Post-1990 Turkish-Russian bilateral relations, which have become closer due to tourism and bilateral trade, have amounted to a level that has attracted the admiration of other countries. Turkey and Russia’s relations, which have been improving in a number of fields, have gained a strong institutional basis. The future of Turkish-Russian ties, a successful example of Turkey’s recent strategy of “zero problems with neighbors,” is extremely bright.
The High Level Cooperation Council (ÜDİK) that was created during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Ankara on May 12, 2010 has been transformed into a mechanism that serves as a joint cabinet. The third meeting of ÜDİK, whose second gathering was held during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow on March 16, 2011, will be hosted in Turkey in the second half of 2012. The sub-institutions and committees set up as part of ÜDİK seek to improve bilateral relations between the two countries and include the Joint Strategic Planning Group, where foreign ministers serve as chairs, the Social Forum, where civil society organizations are represented, and the Joint Economic Council, which hosts business world members and representatives, which continue to work on their specific agendas.
Last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, along with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, held the second Joint Strategic Planning Group meeting with the participation of top bureaucrats from the Russian and Turkish foreign ministries. At the meeting, where bilateral relations between the two countries were extensively analyzed, prominent international and regional issues, including Syria, Iran, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Asia, were also discussed. The meeting provided participants the opportunity to exchange opinions and openly discuss regional and international issues, which brought to light differences in the two countries’ approaches to foreign policy. During the talks, which were defined as friendly and constructive by both countries, the contribution of Turkey and Russia’s strategic partnership to the emergence of confidence and stability in the entire region was underlined.
During the meeting, Davutoğlu defined the current state of affairs as a paradigmatic change. According to the minister, who drew attention to institutionalized joint mechanisms, including ÜDİK and the Joint Strategic Planning Group, relations between the two countries have evolved from a routine state of affairs to a structure in which joint strategic planning is conducted. According to Lavrov, bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia are developing in a constructive and confident environment and the two countries are able to devise solutions to every problem.
Lavrov, drawing attention to the construction of the Mersin Akkuyu nuclear plant -- Russia’s largest foreign investment, worth $20 billion -- also recalled that Turkey had given the green light for the South Stream pipeline project, which will transport Russian natural gas to Europe by passing through Turkish territorial waters. The Russian minister held that with the conclusion of the projects, the size of trade between the two countries could reach $100 billion within five years. The number of Russian tourists who visited Turkey in 2011 was 3.5 million, while investments made by Russia in the fields of banking, industry and communication as well as huge projects, including the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline and construction projects have improved ties between Russia and Turkey.
The two countries have taken a historical step, removing visa requirements for one-month-long stays. Citizens of both countries are now able to benefit from speedy entry into either country with just their passports. Lavrov and Davutoğlu have been working on prolonging the duration of visa-free stays and facilitating the obtaining of visas for longer stays. In this new era, Turkish and Russian citizens will be able to travel two to three months between the two countries without a visa. This move, which has contributed to an increase in Turkish companies investing in Russia, will also attract more Russian tourists to Turkey as well.
Turkey and Russia, with similar approaches to their foreign policies in terms of regional affairs, are now able to tolerate each others’ disagreements and differences. Ankara and Moscow, which strongly oppose military measures vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program, both favor a diplomatic and political solution. Russia calls for the resumption of the 5+1 talks, while Turkey has stressed that it could host the talks. The two countries have expressed that they support the democratic demands of the people and hold similar views with respect to the Syrian issue as well. Russia is unhappy with Bashar al-Assad’s failure to accelerate the reform process and his reliance on violence in dealing with the unrest in his country. Likewise, Ankara has been working tirelessly to attain a non-violent solution to the problem. Ankara, which has reminded Assad of the fate of Muammar Gaddafi, is struggling to ensure that no military intervention takes place in the region. Moscow is also uncomfortable with the possibility of a Libya scenario being repeated in Syria, too.
Russia and Turkey, both focusing on cooperation instead of working to put in place a sphere of influence, are working on maintaining a peaceful environment in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The foreign ministers issued a joint declaration after the meeting, putting emphasis on the indivisibility of European security. Ankara has adopted a constructive approach vis-à-vis the Russian opposition to a NATO early warning system and has asserted that the radars that were installed in Kürecik are for defensive purposes only. Even though the radars have been strongly criticized by some Russian circles, the Kremlin understands Turkey’s stance on the missile shield project. Davutoğlu recalled at the meeting that Turkey had worked to make sure that the relevant NATO documents specifying the mission of the project do not make any reference to neighboring countries, including Russia and Iran.