TASAM Başkanı / Chairman
( Interview | TASAM Chair Süleyman ŞENSOY | by Ariel GONZALES, Koç University, Dept. of International Relations | 25.10.2016, Istanbul )
How do you evaluate the dynamics of the relations between Russia and Turkey in the Cold War and the Post-Cold War?
During the Cold War, the relations between Turkey and Russia were based on strong competition and low degrees of cooperation. That's the way it developed. It was a period that started with the request of Kars province, the East lands of Turkey and joint control of the Bosporus. Therefore, Turkey was pushed towards NATO. Since the end of the Second World War, Turkey has been seen as a police station against the Soviet enlargement. Therefore, the fact that Turkey and Iran were against the Soviets till 1979 was very important for the West. After the 1979 Iranian revolution, Turkey became more important because Iran had an anti-American Islamic Regime, and continued like that till the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, in Turkey when you look at the very large technological investment and goods agreements, these were not provided by the West, but Russia made it. You can see large industrial plants built by Russia. But in general terms, political relations were within NATO's framework so it continued as ‘high competition and low cooperation’ till the USSR dissolved because Turkey's historical genetics are on the mind. The last Ottoman state, the last 200-250 years were of Turkish-Russian confrontation in the Black Sea, in the Caucasus, in the Balkans, in Central Asia. The Russian-Turkish struggle had already existed in the sub-structure for the conflicts of the population areas. During the Cold War, along with the republic establishment the balanced policy pursued evolved towards a Western policy with a slightly more radical scrape.
Should be expand on post-Cold War period
What is the role of Turkey in Caucasus and Central Asia after the Cold War?
The Caucasus expressed a rupture for Turkey during the Soviet period. In Central Asia there was a disconnection. There were cultural interactions but economic and political relationships were minimized. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey tried to be active, entered the game knowing the regional history and geography and tried to be at least one of the game changers. But due to some economic problems that Turkey faced from 1994, the frequent changes of government in the confrontational environment of Turkish politics, weak mandates for a little while, it has not been successful. But, we have strong relations with Azerbaijan, and developed good relationship with Georgia. For example, Turkish people can go to Georgia without using the passport. With Azerbaijan, the slogan "one nation, two states" was created. We can also see, there were strong relations built with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. With Turkmenistan, there is a relationship with a slightly lower profile, but in Uzbekistan there is also a political relationship that didn't die on that period. Anyway, Turkey could not reach the goals neither influence as originally proposed itself to do from the beginning, because the competition there has increased, very big players entered, and couldn't sustain the advantageous position in the first years. But, at present, when we look at Turkish political relations with all regional actors except Uzbekistan, Turkey is in strong ties. But economically it doesn't reach the desired goals.
In relation to Armenia, how Turkey has been positioned regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
I guess since the beginning of the conflict Turkey has been on Azerbaijan’s side. In fact, there is not a sense of belonging to Armenia, because it has been supported by Russia. There, there is a tendency for the Turkish people to be physically separated from the Turkic world. Nakhichevan does not have territorial integrity in Azerbaijan, it has a border with Turkey. The physical connection was lost so that both Azerbaijan on one side and the other side as well have a physical disconnection. Turkey has been standing by Azerbaijan’s side since the time the conflict started and supported it both with military and with logistics. Thanks to Turkey also the settlement of the 20% of the border was accomplished. That day if Turkey did not support the siege perhaps Azerbaijan could be completely withdrawn. Although some of the sanctions were increased, this continues as a crisis but I guess Turkey is always on Azerbaijan's side.
In relation with the US and EU, are they interfering in the relations between Turkey and Russia?
The last few years, they interfere seriously, pay attention to every movement, because the relations in the region between the EU and US, and Russia used to be very good. But since the Georgia intervention in 2006, and since the EU and NATO have tried to expand into the Black Sea, the West interfered in the relations and provoked a spinning process of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. So, due to these relations between Russia and the West, that is the EU and US, Turkey, as a NATO member, has suffered and confronted with Russia in the Black Sea, in the Caucasus, and of course it was adversely affected. This, of course, led to a process that went as far as the Russian plane shutdown in Syria, but Turkey returned to the balanced policy again.
How has the energy helped to strength the relations between Turkey and Russia?
It keeps coming up very much, because Turkey imports energy from Russia. On top of this, in addition, Turkey's first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu-Mersin-Turkey, was finally given tendered to the Russians. Therefore, the energy is a very determining issue in Turkish - Russian relations. However, as there has not been a strong support for the Turkish crises last ten years, we have a formula: Turkish - Russian relations need to be taken in the form of high competition and high cooperation. It is romantic to talk only about cooperation. It is unfair only to talk about competition. Therefore, there are many fields where we can work both historically and in the present. Thus, the topics can be managed without entering the confrontation, the "high competition and the high cooperation" formula is made for this. There is a mutual dependency in the construction field too. Demonstrations in the dimension of dependence on the relations between Russia and Turkey are in favour of Russia. Turkey needs to balance this relation with Russia and not rely to that extent. More industry needs to be improved.
How do you interpret this process of a big crisis with the aircraft shooting in November of last year, until the reconciliation process? Is there a strategic partnership or is just kind of pragmatic relations that are going on?
Of course, what will happen to Russia and Turkey, it will be a determinant factor to the world. This is my thesis. What will Russia be is determinant to what Turkey will be. And what Turkey will be determinant to what Russia will be. There's a paradox between these two. So, as a conjecture these two countries are very much in need of one another. Particularly Russia needs Turkey when we look at the global balance. Thus, with a country like Russia it is normal to agree and fight, that is the suffering shock that the relation has always lived in. But first of all, it is necessary to think about the historical influence of the relations. It seems that it will take a while longer. Then, we will see to what extent the relations will get to, and then we can talk. But Turkey is a NATO member country, trying to enter the EU. At least the negotiations are seen. And 70% of our dependence is on the Western side. So, I think with Russia the possible union it should be addressed as strong but fragile, because the political values require it. But if Russia knows clearly the position of Turkey, it will help to ensure and build trust in the relation. If not, Russians know that Turkish - Russian relations are in a polarized position and also open to crisis, every time there is a conflict. Of course, it is also very important for Russia the legal strategy that the Bosporus is under the control of Turkey and in the Black Sea, NATO does not come out at a certain limit, as it was accepted in 1936 in the Montreux Convention. Turkey has a great need for food. In addition, there are great challenges in Russia both economically and socially. Also in the world we have come to an obstacle point where there is a great competition atmosphere. Therefore, I think that the relations between Russia and Turkey will come to a balanced level, but very radical racism and religion need to be decreased. Well, there is no right conjecture about this but if the system like after the 2nd World War is destroyed and a new system needs to be built, then different scenes may be discussed.