How do you see the relations between Russia and Turkey, and what, if any,challenges do you see for the near future?
Our bilateral relations have been thriving in recent years, and we can say they are at a level achieved never before. Our leaders maintain a very busy dialogue, President Erdogan and President Putin hold many face to face meetings as well as direct telephone calls. We have ongoing strategic partnerships in Akkuyu Nuclear Plant and TurkStream. Our productive alliance in Syria has not only managed to halt many of the hostilities in the region but has also effectuated the constitutional committee there. There was another recent development that took place in Moscow that is worth a mention: the two nations declared in spring of 2019 as a cross cultural and tourism year. And subsequently, we had a record-breaking season in tourism. All those and other factors have become parts of a larger complex that is mutually beneficial for both Turkey and Russia. These factors are also help negate the effects from negative developments. Are we free of problems and conflicts? Of course not. As it is always the case, both sides have their own interests and responsibilities. For instance, say we want to trade with you: we will surely want to buy low and sell high. And this brings in negotiations and discussions, which is normal. What is important is that we have a mechanism in place for these types of deals. And we do have those as both a commission between the governments and the Common Strategic Planning Group and the public forum between state ministries. All these institutions have been instrumental in supporting the senior cooperation council. I think that the challenges that we have stem not from this well-functioning system, but from outside forces. Modern times are unstable. The main conflict is the result of the fight for control of resources -we are in the midst of a global strife and we seem to be going in the direction of a multipolar world that will fundamentally change geopolitics. After the Cold War ended, we saw a move towards a unipolar system which tried to dominate all aspects of international relations. This system, relying on a single powerhouse, was consistent and empowered, but it did not work everywhere. We still see reminisces of this system today. We must accept the fact that the time of a single power is over and is not coming back. Instead we now have multiple power centers in every corner of the world, and the states are more hesitant to act as dictators when they work to protect their territorial integrity and independence. This is exactly what is happening to the relations between Turkey and its “partner” the West. Turkey is trying to make decisions based on her own interests and aims. But her partners are criticizing her for it, and even going so far as to punish her. Ankara’s purchase of theRussian-made S-400 air defense system and its aftermath are a perfect example of what goes on in the West-Turkey-Russia axis. Turkey’s NATO allies are trying to constrict Turkey by playing zero-sum-games. They are trying to derail Ankara out of its stated direction and force it to play by their rules. This also applies to the improving relations between Turkey and Russia in general. These are very significant efforts. It remains to be seen who will benefit from it, but we can confidently say it won’t be Turkey or Russia.
What is Turkey’s situation in Crimea, Donbass and Donetsk?
Although we can say they are similar scenarios, it is important to note that each of these issues are separate and unique. First of all, please allow me to remind you that there was a referendum held in Crimea, and the majority voted (including Crimean and Tatar public) overwhelmingly in favor of going back to Russia. That wasn’t the case in Donetsk and Lugansk. Thus, Crimea once again became an integral part of Russia and we are currently looking for ways to dissolve the conflictsin Donetsk and Lugansk via Normandy Format. As you well know, Turkey does not recognize the annexation of Crimea. And that’s their right. However, there was a very similar scenario that took place: The West did not recognize the integration of Baltic states into USSR. But this situation did not cause many problems with regardsto relations between the West and the USSR or between the USSR and the Baltic States. There is a certain logic to this: they say “we do not recognize the annexation, but we also cannot stand by while the people there are in need.” This policy worked for some and not for others. When we look at the current situation, we see that Turkey has no interactions whatsoever with Crimea, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. To the contrary, Crimeans, especially Crimean Tatars, are the ones that suffer from it. Some say Ankara’s stance is due to its alliance with NATO. I am not so sure. I think that the “quality” of Turkey’s foreign policy as a member of the Europe-Atlantic bloc will not be measured by its relation to Crimea, but by how she acts in other matters, starting from the S-400 issue.