December 12, 2015

Russia-Turkey: to Conflict or to Cooperate? (Part 2)

Oleksiy Volovych


Part 2

Possible Consequences of the Russian Federation's Restrictive Measures

Taking into consideration the fact that Russia and Turkey are at opposite positions on the issue of fixing-up of the Syrian conflict, the start of operations of the Russian aviation group in Syria has caused in Ankara great concern and condemnation, which adversely affected the development of the Russian-Turkish “strategic partnership”, especially after the incident with the Russian Su-24 bomber on the 24th November.

The Russian leadership has adopted a series of restrictive measures and sanctions against Turkey. Putin's Decree of November 28 introduces a ban or restriction for Turkish companies to perform certain activities in Russia. There is also a ban on the import into Russia of certain types of Turkish goods.

There are no restrictions on the import of Turkish manufactured goods so far. Russian employers are forbidden to employ Turkish citizens from January 1, 2016 on. From January 1, 2016 will also be suspended the visa-free regime with Turkey. Besides, Russians intensify the control over the activities of the Turkish road transport in Russia and prohibit charter flights between Russia and Turkey. It should be noted that the Kremlin's restrictive measures and sanctions against Turkey were selective and have not touched such strategically important projects as the supply of Russian gas and the construction of the nuclear power plant. This shows that restoration of the bilateral relations is still possible.

December 7, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation A. Ulyukayev stated that the expansion of sanctions against Turkey is not discussed and those that have already been introduced, are temporary. According to the Minister, depending on the development of the situation, a number of restrictions can be lifted. This A. Ulyukayev's statement, certainly agreed with the Russian leadership, shows that the Kremlin is working on a possibility to “reverse” in his blackmailing Ankara.

Kremlin is working on a possibility to “reverse” in his blackmailing Ankara

Russian tour operators are recommended to refrain from work on the Turkish direction. Turkey's losses from restrictions imposed on the Russian tour operators are significant but not critical. Revenue from tourism in Turkey does not exceed 10 % of GDP, the Russian tours making 15 % of the total tourist flow. Losses of the Russian tour operators working in the Turkish tourism market will be really disastrous. The aviation connection with Turkish airports is rapidly winding down. Travel agencies have received unofficial signal not to book trips to Turkey. Moscow has stopped negotiations with Ankara on a joint “Year of Tourism”. According to the head of the Analytical Department of QB Finance D. Kipa, “foreign tourism in Russia is experiencing colossal problems, and is on the brink of disappearing after the ban on the sale of tours to Turkey”.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek has stated that Russian sanctions in the worst case could result in losses to the country amounting to about 9 billion US dollars. Unlike Russia, Turkey is in no hurry with the announcement of “mirror” sanctions and restrictive measures. Initially, Ankara offered to resolve the current crisis through negotiations. In particular, R. Erdogan has offered to V. Putin to meet with him on November 30 in Paris, but he refused.

November 30, in Brussels, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Davutoglu called on Russia to reconsider the sanctions against Turkey and said that Ankara is “ready for dialogue with Russia to prevent similar incidents in the future”. He also called on Russian citizens to continue visiting Turkey, calling it a “second home” for some Russian tourists. According to the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the restrictive measures will affect the economy of both countries, and as a result, “the Russian people will feel the negative effects not less than Turkish one”. M. Cavusoglu offered Moscow instead of escalation of tensions “in cold blood to overcome the period of crisis and return the relations with Turkey to the former course”. He assured that Turkey will not close the passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits for Russian ships. In our view, this would be the last measure, bordering on the declaration of war.

However, the Kremlin continues to stubbornly ignore Ankara's conciliatory gestures. It should be noted that Ankara is ready to reconciliation not because its position in the Russian-Turkish conflict is weaker. Just on the contrary. Located in the “heart of the world” being an energy hub, Turkey can quickly compensate for the loss of the Russian market, while it will be much harder for Russia to do. It is just that the Turkish leadership is less ambitious and feels more responsibility to its people for possible negative consequences of rupture or significant deterioration in Turkish-Russian relations.

It should be noted that the Turkish-Russian conflict has considerable international attention and many, especially Turkey's and Russia's neighboring countries, have to determine their position: to support Russia or Turkey, or to take a neutral position to mediate between them. In my opinion, Azerbaijan and all the Turkic-speaking countries of post-Soviet Central Asia in linguistic, cultural, mental and even economic dimensions tend to Turkey to a much greater extent than to Russia. Therefore, in the Russian-Turkish confrontation, they will undoubtedly be on Turkey's side, in spite of some of them being members of the CSTO. In any case, they will never fight against their half-brothers — the Turks.

November 28, the day when V. Putin signed a decree on introduction of special economic measures against Turkey, “Russia's closest ally” China, together with Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia established a consortium for transportation of goods via the Trans-Caspian route: China-Turkey-Europe, bypassing Russia. The Agreement was signed by representatives of major transport companies in Istanbul. This project provides transporting in 2016 through the territory of Georgia of the first few thousands of containers from China to Turkey and Europe. The parties also plan to start next year to transport goods through Ukraine to Northern and Eastern Europe.

First they had been considering the project of Europe-Western China international transport corridor, most of which had to pass through the territory of Russia. But it seems that the consortium members have made their choice and have decided to do without Russia. Some Russian commentators have already accused China of “treason”... In July this year, China “made another betrayal” having given up the construction of the Altai Gas Pipeline (Power of Siberia-2). Beijing is not satisfied with the high price, which Gazprom offered for the construction of the Altai. If Turkey also refuses to buy Russian gas, then Russia may have trouble selling it. By the way, December 5 R. Erdogan said Turkey would replace the energy supplies from Russia and find other suppliers, in particular, Qatar and Azerbaijan.

From Strategic Partnership to Confrontation?

Absolute pragmatism and strength in defending the interests of the country is a characteristic feature of the policy of the current Turkish leadership, which does not stop, if necessary, before the deterioration of relations with influential countries, including the USA, Russia, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and other countries.

It seems that Ankara's strategy in relations with Moscow now has the following objectives: to avoid large-scale confrontations; to use the economic cooperation with Russia to build up Turkey's economic potential; to firmly defend Turkey's interests in spheres where there is a clash of political and economic interests of the two countries.

In our view, as Turkey gets new leading positions in the international and regional levels, the political and economic competition between Turkey and the Russian Federation will increase, however, it will hardly escalate into open hostility, given the strategic importance of normal political and economic relations for both countries. According to the Turkish expert Hasan Aksay, “Turkey is a country which Russia cannot afford to lose”. Thus, Turkey and Russia are “doomed” to peaceful coexistence and cooperation. That is, if talking sensibly and realistically. But it seems that in the Kremlin “hawks” are ruling, whose great-power ambitions are more important than vital interests of the majority of Russian citizens.

It seems that Moscow has risked “burn the bridges” with Ankara. How else can be seen that part of V. Putin's message to the Federal Assembly, December 3, in which he called the Turkish leadership “ruling clique?” How can one call a “ruling clique” Tukey's leadership who has been very successfully ruling Turkey for the past 12 years and in all elections is voted for by vast majority of Turkish voters? Does V. Putin know that in the presidential elections of August 10, 2014 R. Erdogan won 51.79 % of the vote and in the parliamentary elections of November 1, 2015 his party AKP won 49.50 % of the vote, having received a majority of seats in the Parliament — 315 out of 550 seats ? At this, V. Putin warmly congratulated his “strategic partner” R. Erdogan on his victories.

The talks of the Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov with his Turkish counterpart M. Cavusoglu took place in Belgrade, on the sidelines of a meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers on December 3, on the eve of V. Putin's speech before the Russian Federal Assembly. Therefore, by definition, no one expect from it a shift in the direction of resolving the conflict between Moscow and Ankara, despite the fact that M. Cavusoglu expressed his condolences to S. Lavrov over the death of a pilot of the downed Russian Su-24 bomber. S. Lavrov said that he “heard nothing new” at the meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

For Russia, the confrontation with one of the strongest NATO's countries is no good, because Turkey will be supported by the 27 countries of the Alliance. November 30 during a joint press conference in Brussels with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “All allies fully support Turkey's right to protect the integrity of its territory and its airspace”. Besides, without the agreement of his actions in Syria with Turkey, and in general, with NATO, Russian Armed Forces will not be able to perform the tasks set by V. Putin in anti-ISIS fight and in supporting B. Assad's regime. Moreover, we can already say that as a result of even short-term crisis in relations between Moscow and Ankara, Russia's military operations in Syria, by definition, can no longer be adequate and successful. And Moscow will hardly manage to save B. Assad's regime. Because of the Russian-Turkish crisis, the process of peaceful political settlement of the Syrian conflict (on which an agreement was achieved in Vienna on November 14 as a result of multilateral negotiations, which were attended by the foreign ministers of 17 states, including the TR and the Russian Federation) is also at risk of failure.

In our view, the mutual threats and ultimatums between Moscow and Ankara are mainly declarative and are unlikely to be fully realized. Too great would be losses of both the countries in case of rupture of relations between them. Therefore, their bilateral economic cooperation will be gradually normalized. It may take at least several months. However, their political relations will remain at a level close to zero for a long time. The past (as it turned out — ostentatious) warmth in relations between the two leaders will be gone. Relations between Russia and Turkey will be more pragmatic, moderate and competitive. The Kremlin's strategists should also forget their plans to “tear” Turkey from NATO. Moreover, we can say that by his short-sighted and reckless policy towards Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey, V. Putin gave NATO a “second wind” and the possibility of further development and strengthening for at least another 20 years, and nobody and nothing will now prevent Ukraine's joining NATO.

The current crisis in Russian-Turkish relations has once again showed that even large-scale economic cooperation in the presence of serious political differences cannot guarantee a real, not declarative strategic partnership. It is no coincidence that the Turkish expert Bulent Aras called Turkish-Russian relations “competitive”, while his colleague Mustafa Aydin defined them as “paradoxical partnership”. After V. Putin had called the Turkish leadership “ruling clique”, the question arises whether the “point of no return” in the confrontation between Moscow and Ankara has been stepped over, or a compromise between the parties is still possible? Obviously this will depend on Moscow's willingness to begin a dialogue and to seek a compromise. So far everything shows that unlike Ankara, Moscow is not ready for this yet and continues to escalate anti-Turkish hysteria, which sometimes takes paradoxical forms.

Thus, the Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin, speaking recently at a talk show of one of the Russian TV, said, “We always suspected that Ukrainians and Turks are brothers. Even their Bendera is from the Ottomans”. What can you say to that point to Mr. Deputy Prime Minister? In fact, by his statement D. Rogozin made no anthropological discovery. Ukrainians, Turks and Crimean Tatars are really close peoples. If nothing else, this is evidenced by at least the fact that the Ukrainian language has about 4 thousand Turkic words. There are not fewer (if not more) Turkic words in the Russian language, as the Russian Federation today includes 20 Turkic peoples and nations. Just for Mr. Rogozin's information, of the 12 million population of Moscow, only 3 million are ethnic Russians — 20 %, the remaining residents of the Russian capital are mainly representatives of the Turkic peoples, among whom Azerbaijanis and Volga Tatars alone make one and half and one million respectively.

Ukraine and the Russian-Turkish Confrontation

In December 2014, on the site of the Analytical Center Borysfen Intel was published my article “Turkey and the Ukrainian-Russian Confrontation”. Then I could not imagine that only a year after V. Putin's “triumphal” visit to Ankara, I'll be writing about the Turkish-Russian confrontation and Ukraine's position in relation to it.

Russia's aggressive actions have united the Ukrainian and Turkish interests. Undoubtedly, the fact that Ukraine and Turkey have become parties to the conflict with Russia, to a certain extent brings together Kyiv and Ankara. As a result of Russia's restrictive measures and sanctions against Turkey, there will surely appear additional opportunities in the Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation, particularly in trade.

Russia's aggressive actions have united the Ukrainian and Turkish interests

In November-early December this year, there was a series of contacts between the leaders of Ukraine and Turkey. November 5, P. Poroshenko congratulated R. Erdogan on the phone on the victory of the Justiceand Development Party in the parliamentary elections held on the 1st of November 2015. During the conversation, the Presidents discussed the state of implementation of agreements reached during the latest session of the High-Level Interstate Council on the 20th of March 2015 within the framework of President R. Erdogan's visit to Kyiv.

November 30, on the sidelines of the UN Climate Summit in Paris, P. Poroshenko and R. Erdogan had a meeting, during which an agreement was reached on the visit of the President of Ukraine to Turkey in the first quarter of 2016. Within the framework of the forthcoming visit to Ankara, P. Poroshenko intends to demonstrate “a number of developments in the political, and defense spheres between Ukraine and Turkey”. During the meeting in Paris they also agreed to intensify cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey, in particular, to hold the tenth session of the Intergovernmental Ukrainian-Turkish Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

December 3, within the framework of the meeting in Brussels of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Foreign Ministers, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine P. Klimkin met with the Turkish Foreign Minister M. Cavusoglu, and they discussed issues of bilateral cooperation in various fields.

According to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, the volume of bilateral trade between Ukraine and Turkey for goods and services in 2014 amounted to 5.1 billion US dollars, — by 15.5 % less than in 2013 year.

At this, the exports made 3.7 billion US dollars, imports — 1.5 billion US dollars. About 60 % of Ukrainian exports to Turkey were ferrous metals and another 20 % — agricultural products. During R. Erdogan's visit to Kyiv in March of this year, a goal was set — to increase the trade turnover between Ukraine and Turkey up to 10 billion US dollars by the end of 2017, and to 20 billion US dollars — in 2023. While in Kyiv, R. Erdogan spoke about respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and announced the decision to grant Ukraine a loan of 50 million US dollars, as well as to allocate 10 million US dollars of humanitarian aid in the form of donations to the needs of internally displaced persons.

The largest component of Ukrainian exports to Turkey is agricultural products, particularly grain and sunflower oil. Within ten months of 2015, Ukraine has exported to Turkey agro-industrial products worth 566 million US dollars, which is by 12 % higher than last year's figures. Russia's restrictions imposed on imports of Ukrainian and Turkish agricultural products can be a powerful stimulus for integration of the Ukrainian and Turkish agricultural markets.


In August this year, in response to Ukraine's joining the EU sanctions against Russia, the Russian government imposed a ban on the imports of agricultural products from Ukraine, which will get in force in case if the Government of Ukraine uses the economic part of the Association Agreement with the European Union from January 1, 2016 in the form of creation of a Free trade zone. According to preliminary estimates, the loss from the Russian embargo on Ukrainian agricultural products will be about 600 million US dollars per year. As pointed out by President P. Poroshenko, “The position of Ukraine and the EU is clear — a free trade area will start working on the 1st of January, 2016. We will not give in to Moscow's blackmail”.

As stressed by the Minister of Agrarian Policy of Ukraine A. Pavlenko, the domestic agricultural and industrial sector could at least double the export of grain products and sunflower oil to Turkey's market. However, this would be not so easy, because the Turkish market is sufficiently competitive, and apart from Ukraine, there are many other countries that want to take the Russian agro-industrial niche in the Turkish market. First of all — Australia, Canada and the United States. Moreover, it appears that Moscow is in no hurry to cancel deliveries of Russian grain to Turkey. According to some reports, Rosselkhoznadzor is not going to introduce restrictive measures on the exports of agricultural products, including grain, to Turkey.

Great opportunities of the Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation can be implemented in the construction sector. Over the past 20 years, Turkish construction companies have carried out in Ukraine projects worth 4.5 billion US dollars, and intend to continue this activity, particularly in rebuilding the infrastructure of the Donbas, destroyed as a result of the Russian aggression. There is a hope to achieve a positive decision on the construction by Ukrainian companies of Turkish storage facilities and on free passage of tankers with liquefied gas to Ukraine through the Turkish Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles.

Significant opportunities exist in the sphere of military-technical cooperation (MTC) between Ukraine and Turkey. These issues were discussed during Turkey's President R. Erdogan's visit to Kyiv in March 2015. During Turkey Defence Week-2015 International Conference, held November 10-12, 2015 in Ankara, representatives of the Defence Ministries of Ukraine and Turkey confirmed the plans to develop the bilateral military-technical cooperation. As Deputy Head of the Ukroboronprom D. Gurak said, the parties plan joint projects to strengthen the level of security in the Black Sea. This sphere will be one of the main aspects of cooperation.

As perspective directions of bilateral military-technical cooperation are considered tank-building, production of aircraft engines, radar, navigation, communications and missile weapons. Ukraine can also participate in a number of Turkey's defence programs for creation of certain types of weapons, including creation of the main Turkish battle tank (MBT) of the third generation Altay, as well as of a Turkish fighter aircraft. Ankara aims to increase by 2032 the volume of exports of Turkish arms up to 25 billion US dollars. Due to intensification of military-technical cooperation with Turkey, the military-industrial complex of Ukraine will be able to significantly reduce the time needed to create its modern weapons that meet the NATO standards.


The alliance of Ukrainian and Turkish peoples is our success in the struggle against Russia's imperial ambitions

If we manage to really raise the relations with Turkey to the level of strategic partnership, then, we will significantly strengthen our positions in the confrontation with Russia imposed on us by the Kremlin. Therefore, the forthcoming visit of the President P. Poroshenko to Ankara is, I would say, of crucial importance for Ukraine. To prepare for the visit we have not more than two or three months. This visit can be successful only if all the state structures of Ukraine involved in its preparation work with responsibility. Besides, for P. Poroshenko's mission in Ankara to be successful, we need political stability, which depends on all the Ukrainian citizens and all political forces, who cherish the fate of Ukraine.

In our opinion, the alliance of Ukrainian and Turkish peoples is our success in the struggle against Russia's imperial ambitions. But even successful and strong bilateral Ukrainian-Turkish political and economic relations cannot guarantee the security of Ukraine. To guarantee the security of Ukraine, it is necessary that Ukraine and Turkey belong to the same geopolitical interstate associations — the EU and NATO. However, in circumstances where the prospects of Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO, and Turkey's —- to the EU, are problematic and uncertain, in our view, there is now a possibility to create a Baltic-Black Sea Union including Poland, Ukraine and Turkey as a sub-component of the European Union and NATO.

As you know, President of Poland Andrzej Duda has initiated the creation of “partnership alliance of states” from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. In our opinion, the Ukrainian leadership should strongly support the initiative of the President of Poland. Only being a member of Baltic-Black Sea Union, Ukraine will be able to defend its sovereignty and independence from Russia's aggressive encroachments.