Turkey-Russia relationships: The ultimate survival

Published 22.11.2014 01:44

Ankara and Istanbul will be hosting two major delegations Friday and Saturday. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Turkey to meet both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. His visit will also be an opportunity for both sides to put on a brave face concerning recent misunderstandings and leave the "apology" debacle behind.

Biden's visit is extremely important at a time when relations between the U.S. and EU on one part, and Russia on the other, are getting very tense. The G20 Summit in Australia was a platform where virtually all countries except China duly admonished President Vladimir Putin of Russia for his aggressive policies. Putin retaliated by leaving the summit very early and by sending five Russian warships to the South Pacific upon his arrival.

Syria, and to some degree Iraq, remains together with Ukraine as two major hot issues between Russia and the U.S. Turkey is involved in both cases. The real issue is Syria, where Turkish policy has been, since the beginning of the violence used by the Bashar Assad regime against democratic protests, to ask for a more democratic regime, obviously without Assad. The Syrian situation quickly turned into a quagmire due to the unwillingness of the U.S. and other democratic countries to get involved. Only after the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and its criminal attitude have the U.S. and other countries changed their mind and possibly near Turkey's stance. However, a big void remains as how to help a continuously ailing Syrian democratic opposition. Biden's visit will no doubt bring to the agenda all of these issues, but will undoubtedly serve to reinforce visibly Turkey-US cooperation. For Ukraine, after the EU sanctions on Russia, Turkey's commercial exchange volume with Russia has increased, albeit not very noticeably. But both countries still keep good commercial relations despite very important political disagreements.

Putin is also expected in Turkey where he will be accompanied by 10 of his ministers for a two-day visit. Obviously, Russia and Turkey do have very little in common regarding their analyses of international relations. The two countries have opposite views on almost everything, except the fact that bilateral commercial relations are kept at a very satisfactory pace. Russia will build the first nuclear power plant in Turkey and it remains only second to Germany regarding the number of tourists visiting Turkey.

The two countries have a fundamentally diverging approach as to the routes for transporting natural gas from the Caspian Basin and Central Asia to Europe. But up until now Turkey has secured a way of living with Russia by not overtly confronting its choices and policies while establishing alternative plans and investments. Turkey might try not to fill in the commercial gap created in Russia by the EU sanctions, which would look too opportunistic. In other times the EU could have asked Turkey to sign onto the sanctions, but the maximalist policies of keeping Turkey at bay have deeply deteriorated Turkey-EU relations. It would be presumptuous to think that the EU can oblige Turkey to severe its commercial ties with Russia. In any case, the EU is not asking for such a move for the time being.

Times are getting harder for Turkish diplomacy, which so far has been walking on a tightrope with success. Economic relations have not deteriorated with Iraq or Russia despite very difficult moments and deep political disagreements. Political relations with the U.S. are also on the rise, basically due to the fact that it is to everyone's interest to have a stable, strong and democratic Turkey in this sorry region of the world.

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