Will Turkish Business Return to Russia?

Return to the previous level of cooperation will not be seen in even the farthest projections.

“Erdogan’s letter” is a sort of a PR move, there could have not been any move from the other side without preliminary consultations behind closed doors between Moscow and Ankara, where, it seems, some parameters of “improving bilateral ties” were defined. I believe that both Ankara and Moscow’s motivations, and the likely progression of events should be looked at from several aspects.

The cumulative economic ties between the two countries were at a pretty high level on the eve of the conflict, and both the Turkish and the Russian side suffered from the conflict and the sanctions connected to it. This relates to both large intergovernmental projects such as Blue Stream, the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, and such areas as agricultural shipments from Turkey, the business of Turkish construction companies in Russia, the transit of goods across Russian territory to Kazakhstan and China, and of course tourism.

I believe that a return to the previous level of cooperation will not be seen in even the farthest projections. Many of the earlier achieved agreements on intergovernmental projects will be subject to review, which is at the least, is a serious rollback when it comes to their timing. World markets and their actors in both the natural gas sphere and nuclear energy do not stand still, and both sides of the conflict certainly looked at alternatives and changed some of their positions in the time that has passed.

Iranian suppliers, meanwhile, considerably filled up the agricultural goods market; producers in Central Asia took up a separate segment; Russia itself has also made headway on import substitution. A return to previous volumes of trade is not being foreseen. The transit of Turkish goods to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, and from there on to China and back shifted considerably to the Georgia-Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan route. During the period of the conflict, the cargo turnover at Kazakhstan’s Aktau port alone grew eightfold. Of course, some volume of freight will return to its old routes, but, to my mind, not considerably.

Tourism is a special area. The enthusiasm of tour operators is understandable, but Russian society has since then changed its perceptions of Turkey. Turkey is de facto in a state of civil war with series of terrorist attacks, a trend which never happened in past years. In Syria Turkey is one of the most important moderators of terrorist groups which Russia is at war against. Erdogan and his government, with all of their presumable good intentions, are unable to control this area, and terrorist attacks against Russian tourists in this situation are more than likely. I hope that potential tourists understand this.

When it comes to politics, it must be said that Turkey is a neighbor and an important partner for Russia. But this is the very case of neighborhood, in which it is necessary to remember to keep a certain distance. I do not foresee any strategic turn in Turkish politics. I think that the pre-crisis declarations of some sort of strategic partnership coming from the Russian side were also extremely reckless. I cannot recall anything close to even hints at the possibility of Turkey leaving NATO, and I do not see any signs of its departure from the role of a conduit for the interests of the Western community.

Turkey’s Syria policy cannot change by definition because this policy is to a large degree controlled from the outside by Ankara’s partners. These partners, in turn, simply would not allow Erdogan (even if he wanted such a thing) to change the assigned scenario. There could be, of course, a short-term imitation, but where would the militant training camps, functioning routes for trafficking weapons and fighters and their supply on Syrian territory all go? No one disaffirmed the basic contradictions between Moscow, Damascus and Tehran on one side, and Ankara, Doha, Riyadh, Washington and the Europeans on the other, either. Other than Syria, there is also Turkey’s long running support of separatist and terrorist movements in Russia’s North Caucasus and the Volga region, as well as Ankara’s anti-Russian vector on Crimea. For Turkey, these are key issues of its foreign policy, it would be easier to change the ruling elite than abandon these stances, which have very powerful support in both Turkey itself and among its real allies and partners. The reconciliation can have only a local, and in many respects imitational, but not at all necessarily a long-term nature.
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