Official Ankara promotes the idea of a “common Turkic house” for the Turkish Republic (TR) and Turkic-speaking states. In the long term, the Turkish side, primarily in cooperation with the Azerbaijan Republic (AR) and the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK), intends to create a single political and economic space for all Turkic states with a common market, a single regional energy system, a system for transporting energy resources, etc.
Thus, official Ankara intends to carry out the mission of a new geopolitical, geo-economic and geocultural center in the South Caucasus and the Central Asian region (CAR). The Turkish authorities are already focusing on the preparation and formation of the military-political elites of the countries of these regions, as well as on expanding the informational influence on the Turkic-speaking countries through the media, scientific institutions, cultural centers and so on.
The factor of «three forces of evil»
There are several areas in which the Turkic-speaking countries and Turkey have similar priorities for mutually beneficial cooperation:
Firstly, the official authorities of the Turkic-speaking countries are generally interested in intensifying trade and economic relations with Turkey in energy, trade and tourism. Turkey is the largest energy transit country in Eurasia and, against this background, seeks to transform into a continental energy hub.
Secondly, Turkic-speaking countries are interested in cooperation with official Ankara in the field of maintaining regional security. Since the United States significantly reduces the US military-political presence in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) with all the ensuing consequences, Turkey’s active participation in the Afghan issue is in the national interests of Turkic-speaking countries to maintain regional stability.
Therefore, the counteraction to the «three forces of evil» (international terrorism, religious extremism and ethnic separatism), which is the basis of the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), is an important basis for cooperation between Turkey and Turkic-speaking countries within the Organization.
For Turkey, as a member of the International Security Assistance Force in the IRA, the priority is to ensure military-political stability in the CAR region, in which nothing will threaten Turkish economic and energy projects. By the way, at the official level, official Ankara traditionally draws the attention of the official authorities of Turkic-speaking countries to the threat of radical Islamism penetrating into the region, since for official Ankara this threat remains relevant against the background of well-known events in the Middle East.
The fact is that the composition of the participating countries, the goals of the SCO and Turkey partially coincide and complement each other, allowing the Turkic-speaking states to build a balanced strategy for responding to internal and external challenges and risks.
The rapprochement between official Ankara and the SCO is based on the understanding that, with the close cooperation of the Turkic-speaking countries with Turkey, the potentials of its participants will be balanced within the SCO, including the Turkish factor that will prevent China and the Russian Federation from dominating in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
In other words, all Turkic-speaking states strive for stability of interstate relations with Turkey, although the interests of the parties do not coincide in everything. For example, supporters and members of the opposition, socio-political Group 24, Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan, and the Islamic Party for the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan (IRPT) found political asylum in Turkey. All the above associations were recognized as extremist in the Republic of Tajikistan (RT), and their members were put on the international wanted list. However, official Dushanbe, unlike official Tashkent, did not react so painfully to providing political asylum to its opponents.
In turn, official Tashkent remains wary of official Ankara because of Turkish support for the Uzbek opposition, including radical, as well as pan-Turkic sentiments among the Turkish elite. In particular, interstate relations between Turkey and the Republic of Uzbekistan deteriorated in the early 1990s, after official Ankara granted asylum to a fugitive Uzbek politician, Muhammad Solih. And in response, official Tashkent withdrew from all Turkic organizations, and no longer takes part in their activities. In addition, until 2017, it was through Turkey from Turkic-speaking countries that the volunteers of well-known extremist movements and terrorist organizations almost freely entered Syria and Iraq.
At the same time, official Tashkent is probably interested in the development of Turkish-Uzbek interstate relations in the framework of the settlement of the Afghan issue. The fact is that Turkey is an active player in Afghanistan, and for official Tashkent, the aggravation of the military-political situation in the IRA is the main external challenge.
The main beneficiary from the implementation of the Turkish Stream and TANAP projects is official Ankara. Moreover, both Turkish Stream and TANAP do not suggest reducing the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas supplies. Moreover, both existing and planned Turkish gas pipelines can be used, inter alia, to increase Russian natural gas supplies to Europe.
The Kremlin’s strategic goal in the framework of the Turkish Stream project, tied to the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 projects, is to significantly reduce the supply of Russian natural gas to Europe through Ukraine, rather than Azerbaijani natural gas to Turkey. In Ankara, this factor is not taken into account or is omitted. In particular, 15.75 billion cubic meters. m of natural gas through the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, plus a possible 55 billion cubic meters. m of natural gas through the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline will inevitably lead to the realization of the above goals of official Moscow.
Obviously, such a configuration does not meet the national interests of Ukraine and the policy of diversifying energy supplies to EU countries. Moreover, the cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine is developing in different directions — from the economy and the defense industry to tourism and culture. Turkey provides logistical assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, conducts joint naval exercises. Turkey and Ukraine have agreements on the joint production of radar stations, missile systems, unmanned aerial systems, jointly conduct space research, etc. At various international venues, official Ankara systematically states that it will never support the annexation of Crimea, advocating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Against the background of the known problems surrounding the completion of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, as well as the intention of the United States and several EU countries to acquire Ukraine’s gas transportation system, which involves its modernization and use for the transit of Russian natural gas to Europe, Turkish Stream maintains a link to Russian natural gas exports to the EU.
In addition, the TANAP and TAP projects, as well as the Turkish Stream, do not bear political risks in the context of the unresolved Azerbaijani-Armenian and Armenian-Turkish conflicts with all the ensuing consequences. It is significant that official Tehran expressed support for the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.
Moreover, the European Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) European project is the only gas pipeline capable of supplying large volumes of natural gas from Azerbaijani fields in the Caspian — Shah-Deniz, Absheron, Umid, Babek and others in Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea (total about 2 trillion cubic meters of recoverable reserves).
In other words, official Ankara intends to transform into a regional energy hub, which hypothetically can strengthen its position in the context of relations with the EU. Indeed, the above gas pipelines cannot drastically reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas supplies.
For official Ankara, which imports 99% of the natural gas consumed, it is important to diversify natural gas supply flows, both for geopolitical and economic reasons. After all, any monopoly in the energy sector of Turkey minimizes the possibility of official Ankara to ensure balanced pricing in the country. As a result, Russia dropped from first to fifth in terms of natural gas supplies to Turkey. This is evidenced by the data of the Turkish energy regulator EPDK. In particular, in March of this year Russia’s share of natural gas supplies to the Turkish market amounted to 9.9% compared to 33% in March 2019. Moreover, in this year pipeline deliveries from Azerbaijan to the Turkish market account for 23.5%, the share of deliveries from Iran is 14.2%. Besides, Qatar (20%) and Algeria (13.7%) bypassed Russia in deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Turkey. If we take the results of the entire 1st quarter of this year, then the import of natural gas at the same time increased by 5% — up to 15.2 billion.
To achieve the above goals, Turkey needs at least 50-60 billion cubic meters. m of natural gas. Therefore, along with the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan should become an important energy partner of Turkey. And here it is logical that official Ankara is lobbying for a project to build the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline (with uncertain prospects so far). Official Ankara is also interested in receiving Kazakhstani oil after the start of its production on Kashagan. It can be delivered by tankers to Azerbaijan and further via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline to Turkey. In addition, official Ankara would like Kazakhstan to join the TANAP project.
However, the coronavirus pandemic and the fall in world oil prices could not but affect the export of natural gas. In Europe, practically no one needs natural gas in any serious volumes. The heating season has passed, the next will begin in October. Compared to previous years, European vaults are crowded due to the warm winter. A fall in Europe’s demand for natural gas could be a long-term trend. It should also be borne in mind that the EU (in the context of climate change and not only) is heading for the widespread use of environmentally friendly raw materials and energy sources. These factors also minimize Turkey’s chances of realizing its ambitious goal.
Against this background, Turkey is actively lobbying for the route for the delivery of goods from China through Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe, the southern branch of which should pass through Turkish territory. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway will enable the Central Asian countries, which still traded with Turkey mainly through the territory of the Russian Federation, to be included in the transport and logistics chains.
Moreover, official Ankara sees Kazakhstan as an influential country in the post-Soviet space, with the help of which Turkey is able to strengthen its position in the domestic Russian market. Moreover, Kazakhstan is considered an active geopolitical player in the EAEU and there are no customs barriers for it from the Russian Federation.
Thus, official Ankara does not yet fully have the economic and political resources to establish itself in the region as the main locomotive of Turkic integration. Moreover, the Turkic-speaking countries need serious investments and technical assistance, while Turkey, a country focused on its own development, is not yet able to fully engage in the development of other states. The certain hopes of the Turkish-speaking countries that Turkey could become a full-fledged alternative or some kind of «airbag» from the «soft» pressure of the Russian Federation and China did not materialize (Turkey is still far from EU membership, etc.).
Turkey’s geopolitical presence in the Central Asian region is limited by the weakness of its investment potential. The provision of financial assistance in the form of grants, loans and technical support to a number of Turkic-speaking countries is not enough to satisfy Ankara’s ambitions. Turkey’s economic cooperation with the countries of the region as a whole is not yet comparable with the economic influence of China, Russia, the USA, the EU, Japan or India — also having their own interests in the region.
In addition, the problem of Turkey, as well as the PRC or the Russian Federation, is that the United States in the post-pandemic conditions will seek to reorient the Turkic-speaking countries in the direction of South Asia (i.e. to India; here is the project for the transportation of Turkmen natural gas, and others directions).
Turkey does not yet bind itself with large-scale projects, but prefers to promote commercial, cultural and educational programs. At the same time, official Ankara relies on formally non-state, but actively supported by the Turkish government structures.
In the post-pandemic period, Turkey will objectively be forced to reorient itself towards solving domestic, mainly economic problems — inflation (devaluation of the national currency), unemployment, resuscitation of the tourism sector and so on. While not forgetting the Syrian and Libyan military fronts …
Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan