Column urges Turkey to develop "axis of cooperation" with Russia

Text of report by Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak website on 11 March

[Commentary by Suleyman Gunduz: "Russian elections and Turkey"]

Last Sunday, presidential elections were held in the Russian Federation. According to the election results, Prime Minister Putin was elected president of Russia for a third term. The elections in Russia saw a high voter turnout. Despite certain allegations by elections observers that dubious results were obtained in certain regions, Putin received 60 per cent of the votes that were cast.

There have been demonstrations held for months in certain cities and primarily in Moscow on the Medvedev-Putin swap. With the influence of the Arab Spring, citizens had started to voice demands for democracy. Putin had stated that the demonstrations were instigated by the West, and had said: "If the Russian people do not really want me I will not stay a minute." The fact that Putin celebrated his victory in tears after the elections results emerged was an indication that the process had been more difficult than expected.

It seems like Putin’s second presidential term is going to be very challenging. In domestic politics, the issues of democracy and legitimacy will be constantly debated. Consequently, it will be imperative to introduce a new political attitude regarding the domestic, regional, and global problems. The world is already expecting Russia to display a political line that will counterbalance that of the United States.

Our relations with Russia will gain greater importance based on our shared political, economic, and cultural traits. The relations will develop on an axis of competition.

History had turned the two nations into rivals for a long period of time. Following the establishment of the USSR and the Republic of Turkey, the relations between the two countries reached a new dimension.

The Soviet Union gave us significant support during our national struggle in 1919-1922. In addition, in Turkey’s terms, the Soviet Union was more important and advanced than the Western countries in transfer of technology in industrialization and agriculture, and in credit extension. For instance: Between the years 1932 and 1938, the textile factories in Kayseri and Nazilli were set up with Soviet machines and technicians. This was the foundation of the Turkish textile industry.

With the credit agreement that was signed in 1934, the external source that was necessary for the First Five-Year Plan was obtained from the USSR.

At the end of the 1950s, the Cayirova glass factory was established with Soviet credit.

As a result of the Economic-Technical Cooperation Agreement signed between the two countries on 25 March 1967, project credit amounting to 200 million dollars was received. This credit helped the building of heavy industry plants such as the Iskenderun Iron and Steel Plants, Seydisehir Aluminium Factory, Aliaga Petrol Refinery, Bandirma Sulphure Acid Factory, and Artvin Metal Plate Factory.

As of the 1990s, significant cooperation was established in the fields of trade, energy, construction, and tourism.

Even if the history books of both countries recounted the most ruthless wars between the two, Turkey and Russia now have leadership cadres that can transform the common aspects into a cooperation based on friendship. In terms of political style, Prime Minister Erdogan and President Putin have similar reflexes. They are both straightforward and sincere. This is the most important issue from both countries’ perspectives.

Joint policies can be created in the solution of the problems that emerge in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. The presence of these two leaders must be turned into an opportunity. In the heat of the moment, the Karabakh problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia can be tackled and a peaceful solution can be created. Both countries can start by the Minsk group headed by France that was formed in order to solve the problem. Turkey is disturbed by the French Parliament’s discussion on the draft bill that criminalizes the denial of the alleged Armenian genocide, regardless of the fact that the French Constitutional Court overturned the decision on that law. The most important indicator to this was the decision taken at the last council of ministers meeting to continue the investments in France. We can add onto this Prime Minister Erdogan’s objection to France’s presidency to the Minsk group following the last decision of the French administration which makes it a party in the Karabagh problem. A new process must be started in the Karabakh problem. Turkey and Russia are the only countries that can bring the parties together and solve this problem.

The two countries should also assume the role of conciliator in the Iranian nuclear problem. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s scheduled visit to Iran is very important. The Syrian problem should also be tackled within this framework. The meetings of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu with his Russian counterpart concerning the solution of the Syrian problem may become meaningful. Turkey is demanding that the bloodshed in Syria stopped immediately. I understand that Russia is also disturbed by the developments. Russia is against an intervention as it was in the case of Libya, but it also wants to stop the bloodshed. In that case, Turkey, Iran, and Russia can act together for the solution of the problem. We should not exclude the Palestinian problem either.

The most important two countries that are outside the US control in terms of energy reserves are Iran and Russia. Turkey has energy transmission lines. This should be turned into an advantage.

Putin’s reelection may create new balances in the world. The two countries that will benefit most in this situation will be Turkey and Russia.

Source: Yeni Safak website, Istanbul, in Turkish 11 Mar 12

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