Bilateral ties between Turkey, Russia likely to improve under Putin’s presidency

Vladimir Putin won a resounding victory in Russia’s presidential election on March 4. Putin wiped tears from his eyes as he addressed his supporters following the announcement of the results. (PHOTO REUTERS, MIKHAIL VOSKRESENSKY)

March 11, 2012, Sunday/ 12:56:00

Vladimir Putin won a landslide victory in the recent elections held on March 4 where he received 63.6 percent of the vote.

Shortly after the elections, he, along with Dmitri Medvedev, who replaced him in 2008, spoke to the crowd in Manej Square, right next to the Kremlin on Sunday evening. Putin, in his speech, said that they won a victory and that those who were seeking a change of power in the administration failed. In addition, he also thanked those who extended support for a Greater Russia. What stayed in the minds of the people in the brief speech were Putin’s tears.

The protest demonstrations that are expected to wane and end within a few months will not affect the administration on a massive scale. Putin will not face any discussions or debates on his presidency; he will take the oath right before Victory Day on May 9 and reside in the Kremlin. The list of things to do for Putin is a very long one. Putin will have to take care of the integration of the breakaway regions with the central administration and the oligarchs who are held responsible for wasting public resources. To meet the demands of people for greater welfare measures, the clumsy economic structure left from the Soviet era has to be modernized.

Putin’s return to the Kremlin pleased Ankara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül called Putin to congratulate him on his victory. Bilateral relations between the two countries, which are eager to make huge progress in the field of economy and trade, may be negatively affected by the Arab Spring and the missile shield initiative. However, the environment of trust and rapprochement between the leaders of both countries will make strong and huge contributions to the improvement of ties; for this reason, no visible faltering in relations is expected in the field of foreign policy.

Economic interdependence will prevent political tension

Ismael Agakishiyev, chair of the Center of Caucasian Affairs of Russian State Social Sciences University, holds that the assurance for potential issues in foreign policy is the friendship between Putin and Erdoğan. Agakishiyev, noting that the Erdoğan-led Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has maintained warm relations with Moscow during his time in office, also says that the Putin-Erdoğan friendship will make a strong contribution to the achievement of lasting stability in the region in the years to come.

The main dynamics in bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey, which mutually eliminated visa requirements for stays of 30 days. Yes, are the economy and tourism. The bilateral ties that started with the discovery of Antalya by Russian tourists and the small size of trade in the aftermath of the Cold War have significantly improved during the AK Party administration in Turkey. Russia, which now enjoys the status of full membership in the World Trade Organization, is open to more investment by Turkish businessmen. Bilateral trade, which amounted to $30 billion at the end of 2011, is now set to reach to $100 billion within a decade. Turkish entrepreneurs who improved and diversified their business activities in Russia employ 100,000 Russian workers in their facilities and factories. The number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey is expected to reach 4 million in 2012. The two countries, which increased the amount of bilateral investments over the past decade, will implement large, ambitious projects such as the Akkuyu nuclear power plant located in the southern province of Mersin and the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline project. The improving relations in the field of economy and trade are assurances for the future of political relations as well.

Cold winds in foreign policy

Owing to an institutional framework devised two years ago, Turkey and Russia are now able to deal with their common problems. The High Cooperation Council, which operates like a joint cabinet, the Joint Strategic Planning Group where the differing foreign approaches are discussed, the Social Forum where civil society organizations are represented and the Joint Economic Council where the business actors are active assure paradigm change in bilateral relations.

However, the Arab Spring and the missile shield initiative that Russia views as a threat to its national security have become risky fields in the relations between Turkey and Russia. The installation of part of the missile shield framework at the Kürecik radar base, which was used by the US to conduct surveillance of Russia during the Cold War, raised concerns in Moscow. Putin, who described the change in Libya as an invasion by crusaders, is expected to remain supportive of the Damascus regime.

According to journalist and writer Maxim Schevchenko from the Public Chamber of Russia, Moscow understands Turkey’s approach towards Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Even though Turkey feels obligated to support change in Syria because of various considerations, a possible attack against Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the US will potentially raise tension in Turkish-Russian relations. Schevchenko asserts that in the event Turkey sides with the Western front in an operation against Iran, relations between Turkey and Russia will certainly deteriorate.

Mutual understanding in the missile shield program will relieve Turkey

Most probably Putin will join the G8 summit to be held May 18-19 at Camp David. The Russian president is also expected to participate in the NATO summit to be held in Chicago where the missile shield could be discussed on May 20-21.

Andrei Yashlawski, editor-in-chief of the Moskovski Komsomolets daily, argues that the missile shield issue will be key in Putin’s foreign policy approach. In the event of positive and constructive steps, Putin may adopt a warmer approach for a possible solution as regards Syria and other pressing issues. Putin, who is expected to maintain the current policy by which he keeps relations tense without completely tearing down bridges with the West, will also take some bold steps to ensure the creation of the Eurasian Union. Putin will also make an effort to develop bilateral relations with Ankara based on mutual trust, respect and recognition of interests.

Political analyst Alexander Karavayev from Moscow State University’s Center for Information and Analysis argues that bilateral relations between the two countries will continue to improve under the Putin administration. Noting that relations are so strong and firm that they will not be affected by the conjectural developments in world affairs, Karavayev says: “The two countries will keep taking joint steps in the Black Sea basin and Caucasus region. After the election of Putin as president, the two countries will expand their relations in the fields of energy, trade and tourism and will become strategic partners.”

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