Turkey benefits from Western embargo on Russia

The Russian ambassador in Ankara says that the Western embargo didn’t significantly affect Russia's relationship with Turkey.

al-monitor Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (R) shake hands following a joint news conference at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul, April 17, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

Topics covered

vladimir putin, turkey, russia, foreign policy, embargoes

Nov 21, 2014

How has the embargo imposed on Russia after the Ukraine crisis affected Ankara-Moscow relations? What does Vladimir Putin’s remark — "We will open new horizons" — on the eve of his forthcoming visit to Ankara mean?

We made an extensive tour d’horizon on this and everything else with the Russian ambassador to Ankara, Antony Gennadiyevich Karlov.

He started by saying that the US-EU embargo on his country did not have any effect on relations with Turkey. Volume of trade between the two countries totaled $32 billion last year. This year, it has reached $23.9 billion in the first nine months. The target for 2020 is $100 billion, he said.

The level of invisible trade has reached $15 billion, while Turkish contracting companies now occupy top ranking in Russia.

The number of Russian tourists coming to Turkey has gone up 8% (4.3 million tourists) because of the European embargo.

Moscow was pleased to note that Turkey did not support the embargo on Russia. His following words are significant: “What we can’t buy from Europe, we buy from Turkey. We want this to continue for the long term. Sanctions on Russia have actually increased the trade between our countries.” He said that Russia's $1.5 billion in purchases of Turkish agricultural products will double or triple and become permanent.

I asked him, “Did Turkey profit from the embargo?” He laughed: “Turkey must have been prepared and waiting.”

He said relations between two countries have moved the high technology field and that the Akkuyu nuclear power station is a symbol of that cooperation. He added they will be happy if Russia is granted tax exemption for the Akkuyu project.

As for Turkey’s expectation to renegotiate natural gas prices, he said, "It is not appropriate to link the two issues."

He stressed that the West’s attempt to put pressure on Russia by pushing down oil prices means nothing. ”We have always seen the oil prices going up after going down.”

I asked Ambassador Karlov about the major disagreements between Moscow and Ankara on Crimea and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said there was definitely no tension over Ukraine and Crimea. “What is important to us is that we keep talking with Turkey on subjects we don’t agree on, “ he said.

He noted that Russia has proposed a political solution to Syrian crisis: “We have been vindicated in Syria because now everybody wants what we said.”

He said they have been talking to the Syrian opposition, and soon the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem will be visiting Moscow. “What is important for us is to forge a common understanding and unite all parties against extreme terrorism. This is why we are proposing Moscow as a meeting venue for Syrian parties. We will be the mediator.”

Responding to my question on whether Assad has lost his legitimacy, Karlov pointed to recent elections in Syria and recalled that Assad was elected with 80% of the vote. “For us, legitimacy is not decided by the West but by Syrian people. They did so. Assad is the choice of Syrian people.”

I asked about Moscow’s approach to the Islamic State (IS).

Ambassador Karlov said IS was the greatest threat to the international community. He said that Russia has said from the beginning not to play around with these extreme groups, but nobody listened. He added: “Now, in two countries we are seeing this terror organization trying to set up its own state. We are giving military equipment support to the Iraqi government to fight [IS]. International efforts against this organization must unite. We didn’t join the coalition of the US and its allies. Such coalitions must be formed on basis of Security Council decisions. Unfortunately the US did not bring the coalition issue to the UN. Also, coalition air attacks have two prerequisites: Syria’s request and Security Council approval.”

Should the Security Council decide on a coalition, will Russia join it?

He recalled the Libya example. “We will study the draft resolution in detail and decide. We don’t want a repeat of the Libya experience.”

I reminded him that there are expectations for a ground force in Syria. He said again that the address is the Security Council. “Moreover, China and many other countries are against it,” he added.

This is how Moscow was looking at Ankara on the eve of Putin’s visit.

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