2018-03-27

NATO's Ankara is a unique asset of Moscow's diplomacy



In early April, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey to attend the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council (HLCC). For a number of reasons, the meeting of the Council is significant: the event is the most important mechanism for coordination and development of bilateral relations. In addition, the current meeting of the HLCC, which was established in 2010 and which has been held every year since then, is the first after a long pause that had occurred because of the crisis in bilateral relations due to the downed Russian aircraft in the sky of Syria.

The last time Putin met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the format of the HLCC was in December 2014. The talks in Ankara noted the intention of the parties to increase the volume of bilateral trade to the level of $ 100 billion by 2020, while the leaders of the countries noted the need to balance trade turnover and its structure. The Russian side indicated a firm intention to cooperate with Turkey in the construction of the first Akkuyu nuclear power plant on its territory.

Of course, in the framework of the HLCC, the events in Syria were also discussed, then the parties, despite declarations of a concurring desire to end the conflict, had to admit that they disagreed on the question of how the war should be stopped. The head of Turkey, hoping to support his partners in the West and in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, called for the speedy departure of President Bashar Assad. It is obvious that the differences over the Syrian conflict in the future also determined the trajectory of the development of relations in 2015.

On March 14, 2018, the 6th meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG), established within the framework of the work of the HLCC and headed by the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Russia, was held. The focus of JSPG work this year was on the measures taken to overcome the consequences of the crisis. The parties noted the growth in trade turnover, the volume of which amounted to $ 21.6 billion in 2017. The plans were announced for the Cross-Year Culture and Tourism in Russia and Turkey in 2019. The foreign ministers paid special attention to the restoring stream of Russian tourists: in 2017, 4.5 million Russians visited Turkey (in the crisis year 2016 - only 866 thousand people). Initiatives were noted for the construction of the Turkish Stream and the purchase by the Turkish side of the S-400 Triumph SAM system, the deliveries of which will begin in 2020.

At the meeting of the JSPG unresolved issues were identified, many of which emerged as a result of the crisis of 2015-2016. First of all, we are talking about mutual hidden trade sanctions and restrictions. Obviously, the parties are trying to achieve certain preferences for themselves under new conditions: the Russian side wants to open the Turkish market for a number of domestic producers of agricultural products, while the Turks demand the removal of artificial restrictions on their vegetables imposed by the Russian authorities in the framework of sanctions against Ankara in 2016 year.

Another subject of negotiations is the issue of simplifying mutual trips of citizens of certain categories. For Turkey, the liberalization of the visa regime is important for the development of ties between the Turkish business community. For Russia, this issue is related to ensuring security and combating terrorism.

The April meeting of the heads of state should stimulate the transition in bilateral relations from the post-crisis recovery regime to the long-term development regime. The agenda of the meeting will include issues of cooperation in the field of construction of infrastructure facilities, attraction of investments and establishment of joint ventures. It is worth waiting for clarification of issues around two joint large-scale projects: the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.

As for the construction of nuclear power plants, first of all, the heads of state should resolve the issue of obtaining by the Russian side of all necessary permits from the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency. The most important subject of discussions, however, should be the question of the fate of 49% of the shares of nuclear power plants and investments, the volume of which is currently estimated at $ 20 billion, which are necessary for construction. In addition, the parties should discuss the progress of the construction of both branches of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline: both Turkey and Russia attach special importance to the project in realizing their geopolitical and economic plans. So, the deliveries along this route should ensure the growing needs of Turkey, whose leadership plans to enter the 10th anniversary of the republic in 2023 in the top ten developed countries of the world.

The general dynamics of bilateral relations is obvious: priority is given to cooperation in the economic sphere with a separate emphasis on large infrastructure projects.

Even with the threat of sanctions from the West, the leadership of both countries demonstrates the political will to cooperate. Moreover, steps are becoming more noticeable to expand trustful dialogue and cooperation on politically significant projects. It's not just about Turkey's acquisition of four S-400 divisions from Russia by $ 2.5 billion. As in 2014, the theme of Syria continues to determine the agenda for relations between Moscow and Ankara.

The rapprochement of the positions of the two countries on the Syrian conflict is based on the realization that Russia and Turkey need each other to provide a real political process, during which both the interests of all the Syrians and the interests of both countries could be taken into account. Examples of recent military operations in Syrian Africa and East Gut, where the situation was largely determined by a compromise between Ankara and Moscow, demonstrate that the parties are ready to listen to each other's concerns.

The importance of the Syrian track of bilateral relations lies in the fact that it was within the framework of the Astana process that the dialogue was built into multilateral diplomacy. The participation of Iran and Turkey, countries with completely different interests in Syria, in the issue of reducing violence in the country became possible thanks to the painstaking work of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The experience gained in coordinating steps between countries should also be used in the future in the reconstruction and reconstruction of Syria, where Turkey and Russia can again find areas for interaction. Probably, the leaders of the two countries will discuss this issue during the summit.

Against the backdrop of the positive dynamics of economic and political relations, the intention of the leaders of the Russian Federation and Turkey to come to an understanding that one can not be friends against a third person. After all, as history shows, in cases where Ankara or Moscow begin to quarrel with each other, going on the occasion of a third party, as a result, both states are in the broken trough. At the same time, it is necessary to resolutely resist the attempts of the third forces to disrupt the dialogue between Russia and Turkey.

It is necessary to clarify the issue of the triangle of Turkey-Russia-NATO relations. For Russia, the significance of this issue lies in the fact that it is through Turkey that the military alliance is inclined to act in the regions where Russian interests are identified, namely the Black Sea, the Caucasus and Syria. It is important to understand that since the 1990s Turkey has been trying to find a place in a world where political changes of a tectonic scale have taken place, and it is the role of a conductor of Western influence in regions that are inaccessible to the West that is the most attractive and effective direction of Ankara's foreign policy. Part of the Turkish elite still believes that it is in close alliance with the West that the country can realize its foreign policy interests.

The foregoing does not mean that Russia should seek Turkey's withdrawal from NATO. On the contrary, Turkey, which has good-neighbourly relations with Russia and wants to conduct a confidential dialogue with its northern neighbour, as a member of NATO, is a unique asset of Russian diplomacy, especially in conditions of artificial anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. Dialogue between Russia and Turkey on the Crimea, the situation in the South Caucasus, the balance of military forces in the Black Sea should stimulate NATO to communicate with Russia.

Of course, all this requires patient work to strengthen relations in all their manifestations. Confidence among countries will grow with the deepening of cooperation not only in the economic sphere, but also in the discussion of political issues, as well as joint diplomatic initiatives. The main thing in this case is the ability to listen and hear what is achieved through frequent and open dialogue. Public forces and civil initiatives can help the political leadership of the countries in this matter. Especially important are the contacts between the expert communities, which in many ways still think in terms of ideological confrontation.

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