Russian President Vladimir Putin made last week’s unprecedented trip to Turkey for several reasons. First, trade, energy, and a shared interest in ensuring the security of the Black Sea and the Caucasus against terrorism are important (RIA-Novosti, December 6). Similarly, Putin has long maintained that Turkey and Russia are the two states most concerned with defusing security threats in the Caucasus, Iraq, and Afghanistan (RIA-Novosti, December 5; president.ru, December 6). But Putin also finds Turkey interesting because of its apparent independence from — and opposition to — American policy in Iraq. Thus it is possible to enlist Ankara in Russia’s quest for a multipolar world order. Nevertheless, Turkey cannot become politically closer to Russia without wider economic relations, particularly in the areas of energy, high technology, and arms sales. Indeed, Putin lamented the fact that a Russo-Turkish political agreement lags behind economic ties (president.ru, December 6). Not surprisingly, economics dominated the public face of Putin’s discussions with Turkish officials and businessmen.
In his speeches, Putin repeatedly tried to advertise Russia as an attractive outlet for Turkish investment. He also pushed hard for Turkey to allow in Russian firms in the traditional sectors where Russia seeks foreign niches: power engineering, hydroelectric, thermal power plants, aluminum and steel, transport, and the development of the oil and gas sector. Concerned about the economic impact of Turkey’s potential entry into the European Union, which might restrict its openness to Russian energy exports, Putin also wants to ensure, if not expand, Russia’s presence in Turkey as a major provider of oil and gas. Likewise when Turkey joins the EU’s Schengen zone, the flow of Russian tourists and shuttle traders will diminish along with the millions of dollars they currently inject into the Turkish economy. Therefore he clearly needs to stabilize economic ties with Ankara (president.ru, December 6).
Because of the extensive economic agenda tying both countries together, Putin was accompanied by the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived soon after. Gazprom and the Turkish oil and gas pipeline company Botas agreed to export Russian gas to Turkey directly or through daughter companies, while Botas will assist Gazprom in constructing gas supply installations and distribution facilities in Turkey. Part of the revenues for these projects will come from Gazprom’s profits in deliveries to Turkey, therefore the money, in a sense, will be repatriated to Turkey along with new jobs and investment. They will study the organization of gas transport to third companies through Turkey, thereby transforming Turkey’s place in the world energy economy (Itar-Tass, December 6). Russian officials also hope to optimize navigation in the Bosporus to meet Turkish security and environmental concerns, but also to consider alternate oil routes from Turkey to other Balkan countries (RIA-Novosti, December 6). As bilateral trade is already growing and the Blue Stream energy project is also increasing, Putin and Russian officials profess optimism about future economic ties (president.ru, December 6).
However, progress was more limited in the military sphere. Both sides signed an incidents-at-sea agreement and discussed increasing cooperation in the fight against terrorism, a threat to both states, but from very different sources. Russian officials worry about public support for the Chechens in Turkey while Turkey fears Islamic Kurdish terrorists who have repeatedly committed attacks inside Turkey. However, both sides appear to seek enhanced cooperation in the Black Sea within the framework of the BlackSeaForce agreement (RIA-Novosti, December 7). Iraq, Georgia, and Central Asia were also discussed in Ankara.
But the major disappointment is in the military-industrial sector, particularly the failure to obtain a contract to sell Turkey Russia’s KA-50 helicopter (RIA-Novosti, December 7). Arms sales remain a vital sector of the Russian economy not just for the revenues they generate, but because without them the entire defense industrial sector would be at risk. Therefore it is clearly important to Putin and to Ivanov that Russia be allowed to compete for Turkish weapons sales tenders on an equal basis with other sellers, primarily NATO members and Israel. Ivanov stressed that authorized Russian companies wish to bid on Turkish contracts and to discuss issues relating to licensing of the manufacture of Russian weapons at Turkish-based industrial facilities, as Russia now does with India and China (RIA-Novosti, December 7; Novye izvestiya, December 8).
On balance, the issues addressed during Putin’s visit to Turkey seem to be the usual economic dimension of Russia’s foreign policy: arms sales, energy, and attempts to stimulate foreign investment in Russia as well as expanded opportunities for Russian exporters and investors abroad. However, behind that regular itinerary lurks Moscow’s anxiety about the implications of EU expansion, Turkey’s potential membership, and the unresolved security situation in Russia’s South.
Likewise, Moscow wants to incline Turkey more to its point of view than to Washington’s in regard to major issues in world politics through the economic levers at its disposal, even if they are limited ones. Undoubtedly the impact of Turkish membership in the EU, if it comes about, will have profound implications for these relations. Turkey’s growing stature and importance in world politics suggests that Russia will find competition for its favor and it may not be able to keep pace with rivals such as the EU and the United States, which have even more to offer Turkey than does Russia.