Turkey’s Reconciliation with Russia and Israel Opens a New Era of Regional Collaboration

The timing of Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel intensifies the expectation for enhanced trilateral collaboration in all fields with major energy projects gaining momentum and providing hope for a better, peaceful future.

As Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia occurs, two major energy projects, the Turkish Stream and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, are entering a phase of accelerated development and implementation. The Akkuyu project is one step ahead being bound by an intergovernmental agreement. Not formally, but effectively the project had been frozen since November 2015. The Turkish Stream project has been on the shelf for a longer time, since July 2015. The past needs to be explored well to understand what’s going on and shape future expectations realistically. What happened in 2015 that hampered the development of a win-win project like the Turkish Stream?

Political uncertainty in Turkey due to general elections slowed down communication between Russia and Turkey on the Turkish Stream project in the early 2015. The Justice and Development Party, which had governed Turkey since 2002, lost its parliamentary majority at the general election on June 7, 2015. Unsuccessful attempts to form a coalition government resulted in a new general election being called for November 1, 2015.

Political uncertainty had a severe impact on Turkish bureaucracy slowing down all progress and communication. Negotiations on the Turkish Stream project were suspended on July 30, 2015, following disagreement over pricing and permit allocations. Under the repeated elections, the Justice and Development Party regained the majority it lost in June. Its leader, Ahmet Davutoglu, formed his government and sought a new term as the Prime Minister of Turkey. While it was expected that negotiations on the Turkish Stream project get taken up in the new term, talks got suspended on December 3, 2015, together with various retaliatory economic measures imposed by Russia against Turkey, over the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.

Davutoglu stepped down amid differences with President Erdogan just seven months after his appointment. He was succeeded by Binali Yildirim who formed Turkey's 65-th government and became Prime Minister on 24 May 2016. Yildirim almost immediately announced that he would seek to restore friendly relations with all countries with which Turkey has earlier entered into conflict with and signalled a paradigm shift in Turkish foreign policy towards pragmatism. A decisive step towards normalization came with President Erdogan's letter to President Putin and the two leaders agreed to resume bilateral cooperation.

Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel needs to be interpreted from the perspective of a new pragmatic foreign policy paradigm. This is an important step towards depoliticizing energy policy decisions and bringing them onto economic grounds. Under the new paradigm, projects like Akkuyu and Turkish Stream with major economic advantage to both countries will have priority and shall be pushed forward rather than aside. Accordingly, it can be expected that both the Turkish Stream and Akkuyu projects gain significant momentum.

Although some experts believe that Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel can be related to a desire to prevent Iran from becoming a regional power, I don’t think this is the case. The disembargo of Iran creates new business opportunities in various sectors and, under Turkey’s new foreign policy paradigm, I would expect the country’s ties with Iran to get closer as well. Enhanced collaboration between Turkey, Russia and Iran as well as Israel will bring economic benefit to the region as a whole together with the outlook of a more peaceful future if Iran does not violate the terms of the latest deal. Israel has an important role in following the implementation of the agreement and raising the alarm about any infractions. In my opinion there are signs of a paradigm shift in Iranian foreign policy towards pragmatism as well, which provides hope for a better future.

A new era of collaboration in the region full of opportunities emerges. Improved collaboration in Eurasia gives hope for sustained peace and economic growth in the region, not confined to Russia and Israel. Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia can bring the two countries together in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel can push Southern and Northern Cyprus governments for a compromise solution on the dispute, as the island’s exclusive economic zone is important for Western bound transport of oil & gas from the Leviathan field. It is a long shot, but a possible development given that Ankara’s ties to Athens are getting closer as well.

Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel comes at a time right after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meetings with Russian President Putin on possible cooperation to develop Israel's gas fields as well as the situation in Syria and Israel's relations with the Palestinians. The timing of Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel intensifies the expectation for enhanced trilateral collaboration in all fields with major energy projects gaining momentum and providing hope for a better, peaceful future.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.