The emergence of new geopolitical issues in the Middle East and Iran has increased the importance of relations between Ankara and Moscow. In this context, Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent visit to St. Petersburg and the signing of five documents are regarded a critical event. At the same time, it would be erroneous to deny that the relations between these countries are free from contradictions. In this light, the fate of the relations between Turkey and Russia seems to be thought-provoking.
Geopolitical aspects of the St. Petersburg meeting
Having the dynamics of the geopolitical developments in the Middle East in the background, the Russian-Turkish relations are inquisitive. Historical controversial aspects in the relations between the Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire were certainly not forgotten. However, the mankind has entered a new phase, where changes are observed even in the context of the most fundamental geopolitical problems. In particular, the cooperation between Ankara and Moscow has continued to grow faster in recent years. However, it would be mistaken to suppose that everything is smooth.
The dynamics of the geopolitical developments and power shifts towards the East raised the importance of Russian-Turkish relations to a new level.
The center of gravity change of global geopolitics towards the Middle East elevated Turkey-Russia relations to a new level of significance. Both countries play their roles in world politics. Russia wishes to become a super power again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whereas, Turkey is speeding up its efforts to become the regional leader on a global scale. There are dots that do connect these countries. It is impossible to ignore factors such as shared location in Eurasia, representatives of the Turkic peoples residing in Russia and many others elements.
We need to emphasize the effect of internal political processes taking place recently in Russia and Turkey. The point is the factual changes in economy, trade, tourism and culture which occurred between Ankara and Moscow. Now, trade between the two countries constitutes $34 billion. By 2020, they want to raise the figure to $100 billion (see: Erdogan and Putin discussed gas, security and tourism / “Rossiyskaya gazeta”, 22 November 2013).
During the trip to St. Petersburg, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized the fact that four million Russian tourists visited Turkey, which attracts the largest number of tourists only from Germany. Erdogan particularly said that he wants this figure to increase so that Russia becomes the largest source of tourist flow to Turkey (see: Eugeniy Novikova. Erdogan’s ambitions are implemented in St. Petersburg / “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, 22 November 2013).
The two countries have signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. Moscow attaches a great importance to its natural energy resources transport route via Turkey. The “South Stream” international project is being implemented. At present, work continues to develop trade and economic relations at a larger scale. It`s no coincidence that the Russian president stressed the importance of strategic partnership at the meeting in St. Petersburg.
The geopolitical aspect of the Russian-Turkish relations, under these circumstances, seems to be increasingly imperative. And there are quite a number of discrepant views though. First of all, Ankara and Moscow are looking at the processes taking place in the Middle East from different angles (see a press conference of Prime Minister Erdogan and Putin / “Time”, 22 November 2013). The focal point is the Syrian issue. Ankara wants Assad to leave power, while Moscow is favoring the settlement of the problem through election involving Assad.
Limits of cooperation
It is not a secret that the Kremlin is the most supportive player of the government in Damascus. President Vladimir Putin has played a crucial role in the prevention of military intervention in Syria. Turkey, however, is supporting the Syrian opposition. For this very reason, it should be admitted that Syria, Ankara and Moscow are, in fact, at the opposite fronts.
According to media reports, the opinion difference between Russia and Turkey on the Syrian issue was not removed during the recent meeting in St. Petersburg (see Özdal Habibe. Prime Minister’s Visit to Russia: Highlights / “International Institute for Strategic Studies”, 22 November 2013).
According to certain experts, Russia and Turkey hold different positions on the South Caucasus and Central Asia issues (see: Stanislav Tarasov. Putin Erdogan: For whom tactics become a strategy / 22 November 2013). The struggle between the two sides is expected to continue in this aspect.
Under no circumstances Moscow will recognize the leadership of Ankara in the South Caucasus. The situation in Central Asia is unambiguous. In recent years, Russia has undertaken a number of measures to push Turkey out. It should be noted that there is the need to consider the interests of China and India as regional players.
In addition, experts also emphasize the role of Washington in the fate of relations between Ankara and Moscow. There is an emerging opinion that Turkey is involving the United States in its relations with Russia (see Iqor Muradyan. Ankara involves US in Turkish-Russian relations / “Lragir.am”, 24 November 2013).
This happens due to Washington’s massive geopolitical interests in Eurasia. The U.S cannot remain indifferent to cooperation between Russia and Turkey in recent times. In this context, the United States is trying to confine the maneuver space for Ankara.
It is intricate to say to what extent these statements reflect the reality. The time will gauge it impartially. Nevertheless, it is clear that the relations between Ankara and Moscow are becoming increasingly vital on a global scale. According to experts, the Kremlin is interested in strategic partnership with Turkey. This is mainly due to Moscow’s eagerness to increase geopolitical authority on a global scale. At the same time, we should not fail to remember the other argument.
It is known that the European Union has not admitted Turkey as a member for 50 years now, thus, postponing the solution based on various pretexts. Ankara is not willing to remain in this kind of situation. For this reason, it is not accidental that Erdogan outlined the aspiration to enter Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He has clarified this while answering a question on associate membership of Ukraine in the European Union (see: Erdogan ‘Shanghai’ request to re-voiced / “Hurriyet”, 22 November 2013).
This point was realized by experts as Turkey`s geopolitical shift in orientation. It gives preference to cooperation with the Eurasian countries now. At the same time, others presume that Ankara is maneuvering. In essence, Turkey plays its own game. Its goal is to have a say in the world and justify the authority to assume independent decisions.
With these ideas in the background, it is inquisitive to hear comments on Turkey’s accession to the Customs Union. Apparently, in some circles, these talks are conducted to display the geopolitical attractiveness of this organization. In reality, Turkey’s aspiration to join the Customs Union raises serious doubts. Erdogan spoke only on SCO topic and indirectly commented on the issue of the Customs Union.
One can conclude that the relations between Turkey and Russia are now holding more geopolitical importance on a global scale. Both sides comprehend its connotation. It can be assumed that further cooperation between Ankara and Moscow will be enhanced. In this case, as claimed by certain Armenian experts, the Kremlin is unlikely to exert pressure on Turkey concerning the Armenian issue. Hence, the talk is going around geopolitical processes that are manifold higher than a small country in the South Caucasus.
Besides, there is the need to highlight that the Russian-Turkish relations may deepen to a certain extent. In this scenario, the role of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Central Asian countries can’t be forgotten. Hence, it is possible to forecast the high dynamics of the geopolitical struggle in Eurasia in existing context.