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Rising Powers: The New Global Reality
Turkey’s Near Abroad
In the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict, Turkey looks to strengthen ties with former Soviet states

In the waning days of the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August, politicians in Turkey focused elsewhere—on Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Central Asian players in regional energy markets.

Turkey’s energy minister [Hilmi Guler] visited the two former Soviet states to discuss long-term energy strategies, just three weeks after a tentative cease-fire was inked between Moscow and Tbilisi.

The meeting, which came on the heels of a costly trade dispute with Russia over Ankara’s decision to authorize US naval access to the Black Sea during the Georgia fighting, has been widely interpreted as a warning shot to Russia that Turkey is not about to be pushed around.

Looking East
Looking east in troubled times comes naturally to Turkey, which was among the first countries to recognize the independence of Central Asian states when they split away from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the 1990s. Under former President Turgut Ozal (1989-1993), political and economic ties between Turkey and these Turkic-brethren states took off. Since 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took office, a renewed focus on Central Asia has led to rising foreign investment and international trade with Turkey’s eastern neighbors.

In the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict, Turkish officials say, ties to newly independent former Soviet states assume even greater importance. Ahmet Davutoglu, chief foreign policy adviser to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a meeting with journalists in Ankara, argues that Turkey has taken on an important role in keeping lines of communications open between antagonists—not only in the Caucasus but also in the greater Middle East where Turkey, uniquely, has good relations with Israel, Arab states, and Iran.

“In principle we are against isolation,” says Davutoglu. “We were against isolation of Syria, we were against isolation of Iraq, because isolation creates economic stagnation. Isolation creates a barrier.”

Exports Increase to Turkey’s Neighbors
The emphasis on economics is not accidental. Exports to Near Asia and the Middle East region, for instance, have skyrocketed in recent years climbing to more than $15 billion in 2007 from $3.3 billion in 2001, according to statistics kept by the Turkish Undersecretariat of the Prime Ministry of Foreign Trade.

Exports to North America, Africa, and other Asian states also gained during the same period, and Turkey is pursuing opportunities to expand trade with Africa too. But Turkey’s near-abroad partnerships have been among the biggest recipients of Turkish-made goods during the AKP tenure. (In Turkmenistan, for instance, Turkey has become the leading source for foreign direct investment, sending about $1.5 billion in 2007.

Russia’s Undeniable Importance
In the near term, however, no amount of courting Central Asian and Middle Eastern states will supplant economic reality: Russia is Turkey’s largest trading partner. In 2007 bilateral trade totaled $28 billion, a figure that is expected to climb to $38 billion by the end of 2008.

On the energy front, Turkey imports nearly two-thirds of its total natural gas supplies from Russia, a vital heating source for homes in Istanbul and Ankara that some analysts believe Turkey’s ruling party will not interrupt as winter approaches and March 2009 elections loom. Turkish heavy construction firms, banks, and its energy services sector have been major players in the post-Soviet revival of the Russian economy.

Henri J. Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University, says logic argues for Turkey to avoid pushing Russia too hard. Barkey points to a recently proposed security agreement between Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—a so-called platform for security and cooperation in the South Caucasus—as evidence of Turkey’s desire to maintain close relations with the Kremlin.

“Turkey will always choose with the United States ...especially when it comes to a choice of the United States and Russia,” said Hugh Pope, a Turkey expert at the International Crisis Group. “But Turkey’s whole strategy will be to delay any such moment of truth. They do not want to be outed on this question.”

by Greg Bruno, staff writer and editor for the Council on Foreign Relations Web site. Read the full interview


Editors Trip to Turkey

Greg Bruno was one of 11 American editors and producers who attended the International Reporting Project’s (IRP) Gatekeeper Editors trip to Turkey September 14-25. The Stanley Foundation collaborates with IRP in making the trips possible.

The group met various media and business leaders to understand Turkey’s rich history and Turkey’s future as a rising economic, political, military, and cultural power. It had dinner with US Consul General Sharon Wiener and interviewed US Ambassador Ross Wilson, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, as well as retired military leaders about the strong role Turkey’s military plays in protecting its secular identity.

The group flew to Diyarbakir, a Kurdish city near the borders of Syria and Iraq. There it met with the mayor and governor, as well as several members of the business community. It also visited a women’s cooperative and a rural village.

The participating editors included:
Greg Bruno, staff writer/editor, www.CFR.org, Council on Foreign Relations
Jill Burcum, editorial board member, Star Tribune, Minneapolis
Yavonda Chase, international editor, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Justin Dial, senior producer, CNN American Morning
Larisa Epatko, world editor, PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Gary Graham, managing editor, Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington
Bridget Kelley, supervising editor, NPR Morning Edition
Liz Heron, Web editor, The Washington Post
Steven Paulson, executive producer, Wisconsin Public Radio, Madison
Brian Winter, foreign editor, USA Today
Jake Ellison, Web editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Resource
This trip is part of the Rising Powers: The New Global Reality project.

International Reporting Project (IRP) Director John Schidlovsky reports on the recent IRP Gatekeeper Editors trip to Turkey. The IRP took 11 senior US editors and producers to three cities in Turkey to assess the future role of this key country. Photos by Jill Burcum, Yavonda Chase, Larisa Epatko, Sean Harder, and Kristin McHugh.


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