Interview of the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey Vladimir IVANOVSKIY for Todays Zaman, 11 June 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently gave a speech in Berlin in which he outlined Russian foreign policy toward the West. On the occasion of the June 12 Russian national day, Todays Zaman interviewed Mr. Ivanovskiy on Russias new foreign policy, its economic relations with Turkey and his observations of the domestic political processes in Ankara. The ambassador was hopeful that the current tomato crisis would be solved soon. Giving statistics on the increasing number of Russian tourists coming to Turkey, he told Todays Zaman, If our ministries of agriculture cannot solve this tomato crisis, we will come and eat our share in Turkey.

On June 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech in Berlin and spoke about a Euro-Atlantic Community. Is this a supplement for Eurasia and does this refer to a change in Russian foreign policy?

I think I have to make some corrections here. First of all, the term Euro-Atlantic Community is not new to the Russian foreign policy dictionary. The fact that it was expressed frequently in the presidents visit to Germany [is due to the] location [of the visit]. As you know, this visit was his third visit abroad since assuming the presidential office. Previously, he visited Kazakhstan and China, and in those countries he spoke about Russias foreign policy principles toward the East. When he visited Germany, it was deliberately decided that he should address Russias foreign policy toward the West. We have to keep in mind that Russia and Turkey are two Eurasian countries, and both have interests in both continents. But the fact that the speech was given in Germany decided its tone.

In that speech the Russian president claimed Russia was a part of the European identity. He also said that European integration shouldnt stop at the shores of the Baltic at the borders of Eastern Europe. Is Russia looking for a new kind of strategic relationship with the European Union, or even full membership?

We want EU-Russian relations to be improved. At the end of this month, there will be a summit between the EU countries and Russia in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansisk. It is most probable that a new strategic [document] will be signed between the sides during this summit. But about full membership in the EU, I can say that it can only be discussed after Turkey becomes a full member. We are not in a hurry, and the EU is not in a hurry about our membership. Let me make a joke here: If one day Turkey, Ukraine and Russia all become members of the EU, our combined population will be greater than the EU. Then we have to ask who joined whom

Does Russia have a clear policy on Turkeys bid to become a full member of the EU?

Our policy is very clear and has been expressed on several occasions during our official meetings with Turkish diplomats: We do support Turkeys membership in the union and will congratulate Turkey if it manages to join the EU.

But there is a pro-Eurasian lobby in Turkey that advocates Turkey improving its relations with Russia and China, and not with the EU. What would you say to this?

These two positions, I mean, relations with the EU and relations with Russia and China need not contradict each other. That a country wants to be a member of the EU does not mean that it cannot develop relations with other countries. As you remember, I have already said that there are only two Eurasian countries in the world: Turkey and Russia. Both countries have to appeal to both Europe and Asia. This is a strategic advantage, but only if the right policies are adapted. Already, the two countries are following a two-dimensional foreign policy in that sense, and that is logical.

Oil and gas resources

Another Eurasian issue is energy lines. Both Russia and Turkey are bridging Asia and Europe by means of oil and gas resources. This reminds us of the Putin period of energy-based foreign policy. Will there be a change in this policy in the Medvedev era?

Our position is that the world can no longer be a uni-polar or bipolar world. This is true also for energy policies. There should be a balance of powers on energy policies and that should be created among the producing, consuming and transit countries. They should come together and agree on a joint policy, sign an international agreement maybe. Production, consumption and transportation are so interdependent that the system should work in concord; otherwise the world will be dragged into an energy chaos.

You mentioned a possible agreement. Would Russia ask for anything particular to be included in such an agreement?

We demand that the energy-producing companies also be able to participate in its [energy] distribution. At the same time, the distribution companies should participate in production. This would secure interdependency and cooperation and help the system I mentioned work better. Today, the European countries do not let Gazprom participate in energy distribution schemes in Europe. Only Germany is receptive to the idea. On the other hand, they want European companies to be able to participate in energy production in Russia. Well, this is not acceptable. We will accept foreign energy production companies only if our companies are allowed to participate in distribution tenders.

Russia facing own history

The fact that President Medvedev spoke in Berlin should have been moving for the Russians, with all the memories of East Berlin. Last month, another similar event took place in Turkey. You yourself opened a monument dedicated to the Russian soldiers who died at Gallipoli during their stay there after the 1917 Revolution. Can we say that both these events are steps towards Russias facing its own history?

That is a beautiful question. I can safely say that this is our ardor of turning to our roots. There can be tragic events there, but these are our history, our roots. We have to face and accept them as they are. You mentioned the monument in Gallipoli. Learning about those events, that Turkey opened its lands and heart to 200,000 sons and daughters of Russia during one of its hardest years, made me rethink Turkish-Russian relations. I said this during the ceremony at Gallipoli: We are grateful to Turkey for this gesture. And I want to convey the same message to the Turkish nation through your newspaper, also.

The number of the Russian tourists coming to Turkey is steadily increasing and so are their average expenditures. What is your expectation for this tourism season?

My expectations are high. I hope the number of the Russian tourists coming to Turkey will exceed 3 million this year. Turkey is already the Russian nations favorite tourism destination -- Turkey is able to appeal not only the tourists coming from Moscow and its surroundings, but from all regions of the country. Russian tourists are able to spend more now. Turkey provides not only sun, beaches, sand, sea and hospitable people that the Russians love, but also shopping malls. And believe me, our tourists are eating Turkish tomatoes, eggplants and other vegetables without any hesitation. If our ministries of agriculture cannot solve this tomato crisis, we will come and eat our share in Turkey.

Upcoming Sochi Olympics

About a year ago, I conducted an interview with you and we spoke about the Sochi 2014 Summer Olympics. Then, you said that this was a great opportunity for Turkish businessmen. What has happened until now?

Let me repeat that the Sochi Olympics is still a very important opportunity for businessmen and investors. One statistic will help in understanding the magnitude of the opportunities: Turkish cement producers will sell a total of 4 million tons of cement to the projects in Sochi. This will be Turkeys largest export item. Now, we are working on establishing a roll-on/roll-off ship between Samsun and Port-Kavkaz in the Kerch Strait so as to carry Turkish goods to Russia. Cargo will be transferred from the Port-Kavkaz to Sochi via rail.

I also know that several Turkish companies have already won some tenders for the construction of the Olympics facilities. There will be further tenders in the near future and I have heard that Turkish companies will be participating. I am sure that Turkey will take part in this process.

As of our general economic relations, I have a hope that this year we will be the strongest economic partner of Turkey. The statistics provided by the Turkish side are breathtaking. If the Commonwealth of Independent States is excepted Turkey is the fifth largest partner of Russia. These are very important indicators. I am really exited when I think of the end of the year. If there wont be a serious problem, by the end of the year we will reach to satisfactory numbers both in mutual trade and tourism. This is already an unstoppable trend. Most importantly we have managed to create trust to each other. This takes time, you know. But for the continuation of this dynamic and successful cooperation domestic politics of both Russia and Turkey should continue to be stabilized and sustainable.

So you should be following the latest developments in Ankara. Would you like to comment on the process Turkey is going through?

To put it frankly, we do follow the developments, with utmost attention. But we do not want to intervene in Turkeys domestic politics. We had this syndrome during the Soviet times and briefly after the Soviet regime was overthrown, but we managed to overcome that. But this does not mean that we are aloof to the developments in Turkey. Our foreign policy experts, politicians and academics are following and analyzing the developments in Turkey with care and attention.

Not commenting on Turkeys domestic politics is our official policy, but of course I have my personal observations. As a diplomat who has served in various countries and a bureaucrat who had the chance to observe the Russian experience, I think that if in a country crises follow crises, there is a problem with the system. The earlier the modern Turkish society corrects this systemic problem, the earlier it will attain welfare and tranquility. Let us look at the Russian experience. By the 90s, due to the awful events that took place in the country, Russia was on the edge of dissolution. But together with Vladimir Putins presidency we managed to unite the society. This is a still-ongoing process. I hope Turkey will soon create the same unity, but this necessitates time and the will and determination of the political actors.