A Russia-intense week - HATICE KARAHAN

A Russia-intense week

While the World Energy Congress marked effects that will spread much beyond next week, we also dealt with a Russia-intense agenda. Following the meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, a protocol was signed between Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak at the Turkey-Russia Intergovernmental Joint Economic Commission's (KEK) 14th meeting. Immediately after it, the 18th Turkey-Russia/Russia-Turkey Business Councils meeting hosted by the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) took place. Several messages also came out of all these and related meetings in which the parties displayed quite a positive attitude.

Then let's take a collective look at what emerged throughout the week.

Those who went back to the old

The Turkish Stream was one of the most popular items among the Turkey-Russia matters of the two countries that returned to their old agenda. I don't want to repeat what I wrote previously on this matter. Hence, keeping loyal to what I wrote when the subject arose in 2014, I will just underline the West Line alternative argument.

One other element that was confirmed to be recovered in the meetings was the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. We were expecting this development anyway within the statements that came with normalization. And on this point, I will note my opinions in my Aug. 12 article titled “Çevrilen Rusya Sayfası ve Nükleer” (The turned Russia page and nuclear) in a single sentence: Being a smart customer is a must.

There are certain developments on the issue of agricultural products export, which is another item other than energy that is expected to improve. As a result, this re-opened the way to five groups, which Russia had banned the import from Turkey in terms of economic sanctions (excluding other reasons). Accordingly, the ban on oranges, mandarins, apricots, peaches/nectarines and plums has been lifted. The citrus section in particular, as a seasonal requirement, is good news in terms of warming up the related sector.

However…

Those who could not go back to the old

However, there are also those that could not yet go back to the way they were in the past. The economic sanctions have been alleviated, but they are not completely eliminated. If I were to continue on agricultural products in this context, the remaining items of the food group on Russia's November 2015 decree are still banned. What are they? In addition to the fruit bans which grapes, apples, pears and strawberries remain caught up in, I will sum them up as four articles of vegetables, primarily our famous tomatoes, and two articles of meat. Here, in addition to Russia's gradual behavior, we can also sense matters related to its own producer.

Of course as you know, trade blocks were not the only ones in the decree in question. Non-visa travel was also suspended. What is observed in the last instance is that it seems the visa issue will remain suspended for the time being. Furthermore, it might be possible for Russians to initially take into account an exemption concerning the business world.

In addition to this, it is understood that certain bans on Turkish companies in Russia (some exceptions excluded) and the subject of work bans applied on Turkish citizens are currently on hold. And if the desire for effective cooperation is sincere, these are also items that need to be fixed.

Relatively new ones

Meanwhile, we saw plenty of intentions throughout the Turkey-Russia meetings that the emergence of new cooperations are targeted. Novak and Zeybekci, who spoke at the Business Councils Meeting following the KEK, highlighted the objective of expanding the scope of reciprocal trade and investments in various fields from metallurgy to petrochemistry. We also see that the free trade agreement operations between the two countries have progressed as well and that its fruits will be reaped in 2017. Of course, for the time being, we can consider this mostly in the services front.

Even though it has been heard through the news, one of the related developments we can consider relatively new was hearing the determination concerning the Turkey-Russia Joint Fund. In addition to the investments in Turkey and Russia, the fund that is planned to be established with a $1-billion capital is also planned to be used in cooperations with third countries.

Having mentioned third countries, as stressed at the meeting by DEİK Chairman Ömer Cihad Vardan, the importance of taking part in the Eurasia geography as two big actors cannot be denied. This region that I previously and frequently mentioned specifically in regards to the Silk Road, is an opportunity that should not be allowed to get out of hand for bilateral and multi-party cooperations. The Turkey-Russia normalization may also be expected, at this point, to provide an indirect benefit in terms of paving the way for potential cooperation or eliminating the known stresses. DEİK Secretary-General Mustafa Mente is also stating that in accordance with observations, there is relief in this direction in the recent period in the region's countries.

In a nutshell, we have left behind an energy-filled week which proved Turkey-Russia ties have significantly returned to normal. If the developments I listed reach success and the hitches are eliminated, as Novak stated, it is possible to gain speed in relations. In fact, if the formula works, it is even possible to reach a synergy.

Meanwhile, my area is economic variables. Yet, there is no doubt that “at least” bilateral foreign policy elements are involved in the equation.

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