Turkey-Russia Energy Relations: Same Old Story, New Actors

Article excerpt

Although recently a growing interest in the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia has garnered academic interest (1) a closer examination of both states reveals a history full of cycles where the presence of outside powers and global balances at large have created previous instances of close cooperation. The histories of both states are full of conflict and differing views yet their joint frustrations with outside powers have served to bring them together on different projects, especially in the area of energy. The current era of warm relations between the two states, which began roughly with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, finds Turkey and Russia frustrated with the United States and, at times, the European Union. This frustration has led to joint projects in the Black Sea, in the area of energy and in bilateral relations at large. It was recently announced that visas would be eliminated between the two countries. (2) Growing American interference in regional policies dealing with states that either border the aforementioned states or are directly in the aforementioned states' sphere of influence has led both states to reconsider their historically antagonistic relationship.

Analyzed from a historical point of view, this seems to be a recurring theme in the joint histories of both states. Although Turkey's relations with Russia have been turbulent throughout history, we find that when economic benefits are at stake, Turkey-Russia relations have been an interesting combination of cooperation and competition marked by crises, external relations with third parties and the different conjunctures of the world system at large. These cycles are the most evident, historically and currently, in the area of energy. In the relations between the Ottoman Empire and Tsarist Russia, we find the presence of Great Britain and Germany as factors that were able to bring both states to war, but, when their economic benefits were at stake, the two adversaries were able to cooperate on joint projects despite the presence of these larger European powers. In comparison, in our current day, the presence of the USA, which viewed Turkey as a very valuable ally during the Cold War yet was an adversary of Soviet Russia during the same period, brought Turkey and Russia into a confrontational relationship during the early 1990s, especially in the areas of energy and regional security. The presence of the EU, to a lesser degree, also served the same purpose as when the EU expanded its membership to certain former Soviet Union states and satellites, Russia felt its own sphere of influence was being penetrated by outside powers and sought to restore its power in the region, sometimes discretely and sometimes via more open displays of diplomatic aggression.

During the early 1990s, Turkey felt its future was with the EU and in a continuation of the foreign policy of westernization that had been active since the founding of the Kemalist Republic in 1923. (3) Therefore the Turkish government tended to side with the EU in its policies and felt that as the membership base of the Union expanded to less developed and newly democratizing states that perhaps Turkey could also achieve membership in the future. Once Turkey's hopes of full membership in the EU began to wane in the early 2000s, (4) the Union's need for Turkey's transit linkage of rich hydrocarbon resources found in the former Soviet Union states brought leverage to Turkey's position in the region and to its relationship with its former adversary, Russia.

The current state in Turkey-Russia relations highlights the most cooperative and peaceful relationship between the two states. When one analyzes their joint history, which dates back to the 15th century, it is easy to find many different eras of both hot and cold war, alliances and counter-alliances and a total overhaul of the regimes that both states possess. There were a total of 12 "hot" wars between the two states with the first occurring in 1676-1681 and the last in 1914-1917. …