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HASAN KANBOLAT

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HASAN KANBOLAT
January 27, 2012, Friday

Turkey and Russia: heading towards strong multi-dimensional and multi-directional cooperation

There are just two countries in the world which are both Asian and European at the same time.

It is not just the geography of the two countries that make them simultaneously Asian and European but also their cultures, their politics, their histories and their economies. Russia and Turkey’s unique positions, not shared by any other countries, give them a different perspective on the world.

In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was an expectation that Turkey and the Russian Federation would enter into serious competition in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In fact, Turkey and the Russian Federation have enjoyed constructive cooperation in these regions since 1991, which has controlled competition.

After the Soviet Union fell apart it was the “Treaty on the Principles of Relations between the Republic of Turkey and the Russian Federation,” signed in 1992, that began to define relations between the two countries. In 2001, the foreign affairs ministers for both countries signed the “Joint Action Plan for Cooperation in Eurasia.” During a 2004 visit to Ankara by Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader signed the “Joint Declaration,” which clarified the goal of the “Multi-Dimensional Strengthened Partnership” between the two countries. On a visit by President Abdullah Gül to Moscow in 2009 the “Joint Political Declaration” was signed. In 2010, during a visit to Ankara by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the “High Level Council on Cooperation” (ÜDİK) was formed.

The “Joint Action Plan for Cooperation in Eurasia” was signed in New York on Nov. 16, 2001, by Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. This was prepared with a view to increasing multi-dimensional cooperation between Turkey and the Russian Federation throughout the Eurasian region, including the possibility of the two countries working together in Eurasia and the eastern Mediterranean. Thus, relations between these two countries were increased to the level of strengthened, constructive partnership throughout the region.

This agreement also served to spotlight cooperation in areas of importance for both countries. The “Action Plan” also brought into the open the topic of international terrorism, which had always been a gray area between Turkey and the Russian Federation. Therefore, the strategies which aimed to bring the two historical ruling powers of the Eurasian region closer together were built upon the basis of overcoming historical preconceptions and fears. The coming together of Turkey and the Russian Federation turned relations between these two countries away from competition in Eurasia and the eastern Mediterranean towards a more cohesive and constructive sort of cooperation.

In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s image in Turkey was greatly improved. In fact, for Turkish intellectuals the Russian Federation now represented an arena within which some ruined Western relations could be rebuilt. For Turkish business interests, the Russian Federation represented an important market. Currently, there are around 20,000 Russian women living in Turkey, married to Turkish men. In Ankara alone, there are 26,000 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which comprises some of the former Soviet Union republics, citizens who use Facebook in their native Russian tongue. In İstanbul, this number is about half a million.

Some other vivid signs of close ties between Turkey and Russia are the 3 million or so Russian tourists who visit Turkey annually, many Russian language broadcasts, a Russian daily newspaper and schools that offer a Russian curriculum. On the flip side, however, Turkey has still not achieved a positive image in Russian textbooks. Some Turkish intellectuals are still referred to as “agents,” as they were during the Cold War years, and there has been no change in Moscow’s stance on Cyprus. As for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Russian Federation is still to include it on its list of international terrorist organizations. In fact, topics pertaining to terrorism in general have been pushed to the bottom of the list when it comes to cooperation. As for foreign trade volume, it continues to come out in favor of the Russian Federation year after year.

Of the approximately 70 million people who make up the Turkish Republic, around 55 percent are the descendants of people who were forced to migrate from Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the Balkans. For this reason, relations between Turkey and the Russian Federation ought to be of a different dimension than those generally found between two countries elsewhere in the world. In addition to new institutions to help guide these relations, there must be a decisive move towards cooperation constructed on a foundation of legality. This cooperation must be commenced with force and must not affect Turkey’s relations with the EU or the Russian Federation’s relations with the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union. The reciprocal conditions necessary for obtaining citizenship, land, forming companies and working legally must be made easier. It must similarly be made easier for young people from both countries to work, study and visit as tourists on a reciprocal basis. In these ways, the foundation for multi-dimensional cooperation on a number of fronts will be greatly strengthened.