Given their dynamically growing economic co-operation, the leaders of Turkey and Russia are now working for closer political dialogue to match.
For centuries, Turkey and Russia have been rivals for regional supremacy. Recently, the two countries have realised that friendly relations are in the interest of them both. Accordingly, co-operation rather than rivalry appears to dominate their ties. This development has been welcome by the EU, which sees these countries as the two largest imponderables on the European horizon.
The general understanding is that Russia is a European country while Turkey belongs to Asia, despite the fact that the two vast countries both span the continents of Europe and Asia (although they no longer share a border). The reason for the above distinction is that in both countries the majority of the population as well as the capital city are located on the continent where they are respectively assigned.
In December 2004, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Moscow before Russian President Vladimir Putin reciprocated with a trip to Ankara in January 2005. In November 2005, Putin attended the inauguration of a jointly constructed Blue Stream natural gas pipeline in Turkey. This sequence of top-level visits has brought several important bilateral issues to the forefront.
In 2004, trade between Turkey and Russia was worth some $11 billion. By the end of August 2005, this figure reached almost $10 billion, and it is expected by both Moscow and Ankara to increase to $25 billion by 2007. Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner after Germany, while Turkey is Russia's 14th trade partner. Russia exports to Turkey fuel and energy products (72% of total), as well as metals (16%) and chemical goods (4%). Turkey, in turn, sells textiles (30%), machinery and vehicles (23%), chemical goods (15%) and food products (15%) to Russia.
Turkish companies are present in significant numbers in Russia’s construction, retail and brewing industries. Russia’s investment in Turkey is worth $350 million while Turkey’s investment in Russia totals $1.5 billion.
The two countries consider it their strategic goal to achieve "multidimensional co-operation", especially in the fields of energy, transport and the military. Specifically, Russia aims to invest in Turkey’s fuel and energy industries, and it also expects to participate in tenders for the modernisation of Turkey’s military.
In the strategic energy sector, the two countries are in agreement to implement large-scale projects, some of which compare with the Blue Stream gas pipeline, which was officially inaugurated in November 2005. Among other developments, Russia will increase gas supplies to Turkey and will allow Russian companies to engage in gas distribution in Turkish territory. Talks are also underway on ways to increase Russian electricity deliveries to Turkey.
- European Union
Moscow's initial reaction to Turkey drawing closer to the EU was lukewarm. "If you enter the EU we cannot meet frequently," Putin was reported as telling his host, Prime Minister Erdogan, during the former’s visit to Ankara in late 2004. However, at the two leaders’ next meeting in Moscow in January 2005, Putin already said that Russia was in favour of Turkey’s EU membership, primarily since it promised to open up new trading channels for Russia. ''We welcome Turkey's success at the EU Brussels summit,'' Putin said in Moscow. ''I hope that Turkey's integration in the European Union will open up a new horizon for Russian-Turkish business cooperation.''
Regarding the outstanding issue of Cyprus (which is tied closely to Turkey's EU membership bid), Russia has declared support for the plan put forward by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. ''We will support any resolution that comes out of the implementation of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan," said Putin. He added that the economic embargo on northern Cyprus was "unjust". In April 2004, Russia used its veto to block a resolution that sought to outline new UN security arrangements in Cyprus.
- World Trade Organisation
In return, Turkey's Erdogan has pledged to "fully support" Russia's quest for membership of the World Trade Organisation. "Many barriers in the way of trade and economic co-operation between our countries may undoubtedly be removed after completion of Russian-Turkish negotiations on Russia's WTO entry on acceptable terms," reacted Putin. The EU concluded a deal with Russia on the latter's accession to the WTO in May 2004. Russia may become a full member of the WTO in 2005.
- Chechnya / the Kurd issue
The conflict in Chechnya remains high on the two countries’ bilateral agendas. Several Turks trace their ancestry to the Caucasus, including Chechnya, and they have always been sympathetic towards the Muslim militants in the war-torn Russian region. Earlier, Russia issued calls for Turkey to crack down on Turkish “philanthropic organisations” that allegedly channelled money and arms to rebel groups in Chechnya. In turn, Turkey accused Russia of backing Kurdish rebel groups who have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeastern regions since the early 1980s. The recent rapprochement promises to bring both countries closer to negotiated solutions.
The Caucasus remains a moot point between the two countries. Turkey’s main ally in the Caucasus region is Azerbaijan, whereas Russia’s ally is its rival, Armenia, which continues to insist that Turkey committed 'genocide' against its people during World War One. ''We are all aware about the historical problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Russia will contribute to the peace process," Putin said. "We do not want negative relations with any of our neighbours, including Armenia," Erdogan responded.