27.01.2024 Author: Nazar Kurbanov

Development of Russian-Turkish economic cooperation against the backdrop of US counteraction

Development of Russian-Turkish economic cooperation

The Republic of Türkiye is currently at a political crossroads. Throughout the post-war period, Turkey has sought to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. However, it has also developed very strong relations with Russia and Iran over the past decades. The Russian special military operation against the Kiev regime has significantly complicated Turkey’s foreign policy maneuvering and divided public opinion. The tension was evident during the Turkish presidential campaign, as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won with only 52% of the vote, even after the second round. Turkey’s current situation necessitates caution in developing both its foreign policy and foreign economic strategy towards Russia. However, it is important to note that Turkey aims to increase its engagement with Russia while avoiding any potential “secondary sanctions” from Western countries. In an interview with the Turkish daily newspaper “Aydınlık”, Nail Olpak, President of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), stated that US efforts to pressure Turkey are futile. He pointed out that the Turkish business community is well aware of the “double standards” of the EU and other Western countries when it comes to trade with “sanctioned” countries, including Iran. Therefore, Turkey will continue to export its products to meet the demand of Russian partners and expand its trade and investment partnership with Russia. “Turkey clearly states its attitude to trade with Russia,” Nail Olpak emphasized.

Politically, Turkey has recently shown frustration with Washington’s unwillingness to help resolve its fundamental problems, as well as active opposition to US policies. The main “pressure points” are:

  • The Kurdish issue, which is a significant vulnerability for Turkey. The Kurds inhabit large areas of eastern Turkey and beyond and have long been under the “suzerainty” of the United States. This periodic escalation of the issue poses a threat to Turkey’s stability.
  • The delays in delivery of various types of military products by the United States. Turkey has been seeking the delivery of 40 F-16 fighter jets from the US for several years. Initially, Washington tried to link the delivery to Turkey’s consent to Sweden’s membership in NATO. However, after Turkey gave its consent, the US failed to deliver the fighter jets as promised.
  • The presence of US bases in Turkey and the active buildup of US troops in Europe. Furthermore, the 2016 failed coup, which the former Turkish interior minister accused the US of being behind of, has made Erdoğan personally cautious.
  • The ongoing inability of the United States to resolve the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, as well as the current escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the related confrontation in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden, causes Turkey to be concerned about the security of its borders and suffer direct losses from the next political crisis.
  • The rejection of the “value-oriented diplomacy”, which supports human rights, democracy, and LGBT rights similar to the EU states, has caused a response in Turkey in the form of growing nationalist sentiments. This rejection has also increased the importance of Islam, as seen in the recent decision to convert the Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque.

The current political situation has created a foundation for Turkey to adopt a multi-vector policy rather than relying solely on Western countries.

Why Turkey can’t give up on Russia

The Republic of Türkiye has economic and foreign policy ties with Russia in the following areas:

  • Bilateral energy cooperation. It is no secret that the Russian company Rosatom is building the Akkuyu NPP (4 power units) in Turkey at a total cost of $20 billion. Despite pressure from Western countries, the nuclear fuel was delivered to the plant in April 2023. Russia is also interested in building Turkey’s new Sinop Nuclear Power Plant. Additionally, the TurkStream gas pipeline, with a total capacity of 31.5 billion m3 and spanning 930 kilometers, was commissioned in 2020. These strategic infrastructure projects alone require Turkey to cooperate with Russia. Currently, the energy sector, including nuclear energy, oil, gas, power grids, and related infrastructure, remains the most promising area for cooperation.
  • Multilateral energy cooperation. Turkey is actively pursuing its goal of becoming an oil and gas hub. The country hosts gas pipelines from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, as well as oil pipelines from Iraq and Azerbaijan with tankers to receive hydrocarbons that are shipped from Central Asian countries. Most of these pipelines run either near or directly through territories of long-standing armed and inter-ethnic conflicts. This includes the oil pipeline from Iraq, which comes through the territories of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the pipelines from Azerbaijan near Nagorno-Karabakh. Ensuring pipeline security requires concerted action not only by Turkey but also by other external actors. Iran and Russia have been successful in preventing the escalation of the conflict in Syria through their actions. Turkey must consider that a unilateral break in relations with Russia would immediately harm cooperation with Iran and increase the security threat to all pipelines running through the republic’s territory.
  • General Economic Indicators. The Government of Russia reported that Turkey was the second-largest foreign trade partner in 2022, with bilateral trade turnover nearly doubling to 69.8 billion US dollars, an increase of 85.8%. From January to October 2023, Russian-Turkish trade turnover increased by 49.8% in physical volume compared to the same period the previous year. In Turkey’s statistics, Russia consistently holds leading positions, second only to the European Union and China. For the first 10 months of 2022, Russia was the country’s main trade partner in terms of exports and fourth in terms of imports. Among other things, the Turkish side benefits from profitable supplies to Russia through parallel imports, which generates additional income for the Turkish economy.
  • Activity of Russian tourists in Turkey. Every year, more than 5 million Russian tourists visit Turkey, which is about 20% of the total tourist flow, but the main thing is that tourists bring a lot of income and foreign exchange earnings to the Turkish economy, which is in desperate need of stabilization (in November 2023, the Central Bank of Turkey raised the key interest rate to 40%, which indicates the collapse of the Turkish national currency). In 2019, Russian tourists contributed 3.5 billion dollars to Turkey’s economy.

This prevents Turkey from submitting itself to Western countries and severing ties with Russia. Russian-Turkish contacts are developing and adapting to new realities.

During the 18th meeting of the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, Alexander Novak, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, stated that the Russian side observes positive developments in various areas of bilateral cooperation, such as healthcare, space, standardization, accreditation, cadastral registration, education, and sports. Dialogue occurs not only through embassies and relevant ministries and departments, but also between chambers of commerce and industry of individual Turkish cities, various associations of manufacturers, business councils, and other organizations.

The author would like to highlight the role of the Russian-Turkish Business Council (RTBC) in facilitating bilateral economic relations. The association actively interacts with the Turkish business community. For example, in November 2023 RTBC held a round table with several Turkish businessmen. It also participates in various exhibitions and forums, such as the international “Russian-Turkish Dialogue” held in September 2023. The association maintains contacts with numerous agencies and organizations, including colleagues from the Turkish-Russian Business Council, with whom they last met in August 2023.

Thus, Russian-Turkish economic relations have successfully integrated into the changing international conditions, benefiting both parties involved in the dialogue. Cooperation is developing not only on strategic fuel and energy projects but also at the level of small businesses. This is evidenced by the active institutions that aim to ensure favorable conditions for interaction between the two countries.


Nazar Kurbanov, intern at the Center for Spatial Analysis of International Relations, Institute of International Studies, MGIMO Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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