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Turkey and Russia: Bilateral Relations Amid Myths and Realities 13 avril 2015

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Russia / Russie, Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) April 13, 2015, p. 14

by Gokhan Bacik

Russia is again a popular issue in Turkish foreign policy, just as it was when Moscow was dubbed the key partner in the construction of the first Turkish nuclear power station.

Turkish energy dependence on Russia will now become more consolidated. In a sense, that dependence is a fixed parameter in Turkish foreign policy and is likely to affect all of its other dynamics.

In the relevant literature, all experts have warned Turkish officials about dependence on Russia in the energy sector. In fact, diversification of energy resources is officially an essential goal for Turkey. Despite all that, Ankara seems to be unconcerned by its dependence on Russia.

Russia is Turkey’s first or second trading partner. Though that is true, aspects of it are a bit mythical. A large portion of Turkish-Russian trade is energy. The rest is either tourism or Turkey’s produce exports. Thus, Turkey is more fragile. For instance, not many Russian tourists are likely to visit Antalya this year due to the deteriorating economic conditions in Russia. Russia is thus the happy side of the bilateral relationship.

As expected, the economy hampers Turkey’s foreign-policy capacity regarding Russia. The recent Crimean case has successfully displayed the burden that its economy is on Turkey as the issue has decreased Turkey’s autonomy from Russia in foreign policy. I have checked Turkey’s official statements about Crimea. Unless I am missing something, none of them even mentions the surprisingly magic word « Russia. » One may interpret this as a clear signal of prudence. But in practice, Turkey cannot name Russia freely in its official declarations about Crimea.

Similarly, the pro-Islamic Turkish media, which is famous for its ardent support of any Islamic issue, is totally silent on Crimea and the Crimean Tatars. Compared with this media’s coverage of Egypt or Palestine, it is strangely surprising not see a similar focus on the worsening conditions of the Crimean Tatars.

Last week I attended a meeting at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow. I was not surprised to hear my Russian colleagues suggesting more institutional relations with Turkey. Facing the threat of economic isolation, Russian experts seem to be more sensitized on Turkey.

But on the other hand, Russia is a superpower. Thus, it would be naive to expect an equal relationship between Russia and Turkey. In such cases, normally the weaker should be more tolerant, as the stronger side has much to give. Frankly, I have also observed the reflection of this « big power » psychology in my Russian colleagues’ comments about Turkey. I have not met a single scholar in Russia who is worried about Turkey’s position on Crimea, the number-one issue in Russian politics nowadays.

Meanwhile, reading The Moscow Times last Tuesday had me thinking that there are also many similarities between Turkey and Russia. On that day, a headline in The Moscow Times posited that « For Russia, foreign meddling is more dangerous than corruption. » Many Turks would find this news familiar. Like the Turks, most Russians are convinced that they are surrounded by enemies, mostly Western. It is basically this public fear that accounts for President Vladimir Putin’s popularity being at its highest level, despite the worsening economic conditions. These similarities may incline both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin to position their countries in ever more anti-Western orientations.

The whole story of Turkish-Russian bilateral relations rests on sheer interest. There are not many Russian students in Turkey. The number of bona fide Turkish students in Russia is fewer than 1,000. In other words, bilateral relations between the two countries are shallow and thus open to fluctuations. Turkish-Russian relations are not institutionalized. The main motor of bilateral relations between the two countries is the personal dialogue between Erdogan and Putin. In this composition, Turkish-Russian relations remind me of Turkey’s energetic cooperation with Syria before the Arab Spring.

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