Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 222

As both Russia and Turkey are increasingly dissatisfied with the nature of their relations with the West, the two Eurasian countries appear intent to further develop their bilateral cooperation. Continuing to build energy ties seems to be the surest way to enhance Moscow and Ankara’s strategic posture vis-à-vis united Europe.

Despite its “energy superpower” swagger, the Kremlin appears to be perturbed by Europe’s persistent efforts to find ways to diminish Russia’s energy leverage. The November 28 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, sent a blunt message to Europe’s largest fuel supplier: the Atlantic Alliance considers the issue of energy security to be directly related to the bloc’s strategic concerns. Speaking on the summit’s margins, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even suggested that the Alliance should assist, under its Article 5 mutual defense clause, any member whose energy supplies are threatened. He argued that Article 5 was designed to thwart the “coercion” of any member state as well as a direct attack on one.

This idea, however, was considered to be slightly over the top even by the Poles who themselves, immediately following last January’s Russian-Ukrainian gas standoff, called on European consumers to form an “energy NATO” to protect their interests against pressure and “blackmail” by Moscow. Now, Polish Ambassador to Germany Marek Prawda spoke in Riga against invoking Article 5 and called instead for setting up a European energy-security framework.

But with or without Article 5, NATO members were going out of their way to demonstrate their deep concerns about energy matters. The bloc appears to have succeeded: its seriousness was not lost on most Russian analysts. The Alliance’s leadership “has stated that NATO is no longer intent to stay aloof and not interfere in the energy confrontation between Russia and Europe, but on the contrary wants to take part [in the standoff] and is requesting appropriate powers [from the bloc’s member states],” one Russian commentary notes.

For Moscow, one way to thwart NATO’s efforts to act as a single force would be to find a “weak link,” and the Kremlin views Turkey as being one. A long-standing NATO member, Turkey is currently experiencing growing tensions in its relations with the European Union over Cyprus and with the United States over Iraq. Thus Moscow believes this is an opportune moment to embrace Ankara at a time when it is being cold-shouldered by the West. The Turkish leadership, for its part, views the enhanced cooperation with Russia, particularly in the energy sphere, as a factor that increases its bargaining power in its troubled talks with Brussels.

So it is quite symptomatic that, immediately prior to the NATO summit, a group of prominent Turkish journalists was invited to Moscow and received at two key institutions charged with elaborating and implementing the country’s foreign policy — Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Gazprom, the state-run energy monopoly. (This visit appears to be part of the Kremlin’s strategy aimed at cultivating Russo-Turkish relations. In just the past month, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Moscow, First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov held talks with the leaders of the Turkish foreign ministry, and two rounds of ministerial consultations were staged in Ankara.)

During the audience at Smolenskaya Ploshchad, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko highly praised what he called a “multifaceted partnership” between Moscow and Ankara, adding, “Relations in the fuel and energy sector play a crucial part in our cooperation.” The senior Russian diplomat then went on to say that on a growing range of international issues, including Iraq, Iran, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the positions of Russia and Turkey have become “very close, sometimes even identical.”

Two statements in particular were meant to prove the closeness of Moscow’s stance to that of Ankara and, quite predictably, they related to questions of utmost strategic importance for Turkey. First, Grushko explicitly spoke in favor of preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and said the Kremlin “shares the concerns of our Turkish partners, including on the Kurdish issue.” Second, he said Russia is prepared to carry out a policy of developing economic relations with the Turkish Cypriots on the condition of compliance with the principles of international law and UN resolutions.

With Turkish officials visiting the glitzy Gazprom headquarters, company spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov unveiled the energy giant’s ambitious plans to expand strategic cooperation with Turkey. Gazprom believes, Kupriyanov said, that Turkey can have a key role in the transportation of Russian gas to Southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Among the projects currently under consideration, he mentioned the construction of a Turkish factory that would produce liquefied natural gas as well as building a huge gas storage facility in Central Anatolia.

Dismissing U.S. concerns over the increasing dependency of Turkey and Western Europe on Russian gas, Kupriyanov sarcastically asked, “In what part of Europe is the U.S. situated?” Then he added, “If these people are accusing us of political influence, it is exactly what they [themselves] are doing.”

(Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 30; Kommersant, Vremya novostei, November 29; New Anatolian, November 28, 27)