Moscow to Restore Ties with Ankara Contrasting Public Opinion
By Marina Romanova
Turkish president Recep Erdogan travels to St. Petersburg on coming Tuesday, August 9th, to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to restore two nations’ economic ties being down since Turkish air force dropped Russian Su-24 fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015. The followed termination of Moscow-Ankara affairs painfully hit public relations, economic affairs and trade.
Food, Agro Products and Joined Projects
Initially Ankara has been one of the beneficiaries of Russia’s food embargo against the west. In 2014, bilateral trade in agricultural products increased by 19 percent to US$4 billion. When Moscow has embargoed a range of products and foodstuffs, including shipments of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, poultry and salt, food exports from Turkey were in serious trouble. Nearly 20 percent of Russia’s vegetable imports are provided by Turkey, and about US$31 billion in bilateral trade was at risk amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.
Russian export market has been lucrative for Turkish companies. Analysis by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) suggests that Turkey would’ve lost a lot if Russian sanction would persist over the course of 2016.
“It would be reasonable to assume that, if sanctions are fully applied, the impacts through the [lost] export of agricultural produce would be around 0.1 percent of Turkish GDP,” Bojan Markovic, an Istanbul-based economist at the EBRD, said to Al Jazeera.
The agricultural exports along was amounted to more than US$ 1 billion. Turkey purchased 4.1 million metric tons of wheat from Russia during the 2014-15 market year, Market Watch reported. Russia expects to return to the Turkish grain market soon after the meeting between Erdogan and Putin in Moscow this week.
According to the Moscow embassy of Turkey data, Turkey exported US$6 billion in goods in 2015, while Russia sold to Turkey a total of US$25.3 billion worth of goods, including US$16 billion worth of natural gas.
During the months of strained relations Russia also suspend their joined projects with Turkey. For instance, Rosatom, state-owned nuclear corporation, stopped the construction of a US$22 billion nuclear power station in the southeastern Mersin province designed to decrease resource-poor Turkey’s dependence on imported energy. The discussion on the construction of two legs in the proposed Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline, designed to bring Russian gas into Turkey and Southern Europe via the Black Sea, was suspended last November and officially abandoned the Turkish Stream idea the following month of December 2015.
Since June 29th of this year, when a telephone conversation was held between the two presidents, sides were decided to gradually lift restrictions on agricultural product imports to Russia, and the lifting of the anti-Turkish food embargo has been announced. Turkish officials have expressed hope for the country’s agricultural products making a quick return to the Russian market after the restrictions are lifted.
Many observers agree that two countries relations can be restored easiest of all in the trade and economic sphere, but tourist flows reinstatement from Russia to Turkish resorts, however, are seriously doubtful due to the country vulnerability to terrorism or probability of yet another military coup.
As Oleg Safonov, head of the Russian federal tourism agency, told reporters back in November 2015, while announcing discontinuance of cooperation with Turkey in the tourist sector, “…it’s absolutely clear that Turkey won’t be earning this money anymore,” he said to the Financial Times. According to him, Turkey used to receive revenues of about US$10 billion a year from Russian inbound tourism.
Over 4,479 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2014, making Russians the second largest group of tourists after Germans, according to information note of the Turkish embassy in Moscow.
“As the result of the contraction of the Russian economy, the number of Russian citizens visiting Turkey in 2015 fell to 3.651 million”. When Russia banned charter flights and called on tour operators not to sell holidays to Turkey, the number of Russian tourists for the first 5 months of 2016 decreased by 82.77 percent compared to the same period of the previous year and dropped to merely 138 181 people.
The Anti-Turkish Hysteria
In recent years Kremlin established a new, though largely practiced in USSR, routine procedure for any serious political discrepancies to be accompanied by the mass hysteria against yet another appointed enemy of Russia. Images of the “devil” Georgians and “Maidan-mad” Ukrainians’, carefully constructed and induced by the Kremlin-control media, are the latest cases of such political manipulations. However, unlike anti-Ukrainian hysteria, Kremlin orchestrated public dislike for Turkey, may bring unexpected surprises in bilateral relations, as politicians decided to restore the relations’ while public opinion remain low.
As Al Jazeera wrote in December 2015, within days after the plane’s downing, Russian officials, public figures and Kremlin-controlled media have started a competition for the harshest anti-Turkish measure, tirade or prank.
Turkish nationals throughout Russia have been kicked out of universities, searched, detained, interrogated and had their visas discontinued, Russian media then reported. Turkish-owned plants have been searched or ordered to suspend their work. For the first week followed the incident, customs service prevented 1,250 trucks carrying Turkish exports from crossing the border as the Kremlin continued to demand an apology from Turkey for the downing the fighter jet.
A nationalist Russian politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said that Turkish sweets should be banned from Russian Parliament dining facilities “because they may cause cancer.” Restaurants started removing or renaming anything Turkish from their menus.
It took only a month for news coverage of Turkey in Russia to become so negative, that a media analysis study ordered by the Russian news channel RBC, showed that Turkey has overtaken Ukraine, the U.S. and even extremist group the Islamic State (ISIS) as Russian news media’s enemy No. 1.
After six months, when asked if Russia should now seek to rekindle relations with Turkey by state pollster Public Opinion (FOM) 60 percent said they “saw no urgent reason to make any welcoming approaches to Turkey” and only 27 percent said “yes”, the Newsweek reported on July 15th. Russian daily Kommersant published the poll shows that almost 40 percent of Russians do not believe Putin should have lifted the ban on Turkish imports.
Turkey and Turkic Regions of Russia
Meanwhile, the current anti-Turkish hysteria is not the only obstacle, observers suppose. There are some speculations amid expert community that Ankara-Moscow relations repair is only for the time being until the next crisis, which may be triggered by already existing discrepancies between start afresh allies.
Among them is the fact, that Turkey is actively penetrating the Turkic regions of Russia including the most influential, culturally and religiously affined to Ankara, Republic of Tatarstan and Republic of Bashkortostan. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s, Turkey established the network of Russian-Turkish high schools mostly in big cities and ethnically non-Russian regions from Ural all the way to the most Northern region of Sakha Republic of Russia to bring up and nurture pro-Turkish lobby. Majority of those high schools graduates’ afterwards continue their education in Ankara and Istanbul. Although, Kremlin never liked that, Russian-Turkish schools not ever seriously troubled Moscow relations with Ankara. At the same time, Turkey’s support to ethnic minority of recently annexed Crimea – Crimean Tatars – may eventually irritate Kremlin as Crimean Tatars strongly oppose to Russian annexation of the peninsula.
The much more acute contradictions between Russia and Turkey, writes the Fort Russ, are those lurking in Syria. Two countries pursue opposite aims in Syria: Russia’s support of Bashar Assad directly contradict Ankara’s allies’ agenda. Additionally, Kremlin support to Kurdish population in Syria from Ankara’s point of view is equivalent to supporting Turkish Kurds – Turkey still sees Kurdish nationalism as bigger threat than Isis.