Turkey seeks a way to enter the market of Eurasian Economic Union
Russia and Turkey are both important partners of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated at a meeting in Astana with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu. The growing tension between Russia and Turkey negatively influences Astana as well. At the same time, Turkey, which has lost a very serious sum because of worsened relations with Russia, is thinking about a free trade zone with the EAEU and considers Kazakhstan to an ally on the way to fulfilling its plans.
“Today it is necessary to seek ways out of the current situation. Many reasons for what is happening are still unclear. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq show an absence of unity among Muslims. We have come to a moment when the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites is possible, which was predicted by the West. The crisis between Turkey and Russia is also a big problem. Both countries are our important partners,” Nazarbayev said at the meeting with Davutoglu.
The conflict between Russia and Turkey emerged in late November 2015, when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, as they thought the aircraft had violated Turkish air space. Nursultan Nazarbayev noted that the Russian aircraft “didn’t attack Turkey,” but was fulfilling an anti-terrorist task. He called for the establishment of a commission which could punish those guilty, investigate and admit mistakes made by the sides, and then begin to restore relations. “I urge our friends in Russia and Turkey to do this,” Nazarbayev said.
The idea of a free trade zone is not new. A year ago, Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed with his Turkish colleague Recep Tayyip Erdogan the problem of extension of trade contacts. Kazakhstan wants to gain access to the European and Middle East markets through Turkey. At the same time, he offered Turkish business the EAEU market and the other markets connected with it. “The Eurasian Union opens a route for Turkish business to new markets,” the leader of Kazakhstan stated then. However, negotiations on the free trade zone between Turkey and members of the Customs Union were stopped after the incident with the Russian bomber.
Regarding Davutoglu’s statement, Ankara didn’t reject the idea of entering the EAEU market. He reminded at the meeting with Nazarbayev that Turkey is a door to Europe for Kazakhstan, “while Kazakhstan is a route to the Eurasian space for Turkey.” Obviously, the Turkish Prime Minister sought the support of Astana in reconstructing the relations with Moscow as well. Nazarbayev is a well-known, experienced mediator, and Moscow respects his opinion. It seems Ankara realizes how difficult the task is, and it relies not only on Kazakhstan in settling relations.
“Davutoglu’s visit to Kazakhstan was very important for President of Turkey Erdogan and Davutoglu himself. For Erdogan it was important because neither attempts to meet Putin personally nor attempts to involve President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev have succeeded. Meanwhile, the developments in Syria and Turkey are so nerve-racking for Erdogan that he has called on the US to make up its mind whether it supports him and Turkey or whether it supports the Syrian Kurds,” Alexander Sobyanin, the head of the Strategic Planning Service of the Association of Cross-border Cooperation, a member of the Expert Council of the Center of Strategic Situations, told Vestnik Kavkaza. He thinks that Erdogan fears agreements on Turkey which might have been reached during the meeting in Moscow between Henry Kissinger, the patriarch of American policy, and President Putin.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is unlikely to become a mediator between Turkey and Russia. “Such powerful sides as the European countries, the Wahabiite monarchies of the Persian Gulf, the special services of a dozen interested countries are involved in the conflict in the Middle East. So the two most powerful countries on the planet – the US and Russia – are communicating on the most painful and important topics directly,” Sobyanin said.
He thinks that Astana doesn’t want to be a mediator in a conflict where such powerful and numerous forces participate. “As for Nazarbayev’s peacemaking rhetoric, it is quite important and relevant whether it concerns Turkey or Ukraine. Kazakhstan maintains good relations with Russia, as it is a Eurasian ally of Moscow, provides an active policy in the Turkic world, and fully maintains economic and political relations with Ukraine. It is great for decreasing military tension and softening the consequences of the war of sanctions between the West and Russia, and Russia and Turkey,” the expert said.
However, Putin has stressed many times that he directs complaints against Erdogan personally and doesn’t associate his mistakes with the Turkish people. “Therefore, Nazarbayev’s resolute desire to preserve friendship with Turkey meets the strategic position of all the Eurasian allies,” Alexander Sobyanin said.
That’s why attempts by Ankara to gain access to the EAEU market are not surprising. Ankara has already taken the first step toward the EAEU market through Kyrgyzstan. A few days ago, the Vice Premier of Kyrgyzstan, Oleg Pankratov, stated that Turkish investors would open a textile-producing factory in the republic in six months. “They have been working in Uzbekistan for a long time, where the government provides investors with land and other benefits for free. Now an investor has decided to come to us, because now we are a part of a big consumer market. A Turkish investor can export products made in Kyrgyzstan to the EAEU countries in a duty-free manner,” Pankratov said. The intentions of the Turkish side are absolutely clear. At the beginning of the year, the Vice Premier of Turkey Numan Kurtulmus stated that Kyrgyzstan was interesting to Ankara as an access country to the EAEU market.
“The problem is that there is a big distance between a protocol on intentions and the intentions themselves. Such statements have been made due to the fact that the EAEU countries still behave as competitors rather than rivals,” Dmitry Orlov, the Director General of the Analytical Center ‘East-West’ (Kyrgyzstan), told Vestnik Kavkaza. The expert is sure that the situation won’t last long, as the lost revenues are dreadful for all the economies in the current crisis conditions. “We can compare powers as long as we want, but the reality is that all the countries of the Eurasian continents are so interconnected that one would have to be very thoughtless to create trade wars, at least long trade wars,” Orlov thinks.
Kazakhstan is also interested in intensification and deepening of trade contacts with Turkey, as Ankara is trying to get rid of oil-and-gas dependence, developing the industrial sector. Astana is interested in investments. However, except for China, which is studying the opportunities for shifting some industrial capacities to Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, there are no real investors in the country. We can only say that Turkey is studying the Chinese model.
We cannot speak more confidently about this, because Ankara has less financial opportunities in comparison with China. Moreover, the Turkish side realizes clearly that the Kazakh administration considers all projects through benefits to the budget and sees its national interests a priority; it is also quite a resolute partner. It is also important that Turkey is not on the top list of Kazakhstan’s foreign trade turnover. The EU, Russia and China are ahead of Ankara.