Cunning Turkey has tamed Caucasus13.05.2011 | 13:52
Turkey is a country that pursues its own policies in Caucasus. While the EU and the USA act as Georgia's allies and Russia as Abkhazia's and Ossetia's strategic partner, Ankara manages to please everyone with Baku being its main partner and Tbilisi - a close ally. Sukhum is where Turkey buys something, and trade turnover with Moscow has been only growing over a long time. GeorgiaTimes correspondent discussed the peculiar style of Turkey's foreign policy with Vladimir Zakharov, an expert for Caucasus, and Alexander Rondeli, a Georigan politologist.
Despite Turkey's power, to some extent it promotes NATO's interests in the region, Vladimir Zakharov, head of Moscow Institute of Political and Social Studies in the Black Sea and Caspian region thinks.
- Turkey pursues a very flexible policy in Caucasus. As a result it has friendships and partnerships with all countries of the region. What's the secret?
- Superficially, Ankara carries out a contradictory policy. On one hand, it offered no reaction to de-facto elimination of the Ajarian autonomy, once a very important issue. On the other hand, Turks did not take pro-Georgian position in the war in 2008. Russian-Turkish relations have an important meaning, and this is the first reason why Turkish policies in the region are even and stable. Secondly, though Ankara pursued military cooperation with Georgia and was involved in modernization of Georgia's armed forces, it was not ready to let Tbilisi unleash a new war and have Russia dragged into it. Turkey hampered that as actively as possible by locking entries to its gulfs for US military ships.
- Can Turkey be considered Russia's ally in Caucasus?
- Definitely yes. But the economic benefit prevails here. Now think that by the end of 2008, the year of war, the trade turnover between two states reached USD 25 bn. This level places economy in priority, and it will prevail over friendship with Georgia, over military cooperation. Turkey was the only country that showed no anti-Russian hysteria after the war in 2008. Just for a few days Turkish newspapers published articles about "bad Russia" in support for Georgia but they soon stopped. Turkey is good at tackling diplomatic tasks remaining on good terms with Russia and becoming a sort of mediator settling crisis situations in Caucasus.
- Turkey is a country that used to control the entire Caucasus. Do its ambitions and the historical past affect today's policies?
- Ambitions remain. But they have no grounds. Turkey failed to become the center for Muslims of North Caucasus. Yet, there is some progress nonetheless. There are many Turkish educational institutions in Caucasus - Islamic universities, for instance, where the Turkish language is taught.
- Turkey is now the home for the world's largest diasporas of Caucasian nations. Can Ankara take advantage of them?
- It can and it does. Turkey's influence in Abkhazia, for example, is great. It originates in the Abkhaz diaspora of Turkey. Similar processes take place in North Caucasus. Turkey's Abkhazians are Muslims unlike most "local" Abkhazians that believe in Christ. Through them Turkey can apply a serious impact on the policy of Abkhazia. Money is invested into the young generation invited to do studies in Turkey - not only in Islamic universities, in secular colleges too.
- Presently, a fierce war for influence is underway among Circassian diasporas. Why do strong Circassian organizations of Turkey sympathize with Russia?
- Turkey's Circassians are more consolidated and better evolved, so to say, than their nationals in other countries. They are present in the army, in government, they issue newspapers and books in their native language. They have more links with their historical motherland doing business there, keeping contacts with friends and relatives. They have contacts with Russia too. I think it's ordinary pragmatism: they benefit from contacts with Russia, and they can solve their tasks directly in Russia, that's why they have moved away from anti-Russian rhetoric.
- Georgia reacts badly to Abkhazia's connections with the outside world. Yet, Tbilisi is not openly negative over Turkish businesses operating in Abkhazia? How did Ankara do that?
- Turkey can easily afford neglecting Tbilisi and its specific interests. As for Ankara, today it holds relations with Abkhazia higher than with Georgia. Turkey's idea is that sooner or later Georgia will become a NATO member - in 5, 10 years, and everything is decided there. Yet, Turkey has not serious influence in Abkhazia, and this is what it will work on.
Probably, Turkey's complaisance serves as a tranquilizer for Tbilisi. Georgia and Turkey have a special kind of relations pursuing a constant dialogue on the Abkhaz topic, Alexander Rondeli, a politologist explains. "Anyway, we receive information. And apparently, these questions are not made public", - the expert thinks.
- Not long ago, the topic of Georgian churches in the territory of Turkey was the subject of real bargaining. Ankara proposes renovation of these churches in exchange for construction of new mosques in Georgia.