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Turkey hops aboard Russia's ride (article)

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  • Turkey hops aboard Russia's ride (article)

    Turkey hops aboard Russia's ride
    By F William Engdahl

    Despite the impact of the rouble's instability and weak oil prices on the Russian economy in recent months , Moscow is pursuing a very active foreign policy strategy. Its elements focus on countering the continuing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) encirclement policy of Washington, with often clever diplomatic initiatives on its Eurasian periphery. Taking advantage of the cool relations between Washington and longtime NATO ally Turkey, Moscow recently invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to come to Russia on a four-day state visit to discuss a wide array of economic and political issues.

    In addition to siding up to Turkey, which offers a vital transit route for natural gas to Western Europe, Russia is also working to firm an economic space with Belarus and other former Soviet republics to firm its alliances. Moscow delivered a major blow to the US military encirclement strategy in Central Asia when it succeeded
    last month in convincing Kyrgyzstan, with the help of major financial aid, to cancel US military airbase rights at Manas, a site of great importance to Washington's escalation plans in Afghanistan.

    In short, Moscow is demonstrating it is far from out of the new "Great Game" where influence over Eurasia is concerned.

    Turkey's government, led by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, has shown increasing impatience with not only Washington policies in the Middle East, but also the refusal of the European Union to seriously consider Turkey's bid to join. So it's only natural that Turkey would seek some counterweight to what it has perceived as overwhelming US influence in Turkish politics since the Cold War. And Russia's leaders have no problems opening such a dialogue, much to Washington's dismay.

    Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a four-day visit to the Russian Federation from February 12 to 15, where he met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and also travelled to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where he discussed joint investments. Gul was accompanied by his state minister responsible for foreign trade and minister of energy, Hilmi Guler, as well as a large delegation of Turkish businessmen. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan joined the delegation.

    Visit to Tatarstan
    The fact that Gul's Moscow visit also included a stop in Tatarstan, the largest autonomous republic in the Russian Federation, whose population mainly consists of Muslim Tatar Turks, is a sign of just how much relations between Ankara and Moscow have improved in recent months as Turkey cooled to Washington's foreign policy. In previous years, Moscow was convinced that Turkey was trying to establish Pan-Turanism in the Caucasus, Central Asia and inside the Russian Federation. Today, Turkish relations with Turk entities inside the Russian Federation are clearly no longer considered suspicious, confirming a new mood of mutual trust.

    Indicating the value Moscow now attaches to Turkey, Russia elevated Gul's trip from the previously announced status of an "official visit" to a "state visit", the highest level of state protocol. Gul and Medvedev also signed a joint declaration announcing their commitment to deepening mutual friendship and multi-dimensional cooperation. The declaration mirrored a previous "Joint Declaration on the Intensification of Friendship and Multidimensional Partnership", which was signed during a 2004 visit by then-president Putin.

    Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade volumes reaching US$32 billion in 2008, making Russia Turkey's biggest trade partner. Given this background, bilateral economic ties were a major item on Gul's agenda and both leaders expressed their satisfaction with the growing commerce between their countries.

    Cooperation in energy is the major issue. Turkey's gas and oil imports from Russia account for most of the trade volume. According to Russian press reports, indicate that the two sides are interested in improving cooperation in energy transportation lines carrying Russian gas to European markets through Turkey, a project known as Blue Stream-2. Previously Ankara had been cool to the proposal but the recent completion of the Russian Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea increased Turkey's dependence on Russian natural gas from 66% up to 80%. Furthermore, Russia is beginning to see Turkey as a transit country for its energy resources rather than simply an export market, due to the significance of Blue Stream-2.

    Russia is also eager to play a major role in Turkey's attempts to diversify its energy sources. A Russian-led consortium won the tender for the construction of Turkey's first nuclear plant recently, but as the price offered for electricity was above world prices, the future of the project, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, remains unclear. Prior to Gul's Moscow trip, the Russian consortium submitted a revised offer, reducing the price by 30%. If this revision is found legal under the tender rules, the positive mood during Gul's trip may indicate the Turkish government is ready to give the go-ahead for the project.

    Russia's market also plays a major role for Turkish overseas investments and exports. Russia is one of the main customers for Turkish construction firms and a major destination for Turkish exports. Similarly, millions of Russian tourists bring significant revenues to Turkey every year.

    Importantly, Turkey and Russia may start to use the Turkish lira and the Russian rouble in foreign trade, which could increase Turkish exports to Russia, as well as weaken dependence on dollar mediation.

    Post-Cold War tensions reduced
    However, the main reason for Gul's visit was to develop stronger political ties between the two. Both leaders repeated the position that, as the two major powers in the area, cooperation between Russia and Turkey was essential to regional peace and stability. That marked a dramatic change from the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Washington encouraged Ankara to move into historically Ottoman regions of the former Soviet Union to counter Russia's influence.

    Then, in sharp contrast to the tranquility of the Cold War era, talk of regional rivalries, revived 'Great Games' in Eurasia and confrontations in the Caucasus and Central Asia were common. Turkey, as in the 19th century, was becoming once more Russia's natural geopolitical rival. Turkey's quasi-alliance with Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia until recently led Moscow to view Ankara as a formidable rival. The regional military balance developed in favor of Turkey in the Black Sea and the Southern Caucasus. And after the disintegration of the USSR, the Black Sea became a de facto "NATO lake". As Russia and Ukraine argued over the division of the Black Sea fleet and status of Sevastopol, the Black Sea became an area for NATO'S Partnership for Peace exercises.
    By contrast, at the end of the latest Moscow visit, Gul declared, "Russia and Turkey are neighboring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. I hope this visit will in turn give a new character to our relations." Russia praised Turkey's diplomatic initiatives in the region.

    Medvedev commended Turkey's actions during the Russian-Georgian war last summer and Turkey's subsequent proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). The Russian president said the Georgia crisis had shown their ability to deal with such problems on their own without the involvement of outside powers, meaning Washington. Turkey had proposed the CSCP, bypassing Washington and not seeking transatlantic consensus on Russia. Since then, Turkey has indicated its intent to follow a more independent foreign policy.

    Russia aims to use its economic resources to counter the growing NATO encirclement, made more severe by Washington's decision to place missile and radar bases in Poland
    and the Czech Republic aimed at Moscow. To date the Obama administration has indicated it will continue the Bush "missile defense" policy. Washington also just agreed to place US Patriot missiles in Poland, clearly not aimed at Germany, but at Russia.

    Following Gul's visit, Medvedev will go to Turkey to follow up the issues with concrete cooperation proposals. The Turkish-Russian cooperation is a further indication of how the once overwhelming US influence in Eurasia has been eroded by the events of recent US foreign policy in the region.

    Washington is waking up to find it is now confronted with Sir Halford Mackinder's "worst nightmare". Mackinder, the "father" of 20th century British geopolitics, stressed the importance of Britain (and after 1945, the US) preventing strategic cooperation among the great powers of Eurasia.

  • #2
    Re: Turkey hops aboard Russia's ride (article)

    I read this article or one like it in kroong and it is worrying me. Russia really is the only thing stoping turckey from running us over and i am afraid their resolve to protect us will be compromised because of this new turn of events. The threat of panturckism will keep us still under russias protection but i dought they would be helpfull in reclaiming anything from our lost lands.
    Hayastan or Bust.