Between the “Turkish Stream” and Armenian genocide: Turkey’s double game


Turkish Presidential Press Office

May 15, 2015

Andre Rezchikov
Mikhail Moshkin


Ankara between the “Turkish stream” and the “Armenian issue”

Turkey appears to be seriously offended by Russia with regard to its position on the Armenian genocide: unfriendly statements, including those relating to Crimea, follow one another. Are relations between the two countries cooling down, and will it affect a project, crucial for Russia – the “Turkish stream”?

The Turkish Foreign Minister Chavushoglu found human rights violations in Crimea

The Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Chavushoglu on Thursday said that the informal Turkish delegation, which visited Crimea, found signs of human rights violations.

“In particular the Crimean Tatars continue to be under pressure,” – said Chavushoglu. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the informal delegation consisted of two groups. “One group met with the current de facto authorities of Crimea [thus Turkey emphasizes that it does not recognize the legitimacy of the Crimean authorities — ed], the other mingled with the locals and studied the situation among the population. Briefly they talked about their impressions. The report will be published later”, — the Minister promised at the final press conference of the summit of Foreign Ministers of NATO, held in the Turkish city of Belek near Antalya.

The findings of Chavushoglu were strange, given the declarations of the members of the Turkish delegation visiting Crimea. On April 29, the head of the delegation Mehmet Uskul who arrived to the Republic with a three-day visit, stated that he was satisfied with the situation of the Crimean Tatars on the peninsula. “In two days here our delegation met with the Crimean government, public representatives, visited the places of compact residence of the Crimean Tatars”, — quoted RIA Novosti the head of the delegation — “What I see today is encouraging, I am incredibly grateful to the Crimean side for the hospitality and, in turn, invite them to visit Turkey with a return visit”.

“Illegal annexation of Crimea”

Even more dramatic statements were uttered by the Turkish leaders earlier. “Illegal annexation of Crimea cannot be recognized in any way”, — speaking at a meeting of Foreign Ministers of NATO, announced the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

As RIA “Novosti” reported, the Turkish Prime Minister also called to support Ukraine, “so it could better provide for the safety of its own people.” “Extending a hand to Ukraine, we should not forget the suffering of the people of Crimea… Keeping in touch with Crimean Tatars and preventing their isolation is key in this regard,” – said Davutoglu, whose speech was broadcast on the NATO website.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Chavushoglu, in turn, said, speaking at the same meeting, that Russia’s actions against Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia cannot be considered legitimate.

Georgia promised a spot in NATO

The Georgian theme sounded in the speech of the head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry the next day. Chavushoglu said that Turkey supports Georgia’s membership in NATO. “We now have four candidate countries. This is Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Georgia. And we want the summit of 2016 to have a purpose of the extension (of the Alliance)”, – said Chavushoglu.

Note, on this issue Ankara is “running ahead of the engine”. The NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, at the meeting on May 11 in Brussels with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, although noting that “Georgia is getting closer to NATO”, did not name any specific deadlines of the possible accession to the Alliance.

The NATO Secretary General did not speak about the expansion of the Alliance at the ministerial meeting in Antalya either. He, however, admitted that “NATO increased its military presence in the Eastern section of the Alliance, including the Baltic region”. This strengthening Stoltenberg called “the reaction to Russia’s actions in Ukraine” and referred to as measures that are “purely defensive in nature”. “Our actions are proportionate and fully comply with our international obligations,” – said the Secretary General of the Alliance.

“On this subject a compromise is impossible”

It is obvious that the anti-Russian statements of Ankara, including mentioning the “wrong” policy of Moscow in Crimea and Ukraine, followed the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Yerevan to the activities dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. On April 24, Putin visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial, established in memory of the tragedy of 1915, and stated that “there can be no justification to what happened.”

Turkey, for which the issue of recognition or non-recognition of the genocide is the most painful subject, reacted instantly. “Despite all our warnings and pleas, the President of Russia Putin has described the events of 1915 as genocide. We do not accept that and condemn it,” – said the statement of the Foreign Minister of the country. “On this account there was a conversation between the leaders of our two countries, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is well aware of Putin’s plans to visit Armenia, it is also well known that our country will be represented at a very high level on April 24 in Turkey”, — said to journalists the assistant to President Putin, Yuri Ushakov. The press secretary of the President, Dmitry Peskov said that Russia appreciates the relations with Turkey and does not consider that participation of President Vladimir Putin’s in memorial events in Armenia will affect these relationships negatively.

However, three days later, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “remembered” about Crimea. The Turkish leader said that Russia should be held accountable for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine before condemning the massacre of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915.

On May 8, Turkish newspaper “Milliyet” reported that President Erdogan at a meeting with Turkish historians did not rule out the possibility of recalling the Ambassador from Moscow in connection with Russia’s position on the Armenian genocide — at least this was claimed by the historian Mustafa Armagan, present at the meeting. He relayed the words of the Turkish leader as follows: “the President said that he had discussed the issue with Putin on the phone and told him that he was disappointed. According to him, our relationship with Moscow is good, they understand each other with the President of Russia, but on this subject it is impossible for us to compromise. Erdogan stressed that if necessary, Turkey will recall its Ambassador from Russia and will lower the level of diplomatic relations to the Consul General or chargé d’affaires”.

In the way of “the Turkish stream”

The deterioration of relations between Ankara and Moscow (at least, at the level of rhetoric) comes in stark contradiction with the continuing and deepening economic cooperation between the two countries — primarily in the energy sector.

On Thursday, the Russian government approved the updated diagram of pipelines, which includes the “Turkish stream”. Earlier, on May 9, the Italian company Saipem, the contractor for the construction of the gas pipeline, reported that Gazprom ordered to start the work on the construction of the “Turkish stream”. During earlier negotiations between the head of Gazprom Alexey Miller and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Turkey, Taner Yildiz, it was agreed to start operations of the pipeline in December 2016. It is assumed that the gas from the first pipeline in the volume of 15.75 billion cubic meters will go to the Turkish market.

As previously explained to the newspaper “Vzglyad” by the senior researcher of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security of the Institute of International Relations, Julia Kudryashova, the “Turkish stream” is very beneficial for Turkey, because for the “South stream” it was only a transit state, and now it will actually store the gas and could be able to mix it with the gas from the TANAP pipeline (joint project with Azerbaijan).

The benefit to Russia is also obvious — if the project “Turkish stream” will become a reality, the issue of the risks of gas transit to European consumers via Ukraine will lose its relevance. A month ago the head of Gazprom Alexei Miller said that the failure of previous “workaround” project, the “South stream”, pursued one aim — to preserve the transit of gas through Ukraine to Europe. “If someone thinks that by also blocking the “Turkish stream”, they will achieve this goal, it is a profound mistake,” – said Miller.

The implementation of this project (the capacity of the new pipeline should reach 63 billion cubic meters) is clearly bothering the United States.

As previously noted by the newspaper “Vzglyad”, the special envoy of the State Department for international energy affairs, Amos Hochstein,  admitted to the Greeks the other day in Athens that America doesn’t want a pipeline with Russian gas going through their land. Of the total volume of 63 billion cubic meters, about 50 billion cubic meters is planned to be delivered to a gas hub on the Turkish-Greek border. “Of course, the US does not want this pipeline, which Hochstein honestly and directly explained to me during our recent meeting,”  – admitted the profile Minister for industrial reform, environment and energy of Greece, Panagiotis Lafazanis.

The project of Russian gas transit to European customers via Turkey and the Greek hub was made possible thanks to the agreement reached in December of last year by presidents Putin and Erdogan.

The relationship will not be sacrificed

Director of the research center “Middle East-Caucasus” Stanislav Tarasov believes that it is not necessary to talk about some cooling of Russian-Turkish relations. According to him, the country has developed a serious pro-Russian lobby, which “with any regime change will not sacrifice the Russian-Turkish relations.”

“Leaders who make such statements have no political perspective. They have no future. Turkey’s welfare now depends on Russia. It is Vladimir Putin who can maintain the stability of Erdogan’s regime, who could lose the parliamentary elections. Turkey is in a geopolitical instability. There is a Kurdish issue, a Syrian issue, Iraq… They are surrounded by enemies. And Chavushoglu wants Russia to become the enemy too? He will not succeed” – said Tarasov to “Vzglyad” newspaper.

He is convinced that the head of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs made opportunistic statements. Tarasov suggested that such rhetoric was preceded by several events. First and foremost it is the NATO summit in Antalya, as well as the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Sochi. In this regard, “Ankara realized that the big powers are playing without them. The talks in Sochi were not only about Ukraine, but also Yemen, Iraq, Syria. And Turkey is directly involved in these processes. Turkey at on time wanted to invade Syria, but it wasn’t allowed to. Turkish diplomacy has come to a standstill. And in June the parliamentary elections are coming. Hence such conflicting statements”, — the expert believes.

Moreover, the political analyst is sure that the anti-Russian statements of Chavushoglu testify to the sunset of his career. He recalled that Turkey did not join the Western sanctions against Russia. “Many Turks are very happy that Crimea joined Russia. When the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey heard that flirting of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people with Kiev culminated in a disaster, they expressed a desire to return to Crimea. Up to six million people can take advantage of this opportunity. Only in Crimea they will be accepted as ethnic Crimean Tatars, and in Turkey they are the Turks,” – he said.

Turkey is distracting the West

Sharp criticism of the Turkish authorities in relation to Russia is connected with the meeting of NATO foreign Ministers in Antalya, says a senior researcher at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security of the Institute of International Relations, Julia Kudryashova. “Given that John Kerry arrived there and there were negotiations with representatives of the Turkish authorities, Turkey had to somehow politically go along with NATO,” she told the newspaper Vzglyad. The negotiations of Foreign Ministers of the Alliance members began on May 13, the main topic of discussion was the policy towards Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine.

Kudryashova noted that the Turkish President also refused to come to Russia for the Victory day parade. “Erdogan still had to find some reason not to come to this parade. After all, Turkey was blamed by Western countries that it did not join the sanctions, continues to develop economic projects, for example, the “Turkish stream”, — said the expert. — In order to divert the attention of Western countries, to defend themselves from the criticism for their economic relations with Russia, Turkey needed a sort of curtain to show that politically Turkey is with the West, that it supports the basic principles of NATO countries, that it does not support Russia politically, condemns it for the events in Crimea and the events in Ukraine”.

To politically criticize Russia, again a reason is needed. “So, Erdogan capitalized on Putin’s remarks about the Armenian genocide and found a convenient cover to condemn Russia”, — said Kudryashova. “At the same time Turkey will never abandon economic interests in Russia. It is very pragmatic and understands that sanctions give Turkey a chance,” – said the expert.

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