In Bed with the Bear
At a time when it is constructing a new foreign policy approach to become an "independent" regional power, Turkey is gradually increasing its "dependence" on Russia. Russia is Turkey's number one trading partner, by far the main supplier of natural gas to Turkey and is now on its way to become Turkey's partner in nuclear energy. Among the Turkish companies which have stakes in Russia, there are also groups which together represent the larger part of Turkish media. The bilateral relationship between Turkey and Russia is officially called "Deepened Multidimensional Cooperation". For the time being, Turkish-Russian Cooperation is not multidimensional and is to a large extent about energy cooperation. On the other hand Turkey and Russia look eye to eye on some regional international issues like Iran and the Blacksea, and the statements of Turkish and Russian leaders imply aspirations of a strategic relationship on a wider scale. Turkey-Russia energy cooperation first started with the Blue-Stream pipeline which brings Russian and Trans-Caspian natural gas to Turkey. Blue-Stream not only made Turkey dependent on Russia for energy supply, but also made Turkmenistan largely dependent on Russia for energy transport. With the recent visit of Vladimir Putin to Ankara, energy cooperation between the two countries is being extended to new areas.
- Russia has agreed to take part in the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline project and is going to provide the oil that will make the project feasible.
- Blue-Stream pipeline will possibly be extended to Lebanon and Israel and maybe Cyprus
- A Russian consortium may build Turkey's first nuclear energy plant in Mersin. South-Stream pipeline, which is considered as a competition against Nabucco Pipeline may pass through Turkish waters.
On the one hand these developments strengthen Turkey's profile as an energy actor, on the other hand with the addition of the nuclear dimension in addition to oil and gas dimensions, Turkey's dependence on Russia in terms of energy will be deepend. Furthermore opening the door to Southstream just after signing into Nabucco won't send very positive signals to the European Union and the United States. Turkey is constructing a new foreign policy approach in order to become an "independent regional soft power". In line with this policy, Turkey has not refrained from diverging from both US and European policies on certain issues. Building so much dependence on Russia makes one wonder if the "independence" element in Turkey's new foreign policy approach actually just means "independence from the US and EU". Turkey's second president Ismet Inonu had once said "If you are in bed with a bear, you'd better stay awake". Turkey is now in bed with the bear, and can stay awake many long nights by looking for answers to the following questions: How will Turkey manage a "Model Partnership" with the US together with a "Deepened Multidimensional Cooperation" with Russia"? What will Turkey do when circumstances force Turkey to make tough policy choices? If Turkey wants to avoid having to make tough choices, can it really become a regional power?
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.