Can Turkey and Russia smooth bumpy roads ahead?
Completely casting Russia out of Turkey’s spectrum is not on the horizon for now
Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952. The revolutionary changes brought to the new Turkish state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk have been instrumental in creating a nation which is more in line with Western values while preserving its Islamic character. Ataturk's well-known saying, “Communism is the worst enemy of the Turkish world. It must therefore be crushed wherever it is seen,” made it clear that Soviet Russia would have no political influence on the Turkish Republic.
However, times have changed; the Soviet Union dissolved and the newly emerging Russia was no longer communist. These were the same people we Turks had lived with in the region and shared a border with for centuries; these were the same people our sultans got married to and to this day, we can observe a high number of marriages and trade partnerships between Russians and Turks. Now that a poisonous ideology has been buried in history, there is no reason we will not get along with our neighbors. In December 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey, which marked the first presidential visit in the history of Turkish-Russian relations besides that of the Chairman of the Presidium, Nikolai Podgorny, in 1972.
Turkey has never been keen to take concrete sides in a possible conflict and on various occasions, has made it clear it does not support conflicting worldviews. And so, Putin’s visit this week means a lot for Turkey-Russia relations at a time when both states support different fronts in the Syrian civil war. But we should not forget that Turkey has become much more important in the eyes of Russia as it finds itself squeezed in the international arena.
The political side of the coin
The G-20 Summit in Australia showed the lengths of political isolation towards Putin. It looks like this fact played a major role in Russia becoming less vocal against Turkey's request for a 'safe-zone' in Syrian territory. Even though economic relations between Turkey and Russia are quite pleasing, the political side of the coin does not seem to be progressing as rapidly. Neither side seems to be able to bring the other to the table for reconsidering the various policies regarding Cyprus, Syria, Crimea and Nagorno Karabagh. Turkey allowing NATO vessels into the Black Sea, despite the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits (1936), did receive some dissatisfaction from the Russian side. The existence of the Kürecik NATO radar base, which went online in 2012, also disturbed the Russian government.
On the other hand, Turkey imported 26 billion m3 of natural gas from Russia in 2013, which makes Turkey the second largest buyer of Russian natural gas following Germany in the European market. Turkey also made a deal with Russia to build a nuclear power facility in Mersin. When the EU decided to stop exporting fruits and vegetables to Russia, Turkey rose as a very important exporter of vegetables at a time when most needed. There is currently $7 billion worth of Turkish investment in Russia: These facts surely soften Russia’s stance on many issues including the price of natural gas exports and foreign policy matters. Putin noted on Monday during a news conference in Ankara with President Erdogan that Turkey would receive a discount on gas and an additional three billion cubic meters of gas annually. According to additional statements from Putin, Russia has made a swift decision to stop the construction of the South Stream Pipeline in Bulgaria, where the construction was halted by the Bulgarian government, and redirect the construction route to Turkey where the pipeline will be connected to a wellhead in Greece if it can be economically justified by market conditions in Europe.
Completely casting Russia out of Turkey’s spectrum is not on the horizon for nowCeylan Ozbudak
These developments make Turkey the only winner of the current Russia-U.S.-EU face-off. Turkey would not be expected to make a decision to rise as one of the trading partners of Russia had the EU been a bit more cooperative in providing solutions for the easily foreseeable loss of $3 billion on the Turkish side after the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) came to life. With the ongoing conflicts among immediate neighbors, as well as low-level confrontations between the world powers, Turkey needs to look out for its own national wealth and domestic politics as well. One proverb says “A friend by your side can keep you warmer than the richest of furs.” However, in Turkey’s case, keeping more than 1 million refugees warmer demands more than kind wishes. Europe seems more understanding given the stability of the Turkish economy as one of the main factors, which serves to hold back a flood of refugees from the EU's borders; however, the U.S. doesn’t seem at ease with the Turkey’s fondness for the Russian markets. Due to visa-free travel opportunities between Russia and Turkey, businessmen of both nations can easily invest in each other’s territories.
I can safely say this does not signify any sort of policy shift for Turkey, nor will it lead to Turkey leaving NATO and applying to be a member of the Shanghai Corporation Organization. Natural borders will remain intact. Public opinion in Turkey has always been more in line with the Western bloc. But completely casting Russia out of Turkey’s spectrum is also not on the horizon for now.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak