“We have to negotiate with Turkey on its joining the Eurasian Union,”

Interview by Maria Sidelnikova. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

Interview with Sergey Markov, the deputy head of the Inter-Committee Working Group on International Cooperation and Public Diplomacy, on relations between Russia and Turkey, Russian-Georgian relations and Turkish influence on Abkhazia

-       At the moment, a new wave of cooling down is taking place. Putin didn’t go to Ankara. Will the situation get worse?

-       I think Russian-Turkish relations are very good. Moreover, they are better than they seem to be. I think there is no threat to Russian-Turkish relations. Such a threat was a difference in positions on Syria. But Russia and Turkey separate the Syrian problem from other issues. And even the incident with the plane had no influence. Putin’s visit to Turkey was delayed in order to avoid the Syrian problem in Russian-Turkish relations. Our leader’s visit to Turkey would be a symbolic support of Turkish activities, and it would be harmful for us. At the same time, to show that we don’t support Ankara, Putin would have to criticize Turkey on the Syrian issue, which would be harmful too. We don’t want to criticize Turkey on the Syrian question publicly, as we have an opportunity to do it indirectly. As far as I can see, Turkey acts very carefully in the Syrian issue toward Russia. It doesn’t cause additional problems to Russia and the Turkish authorities always inform Russia about their steps. Thus, we know their arguments and positions in advance. The Syrian issue leads to some tension, but at the same time Russia and Turkey are working out a model of cooperation on disputable questions on this problem. It is a very good model of cooperation. That is why I look positively at Russian-Turkish relations.

Another question is whether we need to go beyond the limits of what we have for future development. What do we have now? We have very intensive cooperation in the spheres of economics, trade and tourism. Our leaders have perfect relations. But these spheres have to be supplemented by something else. We have to cooperate at the level of society, including inter-ethnic dialogue and national-cultural dialogue. We have to conduct conferences on relations between Christians and Muslims, relations between Shiites and Sunnis – Russian-Turkish international conferences. We need our civil societies to develop their cooperation to a higher extent. We need Russian newspapers to write more about Turkey and Turkish newspapers – about Russia. We need greater work at the level of the mass media. Regarding the expert community, Turkish experts are almost absent in the Russian mass media, while Russian experts are absent in the Turkish media. It is bad. We are communicating through the USA and the European Union. We learn about Turkey from American and European newspaper, they learn about us from the same sources. It is not right, we have to establish direct contacts. The economic relations should shift from dollar and euro to ruble and lira. We have made this step toward China – shifting to ruble and yuan. Expert and humanitarian cooperation should be direct. We have to negotiate with Turkey on its joining the Customs Union and the European Union in the future. Turkey has no chances to access the European Union. They need a deep integration with anyone. They could do it within the Customs Union or the Eurasian Union. A more serious dialogue at the party level is needed – between United Russia and the Party of Justice and Development. We have to carry out a dialogue on humanitarian topics, including what eurasianism is, and develop the concept of eurasianism together. Both we and Turkey wish the idea were not an alternative ides, but a part of the big European idea, European cooperation.

We should develop a very important and acute idea together: how principles of a secular state and principles of religious presence in the society correlate. Examples of Pussy Riot and hijabs in Turkey proved that it is a sharp problem. We have to consider this and propose our own models.

-       Is Turkish influence improving in Abkhazia?

-       Turkish influence was improving in Abkhazia earlier when Russia agreed with economic sanctions against Abkhazia within the CIS. Where should they get fuel and other goods? Only from Turkey. Turkey has a powerful Abkhazian diaspora. But Abkhazians do not want Georgians to come and control everything; they do not want Russians to come and buy everything, and they fear that Georgians will come to Abkhazia with Russian passports. Abkhazians so not want Turks to come and command. There is an ethnic connection between Abkhazians in Abkhazia and Abkhazians in Turkey, but there is also a huge difference – religious differences and differences in fate. Our Abkhazians are Soviet people, while Turks are anti-Soviet. Our Abkhazians are first of all Christians, while Turkish Abkhazians are Muslims.

Abkhazians fear that Georgians would come and take everything by force. Abkhazians fear that Russian tycoons would come and buy everything and make them servants. Abkhazians fear that Turkish tycoons would come and buy everything too.

We cooperate with Turkey on Abkhazia. I think this Turkish-Russian cooperation will continue to develop in this sphere. And Turkey admits that Abkhazia is Russia’s sphere of influence, as Turkey cannot guarantee security for Abkhazia.

-       Do you see prospects in improvement of Georgian-Russian relations?

-       I believe new prospects appear today. The point is that we had no opportunity to negotiate at the top level because we couldn’t work with the military criminal Saakashvili. Now we have an opportunity to work with the new leader of Georgia, the prime minister. It is well-known that Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia in its sole discretion. Today we hope that the new authorities will initiate reconstruction of the diplomatic relations. After this we could develop cooperation in various spheres. Of course we won’t sell Abkhazians or Ossetians, we are not traders who shout: “Come on, buy tomatoes! Come on, buy Abkhazians and Ossetians!” Nobody is going to bargain our relations. We will provide their security and development. At the same time, Russia won’t prevent the republics from reconstruction of humanitarian and economic ties with Georgia. We believe that Abkhazians and South-Ossetians have a right to decide where and how they want to live. If Georgians convince them, very good! You’re welcome! We won’t prevent anything. But we will never let anyone to impose anything on Abkhazians and Ossetians. We ask Georgia: what do you want – to live in peace or establish dictatorship and make them knee? Of course we expect a civilized answer.

We are ready to encourage reconstruction of humanitarian and economic ties between Georgia from one side and Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the other side. But only in the way Abkhazia and South Ossetia want. I think they do not want changing the ethnic balance in their territories. After the Abkhazian-Georgian war many Georgians left Abkhazia as refugees, and the balance changed forcedly. But it had been changed forcedly earlier. After Abkhazia was forced to become a part of Georgia in the 1920s, Stalin and Beria conducted the course on changing the ethnic balance of Abkhazia by forced resettlement of Georgians to Abkhazia. I think Abkhazians have a right to be the majority in Abkhazia.


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