Flaws in Turkish-Russian relations

World War II has special significance for the peoples of the former Soviet Union they lost more than 20 million in that conflict.

May 9 will be the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War for the former Soviets large commemorations are expected in Moscow. In the meantime, 2016 is set to be the 25th anniversary of the December 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Perhaps not surprisingly, the upcoming May 9 commemorations are no longer viewed the way they used to be in the lands of the former Soviet Union, except perhaps in Armenia and Belarus. For example, Ukraine has forbidden May 9 events. Ukraine, which was an inseparable part of Czarist Russia and the USSR, has turned westward in recent times, which has opened deep rifts with Moscow. Notably, Turkey’s silence on the Ukraine front, as well as with regards to the invasion of Crimea, has pleased Moscow tremendously.

The Ottoman state shrank and came to an end when Czarist Russia began heading southwards from the east and the west of the Black Sea region. At the end of a series of lost wars, massacres and mass forced exiles, the Turkish Republic emerged. During the Cold War era, Turkey staked out its place in a variety of different camps. And with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey and Russia no longer shared a border. In the meantime, the 21st century has been marked by Turkey and Russia trying to increase trust in one another reciprocally. Russia, on its part, has tried to balance out the transformation of the Black Sea into a NATO and EU lake by boosting its relations with the stepchild of the West, Turkey.

From the start of the 2000s onwards, Russia’s view on Turkey changed it no longer sees Turkey as a backwards Middle East country. It does not want to lose Turkey. Neither Vladimir Putin nor Dmitry Medvedev wish to hear rhetoric on genocide get any louder. When Putin headed to Yerevan for an official visit, Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin came to Turkey this is how Moscow is handing the political balance act. And on May 16, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov arrives in Turkey, it is expected that a new era in Russian-Turkish relations will be put on the table for talks.

But are enough steps being taken to increase reciprocal trust between Turkey and Russia? I do not think so. Talk of genocide in Russia recently was enough to trigger some serious questions in Turkey about how wise it was to trust Moscow. And in the wake of the events in Ukraine, there have been numbers of Turkish businesspeople, academics, journalists and bureaucrats turned away from Russian border points and even given five-year Russia entry bans. Turkey does not want to see more of this, so the Turkish press isn’t really covering these cases.

In the meantime, Turkish TV channels have begun carrying ads for the Mersin Akkuyu nuclear power plant. But Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM is not taking any concrete steps. Also, director seats keep rotating at Rosatom, which is helping to build Akkuyu. There is no money for Akkuyu. In fact, if Putin does not begin throwing his political weight behind this project, Akkuyu’s existence will remain limited to TV ads.

On another front, Turkey’s export flow to Russia has become extremely problematic, with Moscow dragging its feet on helping solve this. Because of the economic crisis in Russia, it’s expected that the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey will drop this summer. Russia, in the meantime, is trying to get tourists that might have normally headed for Turkish shorelines to go instead to Sochi or the Crimea.

Turkey wants to trust Russia more it wants also to see foreign trade levels balanced, to carry out more exports to Russia and to develop more human and cultural relations. With so many problems already in existence on its southern and western borders, Ankara really doesn’t want problems to the north. Russia needs to be careful not to abuse Turkey’s relatively positive view on things as they stand in the north.