Geopolitics are not a game where you can go from friendship to enmity and back in less than one year. The bigger a country, the more inertial its policies are and the less able it is to change them whenever it likes.
This means that in reality Russian-Turkish relations could not and cannot change as drastically as it seems. Restrictions are possible as are suspended projects and lifted sanctions, but global changes are not. So, what projects are possible between Russia and Turkey now that they have become friends again? What will Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan focus on during their meeting in St. Petersburg on Aug 9?
The key projects are as follows:
- Turkish Stream gas pipeline;
- Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant;
- Russian-Iranian-Turkish Union.
The last point is not clear yet: the sides have a commitment but have no understanding of what they want to get from each other. So, this project may drag on for years. Declarations will not mean a real commitment but may be just a pretext for getting preferences or a cover for camouflaging some unfriendly steps – as is the case with Turkey, who is said to be training information troops against Russia.
Turkish Stream is not real either. Here the sides have more political than economic motives: the Turks will try to get something from Russia, like, say, discounts for Russian gas, and to make it clear for the Iranians and the Azerbaijanis that they should keep their prices low.
For the Russians this is a chance to show Europe that they have alternatives. Any large project is a kind of a contest of promises, when all sides can “bait” each other and get something from each other.
Turkish Stream as it is will cost 10 billion EUR, but with borrowings inclusive, it will cost no less than 14 billion EUR. So, the question here is, who will give money for a project annoying both Europe and the United States? The Turks have no money for such a big undertaking. They have lost no less than $100 billion as a result of their last riot. In Russia things are no better. Besides, gas today is much cheaper than it was supposed to be under the project.
Turkish Stream was a would-be project even before the conflict started and now too it has no real prospects.
So, what we have is just Akkuyu NPP, a project the sides kept alive even at the peak of their conflict.
If you have ever been to Turkey, especially, to its southern provinces, you must have seen water tanks on roofs. The economical Turks use them for heating water in the sun. From this point of view, Akkuyu is a great chance for Turkey to save money and to become more energy independent as nuclear energy is still the cheapest energy in the world.
The Russians will also be at profit here: each NPP needs fuel. Naturally, since Akkuyu will be built by Rosatom, it will use Russian fuel. The Ukrainians were really daring when they decided to replace Russian fuel assemblies with American ones: it seems they in Kyiv see no big difference between one or two nuclear disasters. In Turkey, even Erdogan is unable to put his country on the verge of an environmental disaster for the sake of some political motives. So, Russia is sure to be the only fuel supplier for Akkuyu in the coming decades.
As soon as the plant is built, Turkey will become much more compliant, while Russia will get a wide access to the Turkish market. Maintenance of a nuclear power plant is a serious duty and you must be polite to the one who maintains your NPP.
But Russia is not the only country who would love to develop nuclear energy in Turkey. There are also Japan, France and the United States and the last two are all but glad to know that Russia has so big plans in Turkey.
So, the sides will continue talking about Turkish Stream or some unclear unions with the only view to divert the rivals’ attention from their real interests. The Turks perfectly realize that the pipes the Russians were going to lay in their territory are already being used for Nord Stream 2 and that they can’t restart Turkish Stream but will have to start it all over again.
Both Russia and Turkey seek to keep the Akkuyu project in shadow: the Turks are aware that they will not be able to carry out such a grandiose project without the Russians, while the Russians just want to gain a foothold in Turkey as quickly as possible.
Putin and Erdogan have more topics to discuss in St. Petersburg. Unless Turkey stops buying Syrian oil from non-governmental forces (including ISIL and moderate Syrian opposition) and unless it blocks the free movement of people and cargoes to Syria, it will become a hard job for the Bashar al Assad army to seize Aleppo. To help al Assad is the last thing Erdogan wants but he is not strong enough today to be able to dictate own rules. Russia has a couple of trumps in this game: one is the Kurds, the other is access to the Russian market.
This meeting will not be a rendezvous of partners or friends, but Putin and Erdogan will have to come to terms. And Akkuyu is the only stimulus for them.
Erdogan has put his country in such a fix that it is hard to predict anything. But Erdogan will not rule forever. And Akkuyu will be a good reminder for whoever comes to replace him that enmity with Russia may cost Turkey more than it can pay.
Yes, NATO will not let Turkey go. Yes, Erdogan may escalate conflicts on all fronts. But the presence of at least one big inter-governmental project is a good vaccine against war.
Gayaz Validi, specially for EADaily