USAK press conference: ‘Turkey-Russia Relations in the Post-Cold War Era: Current Dynamics, Future Prospects’ report

9.7.2013 – International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) held a press conference for its new report titled “Turkey-Russia Relations in the Post-Cold War Era: Current Dynamics, Future Prospects” at USAK House on July 8th, 2013.

The report was prepared by USAK experts, Habibe Özdal, Kerim Has and Hasan Selim Özertem and Director of USAK-AVRAM Turgut Demirtepe.

In Turgut Demirtepe’s opening speech the USAK-AVRAM director stated that the report highlighted the acceleration in Turkey-Russia relations over the last 20 years. Demirtepe said that while work on the report had begun over a year before, findings had only coalesced into a report after six months of intense research. He added that the report reflected input from the “Turkey-Russia Relations” workshop that USAK had jointly organized with Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IOS). He underlined that this detailed report was a result of interviews with political and academic figures and investigating 50 years’ worth of the Turkish Republic’s Official Gazette archives. Demirtepe explained that the content of the report was divided into three parts.

USAK-AVRAM expert Habibe Özdal began her speech by saying that the political aspect of Turkey-Russia relations were assessed in accordance with turning points that had occurred throughout the last 20 years. Özdal emphasized that while the roots of relations are over 500 years old, the report focused on the post-Cold War era. She then stated that the 1990s may have been “lost years”, but the 2000s represented a decade of gradual trust-building. Özdal also conveyed that the institutionalization of bilateral relations through the Joint Economic Commission, High Level Cooperation Council, and Civic Forum was important progress, and that these mechanisms could maintain open dialogue channels. She reiterated that regional cooperation was rather limited and there were no mechanisms for problem solving. Özdal went on to recommend that the transparency achieved in diplomatic relations be used to enhance problem solving processes in the region. She also observed that issues revolving around Syria, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Black Sea, NATO and Afghanistan presented both opportunities and potential problems.

Hasan Selim Özertem started by explaining that the report assessed current bilateral economic dynamics with specific reference to institutional mechanisms and energy issues. He suggested that Turkey look for new ways to enter Russian markets, and that the most efficient way was through partnerships or consortiums with Russians. He sounded pessimism on the likelihood of bilateral trade reaching a volume of $100 billion by 2015, and recommended that expectations and plans be revised. Finally, regarding nuclear energy, Özertem expressed the importance of the Mersin-Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant construction being completed, on time, by the end of 2019, lest Turkey face a serious energy deficit.

In the conclusion, Habibe Özdal summarized the third section of the report concerning the social dimension of bilateral relations. First, she suggested tourism be enriched with cultural programmes, art events, and package trips. Concerning education, she stated that Turkey is weak in Russian language education and in training Russia experts, and that academic exchange programs for students and scholars must be stimulated. Additionally, she noted that Turkish-Russian marriages now number over 80,000, and that a new diaspora would emerge from these marriages. In the question and answer session, it was stated that off-the-record trade was one of the primary reasons for the trade deficit, and that Turkish companies had to strive to be more competitive. Stating that the Russian market is rather dynamic, the USAK experts warned that Turkey would not be able survive in the Russian markets by using decades-old strategies.