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13 Feb, 2009 12:47

Turkey doesn’t want to lose major partner

Turkish President Abdullah Gul is in Moscow for a four day official meeting. One of his goals is to talk over energy projects that would boost the country's role in the region.

The two countries were rivals for regional supremacy for centuries with a long history of bloody wars. Now, however, they have realised that joining forces is of mutual interest. Abdullah Gul has called Russia an important neighbouring country at the top of Turkey's foreign trade list.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Turkish counterpart have signed a declaration for the enhancement of multi-faceted partnership.

Trade between Russia and Turkey has more than tripled in four years, making Moscow Ankara’s largest trade partner – while Turkish developers played a major role in the recent real estate boom in Russia.

In addition, Siberian gas delivered across the bottom of the Black Sea now accounts for two thirds of Turkey’s consumption.

Energy cooperation is also expected to be in focus during the talks. According to a Kremlin source, Russian natural gas supplies to Turkey, that comprised 23.8 billion cubic metres in 2008, are expected to grow to 25.54 billon cubic metres in 2009.

“There is a major cooperation potential in electric power generation, including the participation of Russian companies in the construction of nuclear power facilities in Turkey,” the source was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Viktor Nadein-Raevsky from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations says the grounds of such successful cooperation were laid in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It was the economy, not politics, that has driven relations between the two countries in the post Soviet era. First was trade, everything else followed,” Nadein-Raevsky explains.

However, what fueled the growth is now speeding the decline. The head of the Russian-Turkish Business Association Muharrem Kacmaz admits many Turkish companies were forced to slash their workforce and close their shops, but says there is hope for a better future:

“They won’t call it quits just yet. Everybody understands there are hard times ahead, but there is also a hope that, in a year or two, business will rebound.”

While the economy is limping, political relations between Moscow and Ankara are probably at their highest level at the moment. In August of 2008 Turkey was one of the few NATO countries that didn’t chastise Russia’s involvement in South Ossetia. This did not go unnoticed by the Kremlin.

As Viktor Nadein-Raevsky says, “Turkey managed not to spoil relations with any side in the conflict. It provided humanitarian aid to both Georgia and South Ossetia. It didn’t join the chorus of sweeping criticism of Russian actions coming from some western countries.”