Studio guest Evgeny Satanovsky, President of the Institute of the Middle East, and Pavel Shlykov, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
Given Russia and Turkey’s disagreement on Syria, is this a likely partnership, in your opinion?
Evgeny Satanovsky: First of all, we have an agreement about a disagreement in the Syrian question. We know the position of Erdogan and Erdogan knows the position of Putin, they can be partners without the full agreement in all the aspects. And that is an excellent example of how it really must work, if there are some pragmatic interest which are good for both countries as the result. The countries must work for the positive, rather than the negative, as we are now with Washington DC and Brussels.
During this visit there was quite an important statement made, which can be summarized in Turkey remaining a partner of choice for Russia.
Evgeny Satanovsky: This means that the Turkish side will use all the options in this partnership and we too. If there are no Western companies on the Russian market, Turkey will be there. If Europe does not need the South Stream, Turkey will take the Russian gas. Moreover, Turkey is the member of NATO and it has the second largest army in NATO after the US, but that does not mean that Erdogan must shoot in his leg, as people in the ME usually say. That doesn’t mean that the Turkish interests are the American interests.
More than that, this visit was very symbolic, because Erdogan not so long ago was elected as the President. That was unique. He was the Prime Minister, then his term finished and he was elected as the President with the change in the Constitution, stopping all the options for the army to put hand on the political profits, with these and those things in his battle with the radical Islamists of Fethullah Gülen. The first visit to Turkey, the visit which practically blessed him for being a new ottoman sultan was the visit of the Pope. And the second visit, the first visit of the leader of a state as a guest, was the visit of the Russian President.
Is it a coincidence?
Evgeny Satanovsky: I think that was part of Erdogan’s strategy. That was a message to his Western partners. He understands that Turkey will never be part of big Europe, a member of the EU. This story of association with Europe which only started in Ukraine, for Turkey it took 50 years or more. That is the signal to his Western partners that Turkey comes back to the 17th century when the role of the West was quite smaller than now, but the role of Japan, China, Persia, Turkey, was much bigger.
This new tandem between Russia and Turkey in Eurasia, what effects will it have on Turkey’s ambitions with the EU, in your opinion?
Pavel Shlykov: The EU is the number one trade partner of Turkey. Turkey now has the so long awaited more than 100 billion turnover with the EU on the whole. I think that Erdogan and Davutoglu didn’t change their view of the EU. Of course, these steps of both Russia and Turkey will affect the relationship between Turkey and the EU, but I think this wouldn’t spoil them.
Could Turkey be the bridge between the West and the East for Russia?
Pavel Shlykov: First of all, I think Turkey has its own interests in the relationship with Russia and in this new project of a pipeline across the Black Sea. And I think that in this initiative we can see another signal that Turkey is still wanting to be a leader of the vast region of the greater ME. And it is not the relations between Turkey and the EU, but, first of all, it is the issue of Turkey’s position in the greater ME.
Russia is withdrawing from the South Stream project, who are the winners and the losers of this announcement?
Pavel Shlykov: I think that Russia is one of the sides which will lose a lot after this decision, because we know about the large investment that has been already made. And Gazprom won’t be able to recover this investment, which is about $4 billion. And it is a loss of image, because it was a great geopolitical project of the Russian President and he gave up this project. From the point of view of international image, it is a blow to Russia. But still, we can see that it is also a blow to the EU, to certain countries of the EU – Bulgaria, Serbia and so on. But still, it is difficult to say who will win and who will lose after giving up this project.
How much did this visit mean for Russia?
Pavel Shlykov: Actually, it is very important. It maybe is as important, as the visit of the Russian President to Turkey in the early 2000s. In the recent years we can see that the bilateral relations of Russia and Turkey have been characterized by the limited growth problem. We can see that the proclaimed 5 years earlier the aim of $100 billion turnover in the bilateral both Russia and Turkey failed to reach during these years, and 32-35 became a limit. And now, after the Akkuyu project and this announced new project of a pipeline across the Black Sea, we can expect that this limit of 100 billion can become more reachable.
Regarding the political dimension, it is difficult to say that now there is a breakthrough. There wasn’t any step forward in solving the problem of diametrically opposing position on such acute problems like the civil war in Syria, the crisis over Ukraine, Cyprus and so on. And it is also important that in the recent year the number of such acute questions on which Turkey and Russia have diametrically opposing positions is rising. And it is not a very good tendency.