Russia's vision problem

Relations between Russia and Turkey became particularly warm following the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Turkish Parliament's rejection of a government motion on March 1, 2003 to allow US troops to open a northern front against Iraq through Turkey and Turkey's establishment of balanced relations among itself, the US and other global powers were not overlooked by Russia. Actually, it was Vladimir Putin, Russia's number one leader at the time, who took note of the change in Turkish foreign policy.

Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev's recent visit to Ankara provided another boost to the two countries' relations. The signing of agreements on nuclear cooperation between the two countries and the lifting of visa requirements were developments that would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago.
Trade between the two countries, prior to the 2009 global economic crisis, had reached as high as $40 billion per year. This number is expected to hit $100 billion over the next five years. That's an incredible figure.

The visa exemption for visits of 30 days or less will surely increase already frequent contact between the two peoples. As it stands, Antalya is filled with Russians. Approximately 300,000 Russian citizens spend their entire year in and around Antalya. Russia competes only with Germany in terms of the number of nationals that visit Turkey as tourists.

These relations will only reach higher levels following the signing of the High Level Cooperation Council agreement. Even if relations may not be "strategic" as defined by Russian leader Medvedev, they are certainly "intensified" as defined by Russian Ambassador Vladimir Ivanovsky.

What about the Caucasus?

The two countries have realized the great potential in the fields of energy, trade and tourism and have made significant moves to this end.

With that being said, there is a geographic location in which things are not going as Ankara hopes: the Caucasus. Russia is not putting forth a performance that satisfies Ankara in its search for peace in the Caucasus.

Russians must learn to trust Turkey. They must learn that Turkey's Caucasus policy is not one that is determined by opposition to or in spite of Russia. Turkey trusted Russia during the signing of protocols with Armenia; however, it met with disappointment in the end.

Overcoming this problem of trust is Russia's responsibility.

There are serious question marks in Turkey's mind regarding this subject. Two developments only intensified these questions. The first of these was Moscow's attack against Georgia using military might in 2008 while the other is the country's ambivalent attitude surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

Much more leeway could have been allowed during the signing of the protocols with Armenia. Russia didn't permit this. If eyes need to focus on a specific location for the root cause of the Armenian Constitutional Court decision that handicapped the spirit and content of the protocols or if no developments take place with regard to the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, then that location is Moscow, not Yerevan.

For, there is no will that is independent of Moscow in Yerevan.

The Caucasus is the only area of mistrust between Turkey and Russia. Russia, which is maintaining a politics of "close proximity" throughout the whole of the former Soviet Union, sees the Caucasus in particular as its backyard. Surely there are historic and geopolitical reasons for this. However, one still expected that Russia would view the Caucasus in a more profound and positive light.

We don't know what will happen upon Medvedev's return; however, Ankara would have desired that "something new" would have been said regarding peace in the Caucasus. We didn't see a signal to this end from Medvedev during his Ankara visit. In response to a question on the topic, Medvedev said: "This is a difficult subject. There have been hopeful steps taken lately, and there are developments taking place on a series of subjects; however, there is not reconciliation on all matters as of yet. Consultations are continuing."

The "Karabakh problem" is not a "difficult" subject as Medvedev says. It is a subject whose parameters for a solution have been defined and one that is in need of political will. However, Moscow does not wish to exercise this will.

While it is true that foreign policy is shaped by interests, the level of Russian interest exhibited by the policy of "tension and conflict" that the Kremlin has been maintaining in the Caucasus is up for discussion. Russian decision-makers should discuss this matter.

There is much that Turkey, which has begun to become a "supra-regional power," and Russia, which is a "global power," can do together. Energy cooperation on matters of natural gas and nuclear power plants is only one segment. It appears as though, at least for the time being, Moscow's vision is insufficient for more advanced cooperation.

15 May 2010, Saturday