Carnegie Moscow presents Russo-Turkish cooperation in “turbulent neighborhood” report
Carnegie Moscow Center presented the “Exploring the Prospects of Russian-Turkish Cooperation in a Turbulent Neighborhood” report compiled by the Carnegie Center and the Global Relations Forum (GRF) in Istanbul. The two organizations established a Working Group dedicated to exploring the potential for regional cooperation between Turkey and Russia under the leadership of Memduh Karakullukchu, vice chairman and president, Global Relations Forum (GRF), and Dmitri Trenin, director, Carnegie Moscow Center. The Working Group includes former senior government officials, diplomats, military officers, and leading experts from both countries. According to Mr. Trenin, this paper is a product of their cooperation.
The report was prepared for publication back in February 2014, but was only published recently. The body of the report does not include amendments, and the authors deemed a short two-paragraph prologue. In it, the authors touch upon the problems in Ukraine and worsening relations between Russia and the West. The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, indeed one of the most obvious sources of calamity in the region, is not mentioned either in the prologue or in the report body.
“Even though tensions over Ukraine will inevitably cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship, Russia and Turkey—a NATO member—continue to share a range of important interests,” the report reads in part. “Indeed, there are a number of areas in which the two can work together in their common neighborhood, which stretches from the South Caucasus and the Levant to Central Asia and Afghanistan. A high-level working group on Russian-Turkish regional cooperation has sketched a forward-looking approach for Russia and Turkey in tackling regional challenges.”
The full report is available on the website of the Carnegie Center.
The report analyses such topics as the Arab Spring and the increasing instability in the region, including terrorist activities; the peace process in the Middle East; Iran and nonproliferation; Afghanistan and regional stability; Central Asia and regional development; and resolution of conflicts in South Caucasus.
A chapter on Central Asia contains a curious observation of conditions that enabled cooperation between Russia and Turkey: “Over time, Russian leaders have largely overcome their concerns about growing Turkish involvement in Central Asia. They soon realized that a pan-Turkic ideology lacked sufficient appeal both in Central Asia and in Turkey. Also, some setbacks in Turkey’s policy in the region eased Russia’s anxiety. […] Notably, Turkey’s increasingly proactive foreign policy with its neighbors in the past few years has not coincided with a growing activism in Central Asia.”
Please find below the section on Central Asia in its entirety:
Central Asia and Regional Development
For several years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, competition dominated Turkish-Russian relations with respect to Central Asia. At the very outset, Turkey hoped to emerge as a possible model for development in Central Asia. Remarkably, all of the countries in Central Asia, except for Tajikistan, are Turkic-speaking. Ankara pioneered in establishing diplomatic relations with them right after their independence. Economic and cultural ties expanded rap- idly with Turkish companies gaining a significant role in construction, light manufacturing, retail, and other key sectors. For Moscow, this constituted a source of concern as the extent of the appeal of the Turkish model was not immediately clear to Russian officials.
Over time, however, Russian leaders have largely overcome their concerns about growing Turkish involvement in Central Asia. They soon realized that a pan-Turkic ideology lacked sufficient appeal both in Central Asia and in Turkey. Also, some setbacks in Turkey’s policy in the region eased Russia’s anxiety. Ankara’s relations with Uzbekistan suffered corrosion, for example, while its economic activism did not transform into gaining a major foothold in the most strategic sectors of Central Asia—oil and gas. Notably, Turkey’s increasingly proactive foreign policy with its neighbors in the past few years has not coincided with a growing activism in Central Asia.
Stability in Central Asia is at risk as several developments occur simultaneously. First, the political stability of the post-Soviet republics in the region is under challenge as the old generation of leaders continues to pass the scene. Particularly, Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s biggest country, and Uzbekistan, its most populous nation, are facing likely departures of their founding presidents, who acceded to power a quarter century ago. Second, stability and security in Central Asia may be challenged by what happens in Afghanistan after the International Security Assistance Force is withdrawn. Third, the impact of political Islam on the domes- tic political transitions in the region remains unclear.
Now that Russian concerns about Turkey’s role in the region have faded, an opportunity exists to collaborate in enhancing the region’s law-based political stability. Both countries share interest in opposing terrorism and extremism in the region, and both have denounced drug trafficking. The two countries should also consider expanding joint projects for promoting the region’s development. Since both Ankara and Moscow are already donors in various capacities in the Central Asian states, coordinating their efforts could help achieve more effective results. Likewise, they should attempt to jointly mediate to help Central Asian republics resolve the long-standing problem of water supply.
In the meantime, both Turkey and Russia need to acknowledge that the foreign policy of Central Asian countries is becoming increasingly dynamic, resulting in more contacts with external players. Thus, Central Asian countries have diversified their foreign political, economic, and security relations. China has become a very significant player in the region, especially in the energy and raw materials sectors, but also in trade and infrastructure. The United States is repre- sented by its major oil companies and—for the time being—the Pentagon-rented facilities. Iran, India, Europe, and Japan are also showing interest. The place is becoming more crowded.
Among all players, Russia could probably be expected to maintain some advantages, providing it with continued soft power. This includes substantial labor migration to Russia, Russian-speaking elites, and the presence of Russian minori- ties in the region. Also, Russia has special ties with many of the region’s republics through the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Customs Union/Eurasian Union initiative. Yet, Moscow should ensure that its regional initiatives are based on equal footing among their members and do not come fundamentally at the expense of other stakeholders in the region.