Turkey Critical to Moscow’s Eurasianist Alternative

gulmedvedev030309.jpgThe building of a “new economic architecture” and a counterweight to NATO doesn’t happen overnight, and despite the doldrums and credit crisis, the Kremlin is still hobbling towards its goals in the East.  Have both Washinton and Brussels forgotten just how strategically important Turkey is to this new game?  From the Asia Times Online:

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 tripfrom the previously announced status of an “official visit” to a “state visit”,the highest level of state protocol. Gul and Medvedev also signed a jointdeclaration announcing their commitment to deepening mutual friendship andmulti-dimensional cooperation. The declaration mirrored a previous “JointDeclaration on the Intensification of Friendship and MultidimensionalPartnership”, which was signed during a 2004 visit by then-president Putin.

Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, withtrade volumes reaching US$32 billion in 2008, making Russia Turkey’s biggesttrade partner. Given this background, bilateral economic ties were a major itemon Gul’s agenda and both leaders expressed their satisfaction with the growingcommerce between their countries.

Cooperation in energy is the major issue. Turkey’s gas and oil imports fromRussia account for most of the trade volume. According to Russian pressreports, indicate that the two sides are interested in improving cooperation inenergy transportation lines carrying Russian gas to European markets throughTurkey, a project known as Blue Stream-2. Previously Ankara had been cool tothe proposal but the recent completion of the Russian Blue Stream gas pipelineunder the Black Sea increased Turkey’s dependence on Russian natural gas from66% up to 80%. Furthermore, Russia is beginning to see Turkey as a transitcountry for its energy resources rather than simply an export market, due tothe significance of Blue Stream-2.

Russia is also eager to play a major role in Turkey’s attempts to diversify itsenergy sources. A Russian-led consortium won the tender for the construction ofTurkey’s first nuclear plant recently, but as the price offered for electricitywas above world prices, the future of the project, which is awaitingparliamentary approval, remains unclear. Prior to Gul’s Moscow trip, theRussian consortium submitted a revised offer, reducing the price by 30%. Ifthis revision is found legal under the tender rules, the positive mood duringGul’s trip may indicate the Turkish government is ready to give the go-aheadfor the project.

Photo: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) holds out his hand to Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 13, 2009. Medvedev welcomed Turkey‘spush for a greater diplomatic role in the Caucasus and Black Sea area,saying last year’s Georgia war showed US involvement was unnecessary.Russia and Turkey are also close toagreeing energy deals worth up to 20 billion dollars (15.5 billioneuros) under which Moscow will build a nuclear power station and supplyelectricity for Ankara, a Russian official said today. (AFP/Getty Images)