09.07.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Russia and Turkey have exchanged views

The meeting of the Russian and Turkish

The meeting of the Russian and Turkish heads of state at the SCO summit in Astana did not resolve all existing issues, but showed ‘progressive development’ of bilateral relations.

Which issues define modern Russo-Turkish relations?

In their entire rich history of bilateral relations, Russia and Turkey have never before enjoyed such a long period of mutually beneficial partnership. Largely due to the personal approach of the current leaders, Presidents V. Putin and R. Erdogan, Russo-Turkish relations in the first quarter of the 21st century became a stable partnership character.

Following the collapse of the USSR, there was a period when Turkey quite frankly had an unfriendly position towards Russia. It supported the implementation of transport and energy projects bypassing our territory in the Southern Caucasus, assisted the separatist movement in the Northern Caucasus, conducted active intelligence and subversive activities directed against Russia in cooperation with the special services of NATO countries (especially the United Kingdom and the United States).

Instead of confrontation, Ankara began to apply a policy of cooperation. Over the years, Turkey has benefited greatly from trade and economic ties with Russia in the fields of tourism, construction and energy.

For example: Russian tourists annually bring billions of dollars to the Turkish treasury, the Russian construction market has become a virtual monopoly of Turkish contractors with the key participation of Ronesans Holding headed by Erman Ilicak, Turkey got two Russian gas pipelines (Blue Stream and TurkStream), Rosatom built the first Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkish history, Turkish re-exporting has become a ‘gold mine’ for the growth of trade turnover with Russia in the face of Western sanctions, and Ankara has also benefited greatly from the so-called grain deal with Russia in the context of the Ukrainian crisis.

In addition, Turkey did not limit itself to trade relations with Russia. As a member of NATO, Turkey – contrary to the position of the United States – made a ‘military deal’ with Russia and purchased the S-400 Triumph air defence system. The partnership, which was beneficial to Turkey in many ways, also beneficial within the scope of regional security issues (particularly in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh).

Thus, Turkey began to strengthen its status as a regional power, penetrated into part of Northern Africa, occupied a number of northern territories in Syria, resolved the Karabakh issue in favour of its strategic ally in the Southern Caucasus (Azerbaijan), got an unprecedented opportunity to break through to Central Asia, as well as increase its transit attractiveness in the eyes of Europe and consider the prospect of implementing the doctrine of pan-Turanism.

It would be difficult to imagine all this in parallel with a confrontational strategy towards Russia. In addition, Moscow had certain hopes for a ‘Turkish window’ to the rest of the world in the face of Western sanctions due to the Special Military Operation and offered Ankara a more ambitious energy project: a ‘gas hub’ in Eastern Thrace. The latter provides Turkey with enormous opportunities in terms of preferential prices for Russian gas (not to mention deferrals of gas payments for hundreds of millions of dollars), joint gas sales and influence on world prices.

2022 saw rapid development of Russo-Turkish relations, raising trade turnover by 2 times and bringing it to $60 billion, however this indicator later began to decrease. Russia, through its constructive relations and economic partnership, actively supported Recep Erdogan in the difficult presidential elections in 2023. But in reality, after retaining power, Erdogan began to demonstrate a different approach to Moscow.

In terms of mediation and peaceful settlement of the military-political crisis in Ukraine, Ankara says one thing, but in reality (both politically and militarily) supports the Kiev regime in accordance with the NATO strategy. Since the beginning of 2024, the new pro-Western economic bloc within the Turkish government, headed by the Minister of Treasury and Finance, Mehmet Simsek, has increasingly begun to refer to ‘US pressure’ on the topic of sanctions, creating noticeable problems for bank payments and transfers to Russian businesses and Turkish companies involved in the Russian market.

The latter has again led to stagnation in Russo-Turkish trade relations. According to Alexander Novak, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, since the beginning of 2024, our trade relations with Turkey have decreased by 1% compared to the same period in 2023, that is, there is no growth, but there is a slight decline. In negotiations with Putin, Erdogan has declared dissatisfaction with the $55 billion level of trade with Russia and hopes for $100 billion. However, as they say in Russia, “hope is for the young”.  In order to actually change the situation, Turkey must make a choice and stop with artificial problems for Russian business.

Thus, the main problems in modern Russo-Turkish relations remain the issues of Ankara’s ‘two-faced game’ between Russia and the United States regarding the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and financial (banking) restrictions on payments because of US sanctions. Turkey’s ‘behind-the-scenes games’ with the United States in terms of regional security on the topic of the Syrian Kurds and dragging Armenia under NATO control with the subsequent ousting of Russia from the South Caucasus – these two issues may also be added to the list.

Astana clarified, but did not solve existing problems in Russo-Turkish relations

The almost hour-long meeting of Presidents V. Putin and R. Erdogan at the SCO summit in Astana on July 3 took place in a fairly friendly and warm atmosphere. The parties defined and recognised achievements and problematic issues on the bilateral agenda.

The Turkish side has initiated discussion the topic of accelerating the launch of the Akkuyu nuclear reactor and is counting on a similar mechanism for the Russian construction of a second nuclear power plant in Sinop. Meanwhile, Turkey is simultaneously negotiating with the US about the construction of a nuclear power plant using modular reactors. For example, Yusuf Ceylan, Director of Nuclear Energy and International Projects at the Turkish Ministry of Energy, said: “We are negotiating with the United States on both large-scale power plants and small modular reactors. You can consider this a declaration of intent”.

Commenting on the results of the meeting of the presidents of Turkey and Russia in Astana, Ozan Ormeci, associate professor at Istanbul Kent University and head of the Academy of International Politics, notes that Ankara does not want to sever relations with Moscow, but also cannot ignore the US sanctions pressure, which creates well-known problems with payments and trade relations with Russia. According to Ormeci, “normalisation of relations between Russia and the US and the West in general, as well as the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis in the foreseeable future, will be beneficial to both sides”, which would resolve a number of problematic issues and remove certain obstacles.

However, in case of restoration of Russo-Western relations, the Turkish market, considering the presence of the European one, will become less attractive.

Regarding the start of negotiations between Turkey and Syria in Baghdad, expert Hasan Yusuf believes that Ankara has coordinated with Washington its decision to mend relations to Damascus, which controls the discourse on the topic of Syrian Kurds (including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)). In other words, it was not Russian diplomacy, rather the United States that became the motivator for rapprochement (or imitation of lengthy negotiations) with Syria.

On the issue of resolving the Ukrainian crisis, Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov publicly stated that Russia no longer considers Turkey as a potential mediator in the negotiation process with Kiev. It is obvious that Russia, in addition to Turkey, has other opportunities and channels for probing and discussing the end of hostilities in Ukraine. The experience with Turkey has not left a positive memory.

Thus, at this stage, there is no ‘cooling off’ in Russo-Turkish relations and there are also no breakthrough achievements. For some reason, the parties avoided the topic of the ‘gas hub’ in Astana (although the hub will obviously appear soon, though not in Eastern Thrace, but on the shores of the Persian Gulf).

Together with Azerbaijan and Pakistan, Turkey declared a new axis in Astana, hoping to form a common market and a common military bloc. Ankara also has considerable ambitions regarding the transit of strategic raw materials from the Turkic countries of Central Asia (Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) along the Middle Corridor. However, Russia and Iran may have other plans – something that does not prevent tension in regional affairs.

In the meantime, Putin politely accepted Erdogan’s offer to visit Turkey. However, the visit itself should have a specific itinerary based on mutual interests. Therefore, the time of this visit will be determined when possible proposals suit both sides.

 

Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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