by the Russian Ambassador Dr. Petr V. Stegniy for the Turkish Daily News

For Russia, its relations with its southern neighbour Turkey have always been of crucial importance. The ties between our two countries have evolved under quite complicated circumstances, influenced by two oppositely directed sets of factors. On one hand - at the times of the Russian and Ottoman Empires - a strong factor of geopolitical rivalry between the two great powers in Eurasia remained predominant, being further complicated by their ambiguous relations with other powers within the "Concert of Europe". Yet on the other hand, a natural and profound community of interests between Russia and Turkey gradually emerged, with similarities in the way of living between the Russians and Turks being also the case, thus bringing us to the common understanding of cooperation as the source of mutual benefit. This, by now, has become the main reason that brings us together and has evidently had such a favourable outcome within the last fifteen years.

The current year of 2005 coincides with a significant date - the 85th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Russia and the Republic of Turkey. That was a hard time to live at; but it is very gratifying for us to see that the support and assistance extended by the Russian Government to the young Republic of Turkey back in 1920s and '30s are still remembered and appreciated here. Later on, our nations, having overcome the period of mutual alienation of the 1940s and '50s, then, from the late '60s and throughout the '70s, managed to significantly expand the scope of their co-operation. It was then that a number of Turkish industrial giants, such as the steel works in Iskenderun, the aluminium works in Seydisehir, the oil-processing plant in Aliaga, were constructed.

Profound political changes that affected our country and the entire world on the verge of 1980s and '90s have also contributed to the development of the new structure of the relations between Russia and Turkey. These new relations are based on the well-developed and booming trade and economic ties, as well as on the active political dialogue, which is focused on the current international problems and complex regional situation that both Turkey and Russia have to face. Under these circumstances, a solid structure of our relations has been naturally taking shape, thus allowing us to talk about the favourable perspectives for their further evolution into a mutually beneficial partnership.

On the current stage, partnership is the main guiding principle for the whole spectrum of the Russian-Turkish dialogue. The Declaration on the Enhancement of Friendship and Multidimensional Partnership, which was signed by Presidents A.N.Sezer and V. V. Putin in December 2004, is a graphic evidence for that. It was followed by a series of high level contacts, which includes the Russian President's working meetings in Russia with the Turkish Prime Minister Mr. R.T.Erdoğan in January, May and July, and their contacts during the UN summit in September this year.

Our trade and economic ties constitute a solid basis for our mutual understanding. Russia ranks second in the list of Turkey's imports and eighth - in exports, which, on the whole, places it as Ankara's second largest (after Germany) foreign trade partner. There was a 50% increase in our bilateral trade turnover in the first half of this year, compared by the same period of 2004, and it is expected that by the end of 2005 it will reach a US$ 15 billion mark. It seems feasible now to bring this number up to US$ 25 billion by 2008. The scope of our cooperation is quite extensive and, apart from the well-known energy sector, also encompasses such areas as capital investment, construction, science and technology, including high-tech sphere and space exploration. The Turkish investments in Russia last year totalled up to US$ 2 billion. The Russian-Turkish cooperation in the tourism sector is also booming: more than 1.6 million Russian tourists visited Turkey within the last year alone, and this number is expected to mount up to 2 million by the end of 2005.

Speaking of the energy sector, it is enough to mention that hydrocarbons make up almost 62% of the total Turkey's import from Russia, of which, natural gas constitutes a significant part. Starting from 1987, Turkey has been constantly purchasing the Russian gas, with its 2004 purchase being 14.5 billion m? (of which, 3.3 billion m? was supplied through the Russia - Turkey underwater "Blue Stream" gas pipeline that had peen put into operation 2 years before). It is expected that the Russian gas supplies will reach their peak in 2010 with their maximum of

30 billion m? annually, making Turkey the second largest (again after Germany) Russian gas consumer in the world.

Also noteworthy are the Russian oil supplies, which, in accordance with the existing contract with the TATNEFT Company, are expected to be 5 million tons in the current year. The Russian coal sales to Turkey are also on the rise.

I would like to stress that, taking into account the intention of the Turkish side to develop comprehensively its energy market, Russia is by all means ready to render to its Turkish partners any assistance they might need in that.

Several Russian companies, first of all the GAZPROM, are studying the opportunities to invest in the Turkish energy sector, including their possible participation in the construction of natural gas distribution lines, underground gas storage facilities, oil and gas exploration and production. Since the last year, the Russian companies have stepped up their attempts to enter the privatisation process in Turkey's energy and telecom markets. The opportunities for the Russians to participate in the construction of major international gas and oil transportation lines through the Turkish territory is also of interest for us, especially in view of the intention declared by the Turkish government to make the country a "bridge" between the East and the West. These, in fact, are the main issues that the December 2004 cooperation memorandum signed between the Russian GAZPROM and Turkish BOTAS companies, is about.

I think I wouldn't exaggerate too much if I said that within the last fifteen years we have managed to go through the way that otherwise might have taken us centuries to pass. Our multidimensional relations have indeed been transformed into self-regulating mechanism contributing to the welfare of the common Russians and Turks. The leading role of economy in such developments cannot be overestimated.