turkish people.

The years 2015 – 2016 were marked by one of the most acute crises in the new history of Russian-Turkish relations – by the so-called “airplane crisis.” However, it is worth noting the main thing – despite the political crisis, the economic basis of bilateral relations, in particular, the supply of energy resources to Turkey by Russia continued to function properly.

Projects between Russia and Turkey are not just purchase and sale agreements, but trigger new opportunities and areas of long-term cooperation.

Restricting bilateral cooperation in other areas turned out to be so unprofitable for both parties, that it forced them to sit down at the negotiating table and promptly resolve the conflict, which many observers considered to be insoluble, at least in the short and medium terms. Let’s just realize that the crisis lasted only seven months.

First of all, this crisis became a vivid evidence that the economic and humanitarian ties between the two countries reached such a level of depth, that they were able to balance even the most acute political crises in the new history. Secondly, the parties received a sad, but, apparently, necessary experience of what the rash actions can lead to and what damage to their interests can be caused.

It would be wrong to assume that the economy balanced policy, but did not suffer losses. On the contrary, the seven crisis months, as well as the transit period for the full restoration of Russian-Turkish relations, were unacceptably expensive. One can count on the fact that this experience will be taken into account by the parties in the future, in order to prevent its repetition.

But this should be recognized, in the present conditions, already insufficient.

It should be recognized that modern trade and economic relations between Russia and Turkey need to open new pages of cooperation and to implement new projects. The goal that was declared by the presidents of the two countries on a fourfold increase of trade turnover – from 25 to 100 billion dollars – itself shows that the leadership of the two countries is aware that the existing potential is not just not fully utilized, but is also very far from its real capacity.

The contract on the construction of the first Turkish nuclear power plant “Akkuyu,” involving the transfer of peaceful nuclear technologies from Russia to Turkey, creates a wide range of opportunities for the establishment of joint ventures, whose products may be in demand in Russia and Turkey, and may be also supplied to third countries. It is worth recalling that the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Agreement does not define any borders on the transfer of Russian technologies to Turkey. It means, if to express this idea with a one sentence, Russia expressed its readiness to transfer to Turkey as much technology as Turkey is ready to get and utilize. This is a big importance of the “Akkuyu” project and the greatest opportunity for the parties to cooperate, which takes the deal far beyond the construction and operation of another power plant.

The gas pipeline, got the name “Turkish Stream,” which implements what the undersigned proposed ten years ago, when said, that Russia, as a producing country, and Turkey, as a transit country, are not competitors in the energy market. Turkey is interested in uninterrupted, in sufficient quantities and in direct supplies of Russian energy resources, without another transit countries. Russia, in its turn, is interested in Turkey, as in the second largest client (after Germany) – consumer of its natural gas, as well as in a reliable corridor for the delivery of its energy resources to Europe. Let’s repeat, Russia and Turkey are not competitors in this sense, they complement each other. The establishment of an important energy hub in Turkey does not contradict the interests of Russia. Moreover, the two countries should analyze the possibilities of cooperation in such an important energy region as the Eastern Mediterranean.

Among the promising areas of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the defense industry are rocket production, aircraft construction, shipbuilding (including submarines), unmanned aerial vehicles, etc.

And finally, it is worth to mention the contract for the supply of the Russian air defense systems S-400. Obviously, it is perceived in Russia as a pilot project, which is supposed to launch new supplies of the Russian defense industry’s products to Turkey. Moreover, the fact that there is a transfer of Russian technologies foreseen in the deal indicates that Russia is ready to establish joint ventures with Turkey in the defense industry, and, moreover, perform supplies to third countries. The Russian government has overcome an important psychological barrier that previously existed in relation to Turkey, as the country is a member of NATO. Among the promising areas of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the defense industry are rocket production, aircraft construction, shipbuilding (including submarines), unmanned aerial vehicles, etc. Separately, it is worth noting the opportunities for cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the space industry and researches.

It should be noted that these are the areas that were launched by just three projects of Russian-Turkish cooperation, where the Russian and Turkish sides abandoned clichés and showed their readiness for flexible thinking. What other areas may be equally breakthrough?

In this sense, let’s name just one specific area and one project where Russian-Turkish cooperation can make a breakthrough.

Firstly, such results may be brought by Russian-Turkish cooperation in the field of software development, in the field of Big Data and in cyber security. Naturally labelled “Russian hacker” is another black propaganda. However, at the same time, it is recognition of the indisputable fact that Russia is one of the world leaders, which owns its own search engine, its own anti-virus systems, its own social network, and its own developments in the field of ensuring cybersecurity of the country, both in terms of external, and internal threats. All these are globally competitive. Some of these products are widely known in Turkey, including Yandex search engine and Kaspersky antivirus.

The main risks for the future of relations between Turkey and Russia are related to the exerting external pressure and provocations in order to prevent their further development.

Secondly, it is worth to mention the Istanbul Channel. In Russia there is the opinion that there is no financial model for the project, which provides a return of investments. And, therefore, the probability of its construction is not too high in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the problem of the growing traffic through Bosporus may negatively affect Russia. Russia is also interested in a preservation of the security regime in the Black Sea basin, within the framework of the Montreux Convention. And, in this sense, the parties, at least, have a reason to start a conversation about the Turkish initiative related to the Istanbul Channel.

The main risks for the future of relations between Turkey and Russia are related to the exerting external pressure and provocations in order to prevent their further development. Especially when it comes to sensitive issues for bilateral relations, in particular, Syria and the post-war settlement in the country, the Crimea and the Crimean Tatars, relations in the Turkey-Ukraine-Russia triangle, and Russian-Turkish competition in the Central Asia and Caucasus region.

There are contradictions in each of these issues between Russia and Turkey. However, there is also a field for cooperation. In this sense, along with successful and mutually beneficial trade and economic relations, which, as we said, balance political risks, it is worth noting the lack of institutional ties between Russia and Turkey. As Russia has its own initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union and The Collective Security Treaty Organization, Turkey is a member of the Customs Union with the EU and NATO. Objectively, the parties are lacking a strategic cooperation platform, both in economic and military/defense fields, which would bind them strategically to each other even more. This is most arguably the biggest gap between Russia and Turkey nowadays, which the parties should think about firstly.

Source: thenewturkey.org

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About the author

Ivan Starodubtsev

Ivan Starodubtsev

Dr. Ivan Starodubtsev is one of the main Russian experts on Turkey and on Russian-Turkish relations. He is the chairman of the TUR RUS Project Development Association, the permanent speaker of "Hour of Turkey" program at the largest Russian radio station Vesti FM, the author of three books and numerous articles for leading Russian and Turkish media about bilateral relations.

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