December 16, 2014

Turkey and the Ukrainian-Russian Confrontation

Oleksiy Volovych

The state visit of Russian President V. Putin to the Republic of Turkey on December 1 again attracted the world's attention to the Russian-Turkish relations in the context of Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine. Having found himself in almost complete political and economic isolation in Europe “seriously and for a long haul” once again, Russian President V. Putin is attempting to split the relations between some European countries and between the EU and the USA, and at the same time to establish alliances with such large neighboring countries as China and Turkey.

If we talk about China, here such efforts are in vain, if nothing else, because the trade turnover between China and the USA is over 600 billion US dollars, while that between Russia and China is only 88 billion US dollars, that is, almost 7 times smaller. If we compare the GDPs of Russia (2.5 billion US dollars), the United States (16.72 billion US dollars) and China (13.39 billion US dollars), we shall see that in the world today there are only two superpowers — the USA and China. Obviously, the level of economic cooperation between China and the USA is much higher than between China and Russia, so China does not need to create a military and political alliance with Russia against the USA.

Turkey is second only to China geopolitical and economic power — Russia's neighbour. Cooperation with it is extremely important for Moscow, because it could help Russia to escape from the international political and economic isolation. According to the Turkish expert Hasan Aksay, Turkey is a country which Russia cannot afford to lose. It is interesting that the basis of Russia's economic relations with both China and Turkey is supplies of energy carriers. At this, China and Turkey's energy markets are now seen by Moscow as an alternative to the European market, where recently it developed great complications, not least because of its aggressive actions against Ukraine. In particular, this trend could be observed during V. Putin's latest visit to Turkey.

A large regional state

The extremely advantageous geographical location, strong economic potential and significant enough human resources of Turkey enable it to be a unique link between the East and the West, the North and the South, and to conduct an active regional policy in the surrounding regions — South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. The neighboring Turkey's geopolitical and economic role is so great that on it depends largely the nature of global political and economic processes in the vast area from the Altai to the Balkans and from the Persian Gulf to Ukraine.

In recent years, Turkey has strengthened its role in the international arena, having become a member of the group of countries “The Group of Twenty” (G20). The territory of Turkey is 22 times smaller than the territory of Russia, but its GDP (1.167 trillion US dollars) is only two times smaller than Russia's GDP (2.553 trillion US dollars). At the same time Turkey's population is 81.6 million versus Russia's 142.4 million (according to other sources — 128 million). If Turkey keeps it current rate of economic growth (3.8 % in 2013), then it can become a great regional state of world level. The share of industrial products in Turkey's exports keeps growing. Turkey ranks sixth in Europe in production of cars and the fourth largest in the world in sea ship building.

The Turkish Armed Forces are second in NATO after the United States in size (up to 700 thousand military servicemen) and its military potential. According to plans of the country's leadership, by 2020, the national defense industry will meet the needs of the Turkish Armed Forces in arms and military equipment by 90 %. In particular, it is planned to start mass production of tanks, helicopters, military aircrafts and cruise missiles. Turkey's Black Sea Fleet’s combat potential is 3-4 times higher than the potential of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia.

Comparison Table of Economic Potentials of the RF, Turkey and Ukraine as of 2013 According to CIA World Factbook





GDP in US dollars

GDP growth

Income per capita

The Russian Federation

17 million square km

142.4 million

2.553 trillion



18.1 thousand US dollars

The Republic of Turkey

783.5 thousand square km

81.6 million

1.167 trillion


3.8 %

15.3 thousand US dollars



603.5 thousand square km

44.2 million

337.4 billion.

42 th


7.4 thousand US dollars


Neo-Ottomanism, neo-pan-Turkism and Turkish Eurasianism

What should we hope for when Russia and Turkey begin their rapprochement, and how hard will they “be friends against Ukraine”? Obviously, during the search for the answer to this question we cannot do without realizing the main vectors of the foreign policy and trends of modern Turkey. The current Turkish leadership believes that Turkey should leverage its geopolitical advantages, its own historical experience of the Ottoman Empire and become one of the centers of power in the world. In recent years, neo-Ottomanism has been gradually turning into an ideological platform of Turkey's domestic and foreign policy. The ideology of neo-Ottomanism was begun by former Turkish President Turgut Ozal (1989-1993). Today, the main ideologist of the geopolitical conception of neo-Ottomanism is the current Prime Minister (and until recently — Minister of Foreign Affairs) of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu.

According to the concept of neo-Ottomanism, Turkey's foreign policy is based on several principles: active diplomatic and economic policy in order to transform Turkey into a leading regional state; increasing influence on Muslim countries for the role of “modernizer” and mediator between the East and the West. In the context of the current global socio-political transformations in the Arab world, Turkey is trying to position itself as a model state in which “liberal” or moderate Islam is organically combined with Western democratic values.

The ideology of neo-Ottomanism is complemented by neo-pan-Turkism, the main goal of which is to involve the Turkic peoples — from China to the Adriatic Sea — in an international community. Neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism, are actually complementary geopolitical concepts, the ultimate goal of which is Turkish Eurasianism aimed at reconciliation of former empires — Russia and Turkey — in order to form the Eurasian community of Slavic and Turkic peoples, as opposed to the West's domination. Thus, the Turkish project of the Eurasian community can be seen as attempts to form an alternative structure to the European Union in case if the Turkey's EU integration course fails. It is the anti-Western orientation that is a common platform in the process of interaction between the Turkish and Russian Eurasianism.

In our opinion, the fact that neither the Russian nor the Turkish Eurasianism can be acceptable for Ukraine's geopolitical future, largely complicates, at least in the philosophical and civilizational dimensions, interaction of our state with both, Russia and Turkey. However, the Turkish Eurasian doctrine even by its authors is considered more like a hypothetical alternative, not excluding Euro-Atlantic integration, which began for Turkey more than 50 years ago, in September 1963, with the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Economic Community. For example, in one of his recent speeches A. Davutoglu said, “being excluded from the Transatlantic partnership is unacceptable for Turkey, while the economic relations, which we are building with our neighboring Russia, are not an alternative to any other economic partnership”. According to A. Davutoglu, Turkey's priority remains full membership in the EU in order to get an access to transatlantic investment and trade partnership.

Ankara between Washington and Moscow

The current Turkish leadership believes that after World War II Turkey's orientation, mainly on strategic cooperation with the United States and Europe disturbed the balance of Turkey's foreign policy, caused harm to its national interests, as it has been carried out by reducing its foreign policy activity at the regional level.

Therefore, trying in recent years to balance its foreign policy, Turkey reasons not so much from its block solidarity within NATO as from its national interests.

In recent years, Ankara has been trying hard to play an independent role in adjacent regions, more and more distances itself from the USA and getting closer to Russia. Moscow and Ankara have played a leading role in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). At the same time, both countries are equally critical of the activity of the ODED-GUAM as the “anti-Russian project” initiated by Washington. At the moment is being considered the question of Turkey's accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), although it is not really correlated with its NATO membership.

Such a development is beneficial for Moscow, seeking to keep its relations with Turkey at the level of strategic partnership, while not taking into account the differences in views on the situation around Syria or Nagornyi Karabakh. As we know, Moscow and Ankara have opposite views on the question of the legitimacy of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish government also formally supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and does not officially recognize the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, although it refrains from anti-Russian rhetoric.

Romania and Bulgaria's becoming NATO members in 2004, as well as deployment of US military bases on their territories in 2006, was perceived with great concern not only by Moscow, but also by Turkey, which ceased to be the only member of NATO in the Black Sea region. Like Russia, Turkey is against the USA's strengthening military and political presence in the Black Sea region, during the time of the illegitimate annexation of the Crimea by Russia included.

The nature of relations between Russia and Turkey is determined by interdependence. Two thirds of the consumed gas and a third of oil are imported by Turkey from Russia. In 2013, the trade turnover between Russia and Turkey made 33 billion US dollars, having reached the volume of trade turnover in 2008. (For comparison: the trade turnover between Ukraine and Turkey is about 6 billion US dollars). Moscow and Ankara are considering in the bilateral trade to switch from dollars to rubles and liras. By the way, now charges between the two countries for the sum up to 1.5 billion US dollars are carried out in national currencies. Turkish construction companies get big orders in Russia, in particular, they built the Olympic complex in Sochi. Today in Russia are working about 100 Turkish construction companies.

In 2013, Russia exported 26.6 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey through the underwater gas pipeline “Blue Stream” and Trans-Balkan gas pipeline, which begins in Ukraine and passes through the territory of Romania and Bulgaria. (For comparison: in 2013 “Gazprom” supplied Ukraine with 25.8 billion cubic meters of gas, and since the beginning of this year — about 14 billion cubic meters). Under the Agreement signed back in 2010, in March 2015, the Russian state corporation “Rosatom” should start building in Turkey the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant with the capacity of 4800 MW and cost of 27 billion US dollars. At this, the project is carried out on the model of BOO (build-own-operate). It is also possible that the pipeline “South Stream” can be redirected from Bulgaria to Turkey.

Russian tourists are a big source of income for the Turkish economy. About 4.3 million tourists annually visit resorts of Turkey. In the first nine months of 2014 Turkey had been visited by 4.1 million. This is by 300 thousand more than in the same period of 2013.

The trade turnover between Turkey and the United States over the last few years has not exceeded 20 billion US dollars, and in 2013 it totaled 18.7 billion US dollars, of which 2/3 is imports from the United States. In total foreign trade of Turkey (334 billion US dollars) the share of the United States is 4.7 %. USA's investments in Turkey are about 10 billion US dollars, Turkey's investments in the USA are at least 2 billion US dollars. In Turkey, are working approximately 1.200 US companies, but by their number the USA is significantly inferior to Germany, Great Britain and Holland. A few years ago, “Turkish National Oil Company” (TPAO) concluded agreements with American world-class companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp., Toreador Resources Corporation, Stratic Energy Corporation on exploration and production of energy in the Turkish Black Sea shelf.

For decades, Washington has traditionally seen Turkey as a conductor of the American political influence in the region, although in recent years, the role of Turkey has significantly got localized. Moreover, it seems that at the moment the US administration worries more about Ankara's certain actions in the international arena, particularly in the Middle East, which are objectively in conflict with some of foreign policy actions of Washington and NATO. Thus, between Washington and Ankara are some disagreements over the situation in Syria and Iraq, in particular, over counteracting the terrorist group “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIS).

In October this year, US Vice President Joe Biden said that at the beginning of the civil war in Syria it was Turkey who contributed to the creation of ISIS, because Turkey let Islamists pass through the border. Turkey's attempts to create a buffer zone in Northern Syria to accommodate Syrian refugees, to form the so-called Syrian Free Army and the structures of the Syrian opposition were not supported by the Americans. Training at military bases in Turkey of Islamist militants, as well as participation of thousands of Turkish citizens in such terrorist groups as “Jabhat al-Nusra”, “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, ISIS, also cause concern in Washington. For its part, Ankara does not allow the USA to bomb bases of ISIS militants in neighboring Iraq and Syria from the US air bases in Turkey in Izmir and Incirlik, and it does not intend to take part in such combat operations.

R. Erdogan's dissatisfaction with Washington's refusal to strike at government forces of Syria was so frank that he publicly declared his unwillingness to have personal contacts with Barack Obama, which fact, of course, very much upset the latter. At the moment, it is unknown whether the US Vice President Joe Biden did manage to restore a dialogue between the US administration and Turkish officials during his visit to Ankara in November 2014.

Turkey's reaction to the annexation of the Crimea

It should be noted that Turkey's leadership quite composedly perceives the revolutionary events in Ukraine, preferring stability and evolutionary path of development. However, after the occupation of the Crimea, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Kiev, where he expressed his support of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and expressed concern about violations of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people by the self-proclaimed administration of the Crimea.

The official Ankara has condemned the ban on leaders of the Crimean Tatar people M. Dzhemilev and R. Chubarov's entry to the Crimea, but has done nothing to resolve this issue with Moscow. November 25, 2014 in Ankara, there was the delegation of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, headed by M. Dzhemilev and R. Chubarov, which was received by President of Republic of Turkey R. Erdogan and Prime Minister of Turkey Davutoglu. They discussed issues related to the violation of the rights of Crimean Tatars in the occupied Crimea.

In general, Ankara quite reservedly opposed the Russian annexation of the Crimea, hoping that Moscow would respect the national rights of the Crimean Tatar people and enhance its role in the Crimea after its accession to Russia. Some analysts explain this Ankara's caution, drawing a parallel between the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, populated by ethnic Turks, in 1974.

October 20, Turkish Ambassador to Ukraine Yonet Can Tezel said, “Turkey will act within the framework of international law and will not support any act that violates the territorial integrity of Ukraine”. However, he stressed that Turkey's position is clear: the Crimea is Ukrainian territory. Commenting on the message that Turkish Airlines' planes cross the airspace of the Crimea, and Turkish sea ships enter territorial waters and ports of the Peninsula, the Ambassador assured that this was not happening.

The Turkish Government considers it not wrong, if despite the sanctions of its partners, it takes advantage of confrontation between the West and Russia in its own interests. Despite the statements of non-recognition by Turkey of the results of the pseudo-referendum of March 16 in the Crimea, Ankara is in no hurry to join the EU's sanctions against Russia. In the Turkish government circles, they believe that sanctions will not help in Russia's case. Speaking in mid-October in the European Parliament, Minister for EU Affairs of Turkey Volkan Bokzir pointed out that Turkey would not join the EU's sanctions against Russia. V. Bokzir also said, “Turkey has good relations with Russia, which provide economic benefits, there is no need to join the sanctions”. The Turkish Minister stated that it is necessary to cooperate with Russia in view of its impact and the role in the UN Security Council.

Ankara seems to be avoiding conflict with Russia over the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. It should be noted that in all the statements of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the events in the Crimea and the Donbas are classified solely as an internal problem of Ukraine, and Russia in these statements is hardly mentioned, not to mention the complete lack of condemnation of its aggressive actions. According to many analysts, such a condescending attitude of the Turkish leadership to Moscow's aggressive actions against Ukraine is in complete discord with the policy of NATO and the EU.

Turkey has become perhaps the only NATO member country, which has not imposed sanctions against Russia. That is why it was no accident that December 1, when V. Putin was in Ankara, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed hope that Turkey would join the EU economic sanctions against Russia because of its aggressive actions against Ukraine.

V. Putin's visit to Turkey

Vladimir Putin's state visit to Ankara on December 1 began with a three-hour meeting tete-e-tete with R. Erdogan, during which the main attention was paid to the international situation in the Black Sea-Caspian region, the Middle East and in Ukraine. Following the negotiations within the framework of the fifth session of the Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council of the highest level, were signed eight common documents, half of which were memoranda of understanding: on trade and economic cooperation, in the sphere of energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy sources, on staff training for the nuclear industry and related industries, on cooperation in the sphere of labor, social security and employment, and others. The sides expressed their intention to increase the volume of trade in 2020 to 100 billion US dollars. In the energy sector, it was decided to increase the capacity of the underwater gas pipeline “Blue Stream” from 16 billion cubic meters to 19 billion cubic meters per year and to reduce the price of gas by 6 % from 1 January 2015 and by 15 % — in 2016.

At the final press conference, V. Putin announced his sensational decision to terminate the construction of the gas pipeline “South Stream” because of “destructive position of the European Commission and Bulgaria,” and instead of Bulgaria to redirect the underwater part of the pipeline to the coast of Turkey, parallel to the existing subsea gas pipeline “Blue Stream”. Then the pipeline is expected to be layed through the territory of Turkey to the Turkish-Greek border, where a gas hub for Southern Europe is planned to be constructed, from which European countries could build adjustible pipelines at their own discretion. A part (about 14 billion cubic meters of gas) out of the planned 63 billion cubic meters are supposed to be pumped through the pipeline “South Stream”, and further go to the Turkish market, and the rest — to the European one.

In the above final press conference, President Recep Erdogan said, “With regard to the Ukrainian crisis, then, of course, we declare that the Ukrainian crisis must be resolved binding under international law and in compliance with all Minsk Agreement. And we are united at this idea”…

On the day of V. Putin's visit to Republic of Turkey, in the central Kizilay Square of Ankara was held a meeting of protest against Russia's aggressive policy and in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Protesters voiced a statement calling for the Turkish government to apply sanctions against the aggressor country.

Ukraine and Turkey on a narrow geopolitical curve

Despite the fact that Ukraine and Turkey belong to different civilizations, there are a lot of factors equally typical of both countries. Let's mention at least one of them. Among similar internal political processes in Turkey and Ukraine is the problem of differentiation of the population on the ideological-political grounds along the line East-West. If the Turkish society is divided into supporters of “Westernization” and “Islamization”, the Ukrainian society is divided into supporters of European and Eurasian integration. At this, the proportions of this division are significantly different: in Turkey prevail “Islamic traditionalists”, in Ukraine — supporters of European integration do.

Of course, Turkey's refusal to join sanctions against Russia cannot really please the Ukrainians, but if we hope for Turkey's or any other country’s sanctions, we probably should first resort to these sanctions ourselves. However, this is not actually happening. Russian business in Ukraine so far feels quite comfortable. Despite the fact that the Law “On sanctions,” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada back on the 14th of August this year, the activity of Russian business in Ukraine has not been dramatically limited yet. Subsidiaries of Russian banks keep operating in Ukraine. Ukrainian Parliament until recently had been serviced by offices of Russian “Alfa-Bank”. The plant “Pivdenmash” has not stopped to serve Russian strategic missiles-carriers of nuclear warheads, and the plant “Motor Sich” supplies (through intermediaries) engines for Russian military helicopters. The first Yatsenyuk's government's proposals concerning restrictive measures for 209 companies and more than 1.000 individuals representing Russian business have not been fully realized yet. Apart from gas and oil, we keep buying Russian coal, electricity, nuclear fuel, and many other things.

Besides, if we officially have an ATO, not a war with Russia, formally we cannot hope that all countries of the world will be on our side. If we have ATO, why has the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine failed to bring Russia to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for its violating the European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism? The Ministry of Justice is said to be going to do it, but it obviously takes it too much time to gather the known to everybody evidence of Russia's supporting terrorists in the Donbas.

But here the question arises: if we complete cessation of all economic ties with Russia and officially recognize the war with it — will Ukraine benefit from this? Can we expect to win a full-scale war with the third army in the world (after the USA and China) by its combat potential? Probably not. The result of a full-scale war with Russia for us would be turning of the whole of Ukraine into ruins and destruction of millions of people. So, we need to do everything possible and impossible to avoid a full-scale war with Russia. Our struggle can end in victory only when we will be receiving assistance from the international community and decent citizens of Russia itself. International sanctions and falling oil prices are the force with which Putin cannot cope. On the other hand, perhaps the bilateral Ukrainian-Russian economic ties still somehow hamper turning of local conflicts in the Donbas into a full-scale war with Russia? When the enemies trade, the hope remains that some day they will make peace for the enmity not to interfere with trade. Perhaps not everything is so simple in this world, and not all the victories are achieved by force of arms. Some victories can be achieved only by intellective power. And the Ukrainian-Russian asymmetric or “hybrid” war is exactly that case, isn't it?

And another, in my opinion, essential point. By and large, Turkey is cooperating not with V. Putin, but with Russia. I think if there were neither Putin nor Erdogan, the Turkish-Russian relations would not change significantly, as common interests of countries and peoples are more important than ambitions of leaders. Besides, to completely isolate Putin, in whose hands is the “nuclear briefcase with the red button” would be extremely improvidently. Obviously, he should be given some “access to oxygen”, because if Putin has nothing to lose, he can “get crazy” completely and plunge the world into the abyss of a third world war, this time of the nuclear one. In my opinion, in a relationship with Putin a very difficult, but necessary balance of pressure and dialogue should be used.

Like for Russia, for us the Republic of Turkey is one of the most important trading partners. During the third meeting of the Strategic High-Level Council on October 19 in Ankara, parties announced their intention to conclude an agreement on free trade zone and increasing the trade turnover between the two countries up to 20 billion US dollars by 2020. Sales volume of domestic exports of Turkey traditionally ranks second after Russia. The volume of trade in goods in 2013 amounted to 5.658 billion US dollars, which is by 0.4 % more than in 2012. If during the period from 2011 to 2013 in trade between Ukraine and RT was seen an increase in trade turnover, since the beginning of 2014 exports have slowed down and imports from Turkey fell sharply. The investment cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey is currently at a very low level. As of December 31, 2013 direct investments from Turkey into the economy of Ukraine amounted to only 215.5 million US dollars. In 2014, there is the outflow of Turkish investments from Ukraine. There is no official information on the volume of our country's investments into Turkey. In Ukraine, there are functioning about 600 Turkish businesses, and in Turkey — 300 Ukrainian ones.

In recent years, one could often hear that Ukraine and Turkey are united by strategic partnership. But in fact it is most likely a desire not reality. Perhaps the bilateral Ukrainian-Turkish relations one day will rise to the level of strategic ones, but it if happens, it won't be as soon as we'd like them to. In our opinion, the strategic partnership can only be between equal in economic and geopolitical dimension partners, which cannot be said about Ukraine and Turkey. Suffice it to recall that Turkey's GDP is 3.5 times greater than the GDP of Ukraine. As of December 2012, Turkey's gold reserves amounted to 93.3 billion US dollars, while those of Ukraine — 27 billion US dollars. Especially valuable for Ukraine is Turkey's experience in strategic planning and mobilization of resources for the development of the national economy, which enabled the country in a relatively short time to reach the level of a large regional state.

In my opinion, despite all the difficulties and problems, we must maintain good relations with Turkey and cooperate with it. The Kremlin camarilla cannot wait until we quarrel with neighboring states and, above all, with Turkey. It does not just dream about it, but also incites the Turks to put forward territorial claims to Ukraine. But to no avail. Results of the meeting of the presidents of Ukraine and Turkey on September 4 at the sidelines of the NATO summit in Wales suggest that the Ukrainian-Turkish relations will continue to develop. During the meeting, R. Erdogan emphasized the strategic character of cooperation between the two countries and pledged support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as for P. Poroshenko's Peace Plan. As for the development of bilateral relations, the presidents agreed to hold the first meeting of the Strategic High-Level Council at the beginning of 2015. R. Erdogan promised that Turkish Airlines will not carry out direct flights to the Crimea. R. Erdogan called blatant the fact that the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people M. Dzhamilev R.Chubarov are not allowed by the illegitimate power of the Crimea to return home.

November 10 this year Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey M. Chavushoglu visited Ukraine. The main purpose of his visit was negotiations on the preparations for the IV meeting of the Ukrainian-Turkish Strategic Council at the high level with participation of the presidents of the two countries, which may take place in Kiev at the beginning of 2015. P. Klimkin and M. Chavushoglu discussed a wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation in various spheres, such as aerospace, energy and military-technical. Touching on the situation in the east of Ukraine and the Crimea, M. Chavushoglu pointed out the unconditional support to Ukraine, its territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. Ministers also discussed the issue of strengthening security in the Black Sea Region, severely undermined by Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine. M. Chavushoglu met with President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko.

Today, Ukraine and Turkey are on a narrow geopolitical curve, and for us it is very important not to let the Ukrainian-Turkish relations get to the side of the main road of progress, modernization and European integration of both countries.