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Russo-Turkish ties grow closer as Erdogan and Putin look to national legacies 17 décembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Energy / Energie, Russia / Russie, Turkey / Turquie.
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Global Times (China) December 17, 2014, p. 16

By George N. Tzogopoulos *

Relations between Russia and Turkey have seen a steady improvement in the last years. The recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ankara and his meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan highlighted the possibility for closer bilateral collaboration in the future. In particular, his decision to abandon the construction of the South Stream project due to serious obstacles posed by the European Commission paves the way for a redirection of Russian gas to other regions.

The role of Turkey is critical because a new pipeline might pass through its own territory in the future as an alternative energy corridor.

According to Russian state energy firm Gazprom, the proposed pipeline will have an annual capacity of 63 billion cubic meters and a total of 14 billion cubic meters will be delivered to Turkey. Turkey is the company’s second biggest customer in the region after Germany.

Ankara is in the process of considering the new proposal. This debate is placed within the national interest of Turkey to renew and modernize its energy resources. It is not a coincidence that it actively participates in the TransAnatolian natural gas pipeline scheme that will carry gas from Azerbaijan to the same frontier.

Russia and Turkey are also drawing closer because of their common commercial interests. The volume of bilateral trade was $32 billion in 2013 and could be even higher by the end of this year. An ambitious plan also estimates that this volume could reach $100 billion by 2020. Russia and Turkey jointly work to construct the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, which will constitute the first nuclear plant in Turkey.

Tourism has also grown. According to data from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 4.1 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in the first nine months of 2014, while just 3.8 million visited during the same period of 2013.

Russian-Turkish relations are not only about energy and economics. Some political issues drive the countries apart. One of them is the case in Syria because the first supports the Assad regime and the second opposes it.

Also following Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Ankara is concerned about the future of the Tatars who are allegedly marginalized by Russian policies. More importantly, Moscow does not take the part of Ankara in the current tensions in Eastern Mediterranean and advocates for the inalienable right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit its natural resources in its own Exclusive Economic Zone.

But political disagreements are not sufficient obstacles to block their strategic alliance. Russia is attempting to find a counterbalance to Western sanctions at a time of plummeting oil prices and looming economic disasters for Moscow. Turkey aspires to play the role of a periphery superpower and naturally sees its strong links with Russia contributing toward this. Additionally, the country is in a process of reconsidering the general orientation of its foreign policy because the possibility of becoming a full member of the EU does not seem to be realistic. This said, a shaky Brussels can hardly use a “carrot and stick” policy visà-vis Ankara where membership talks are concerned.

Moreover, Putin and Erdogan share a common denominator in their foreign policy approach in their antipathy to the US role in Eurasia and the Middle East.

In the final account, the two presidents also share an almost similar vision for their own countries seeking to leave a legacy as successful leaders. That is why Western media often portray them as the “tsar” and the “sultan” respectively.

In 1853, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia spoke of “the sick man of Europe,” referring to the Ottoman Empire. 161 years later, Turkey is no longer a patient, while hostility belongs to the past. Within this context, Moscow and Ankara will look toward the future from a “win-win” cooperation perspective.

* The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.

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