Ilgar Mamedov: "Russia and Turkey should protect their interests, working together with natural partners"
Yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated his 65th birthday. He was congratulated by President Vladimir Putin, who highlighted Erdogan’s great personal contribution to development of Russian-Turkish relations and reminded that eighth meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council between Russia and Turkey would be held in Moscow in April. Senior Researcher of the Department of Contemporary History of Central and South-Eastern Europe at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Ilgar Mamedov, discussed current stage of Russian-Turkish relations in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- Erdogan is often compared to Vladimir Putin. In your opinion, what do leaders of the Russian Federation and Turkey have in common?
- Indeed, leaders of Russia and Turkey have a lot in common. First of all, both leaders protect their countries and peoples' national interests. Both Putin and Erdogan pursue the goal of protecting sovereignty and independence of their states. Second of all, both leaders do it decisively, with conviction. Third of all, both of them protect national interests in very difficult international conditions, when the West puts pressure on both Russia and Turkey, creating difficult foreign policy conditions for them. Nevertheless, despite these these circumstances, both leaders were able to find ways to protect national interests of Russia and Turkey.
- What unites Russia and Turkey, Russian and Turkish peoples today?
- There's much more things that unite them than it's usually mentioned. They are neighboring countries and nations.
First of all, interests of both countries in bilateral format are extremely important. Over the past years, these relations have expanded and deepened thanks to joint work of the two presidents.
Second of all, Moscow and Ankara work together thanks to regional interests in the South Caucasus, in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in the Black Sea region. When it comes to these matters, both countries are cooperating with each other very actively. Formats such as Russia-Turkey-Iran, Russia-Turkey-Azerbaijan are really fruitful. This cooperation contributes to regional security.
Third of all, Russia and Turkey also have common interests in global context. Turkey is a member of NATO, but in current conditions, this membership isn't really in Turkey's interest. Cooperation and partnership with Russia brings Turkey more benefits than relations within NATO.
There are many examples of that. For example, when it comes to the Middle East, we can see that Turkey's interests, especially in the context of Kurds' issue, the fight against terrorism in Syria and situation in Idlib are closer to Russia's interest than to America's. The United States, Turkey's NATO ally, refused to sell Turkey the Patriot air defense system, while Russia agreed to sell the S-400 systems. Russia-Turkey-Iran format has active, fruitful and constructive cooperation, which helps to overcome problems of the Syrian crisis.
- What areas of Russian-Turkish cooperation do you consider the most important?
- Cooperation between Russia and Turkey in energy sphere is of great importance. The Turkish Stream project will meet the natural gas demand not only in Turkey, but also in Europe. Moreover, Russian gas will reach Europe easily, supply process will become more secure. It's prices are already low compared to American liquefied gas. That's why this project has not only bilateral, but regional and global importance.
In this sense, cooperation between Russia and Turkey is of strategic importance, especially considering pressure the US puts on Europe not only in connection with the Turkish Stream, but also the Nord Stream-2 project. By offering their much more expensive LNG, Americans are pursuing not economic, but geopolitical goals.
Cooperation on Syria in the Astana format is also extremely importance. The Daesh (ISIS, terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation and other countries) was defeated, Bashar Assad preserved his power, the country’s integrity was saved, people returned to their homes, dialogue is under way, and the United States' actions in Syria were almost stopped.
Another important area of cooperation is the Russia-Turkey-Iran and Russia-Turkey-Azerbaijan trilateral regional formats. They are important in terms of ensuring regional stability and cooperation. A similar experience could be seen in 1921, when as a result of agreements of the three South Caucasian republics, Russia and Turkey managed to resolve territorial disputes.
The Balkans can also become potential area of cooperation, since each country has certain common interests with others.
- Have relations between Erdogan and Putin and between Russia and Turkey restored over the past two and a half years?
- I think they have. Situation with downed plane happened in part due to misunderstanding of Turkey’s place in the US policy and Russia's influence and interests in the Middle East. It was a provocation. But President Erdogan managed to demonstrate wisdom, determination and courage while dealing with this situation. This helped to restore Russian-Turkish relations, as well as personal relations between the two presidents. Right now there's process of further strengthening of partnership between two countries. In addition to bilateral projects, creation of trilateral regional formats, beginning of the Astana process and cooperation in Syria are all great examples of deepening cooperation.
- Did Russia and Turkey manage to find a compromise on the Syrian settlement?
- The Astana process continues, and there's also the Russia-Turkey-Iran format. Dialogue continues. I don't see differences in fundamental positions of Russia and Turkey on the Syrian settlement. Their positions on basic issues are the same - recognition of integrity and sovereignty of Syria, unacceptability of power change in the country. Both countries believe that future of Syria must be decided by Syrians. By finding common positions, both countries cooperate on this issue. Idlib has almost become the last stronghold of terrorists, and situation there was unclear. But last year parties reached an agreement and now fulfill their obligations. The dialogue and cooperation process on this matter continues. That's the most important thing.
- How will relations between the Russian Federation and Turkey develop in the future?
- I'm optimistic, especially taking into account the fact that both Turkey and Russia are re-evaluating the role of the West in world politics. Illusions that existed before have finally vanished. Since 2014, it became clear that both Russia and Turkey should protect their own interests and national security on their own, relying on their natural partners. Partnership between Russia and Turkey is much more natural compared to Turkey’s potential partnership with its NATO allies.