Russia, Turkey and the vision of Greater Europe

By Igor Ivanov

Russia and Turkey have many common features, predetermined by their respective histories, geographical locations and cultures. Among these numerous common features one can single out very complex and controversial relations of our two nations with the European ‘core’ – countries and societies that are united within the current borders of the European Union. On the one hand, Europe for centuries has been a major source of new technologies, best social practices and intellectual inspiration for both St. Petersburg and Istanbul, for Moscow and Ankara. On the other hand, Russia and Turkey have never been or aspired to become just ‘normal’ European countries – both Russians and Turks have always valued and cherished their unique Eurasian identities and their trans-continental destinies.

Of course, there are some important differences between Russia and Turkey in this regard as well. After the Second World War Turkey adopted a long term multifaceted strategy of integrating into the European ‘core’; it became a NATO member and was put on the waiting list for joining the European Union. Russia, on the contrary, till early 1990s regarded NATO as the main threat to its national security and tried to compete with the European Union by promoting its own integration project in Eastern Europe. However, today our two countries find themselves in somewhat similar positions: in the foreseeable future their chances to become integral parts of the European ‘core’ are not very high.

Speaking of Russia, I have to observe that the current relations between Moscow and Brussels experience a deep and profound crisis – maybe, the most serious crisis we’ve seen during the whole history of this relationship after the end of the Cold War. As a former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, I am particularly sorry for the current bleak state of affairs: together with my European counterparts we invested a lot of time and efforts into building a stronger Russia-EU partnership, including the economic dimension of this partnership. Today many of our past plans, hopes and expectations look like pipe-dreams – with remote, if any, relevance to current political realities. Of course, the most graphic manifestation of the crisis is the situation in and around Ukraine. We can debate about who is to blame for this situation and whether it could have been avoided. In my view, both Russia and the European Union should take a share of responsibility for the unfortunate developments in this country since last fall. However, as I can see it, Ukraine is not the main cause of the Russia – EU crisis; it is rather a catalyst of more fundamental rifts that emerged between Moscow and Brussels over last years. To cut it short, the Russia-EU partnership did not work the way it was anticipated some ten – twelve years ago.

The current problems between Ankara and Brussels are much less dramatic and, probably, we cannot label them as a ‘crisis’. However, one can indicate growing disappointments and frustrations in this relationship as well. The prospect of the full Turkish membership to EU remains elusive, to say the least. No wonder that in both our countries many intellectuals, politicians and opinion makers are now thinking about alternative futures for Russia and Turkey. These alternative futures imply different geographical priorities and different identities for the two countries – Middle East and the Turkic-speaking world for Turkey and the Asia-Pacific region for Russia.

Such ideas and moods are easy to understand – the two nations with their rich histories, great cultures, economic potentials and geopolitical ambitions can hardly accept the position of being nothing more but a part of the “European periphery”. They claim – and rightly so – more central places in the emerging system of international relations of the XXI century. And they are not likely to agree to an inferior status that Brussels might want to offer them.

However, neither Russia, nor Turkey can turn away from Europe without an extremely high toll to pay for that move. Cooperation with the European Union is not necessarily a matter of national survival for our two nations. But without Europe neither the Russian, nor the Turkish modernization project is likely to succeed. Europe has many things that our other international partners cannot offer today – modern technologies and investments, relevant economic models and best social practices, technical standards and legal norms, which are indispensable for both Russia and Turkey.

On the other hand, the European ‘core’ needs our two countries as well. Russia and Turkey constitute natural geographical extensions of Europe, major underutilized repositories of human capital, natural resources and investment opportunities that could give a boost to the stagnant EU economies. Russia and Turkey are also natural gateways to other regions and other markets that Europe can explore. Finally, one cannot seriously discuss the European security without Russia and Turkey – if our two countries are not a part of the equation, the eastern and the southern EU borders remain chronically instable.

In my view, the time has come to start working together on a new European – or even a Euro-Atlantic architecture that would go beyond both the European Union and NATO. In the economic dimension we need to move in the direction of a Eurasian common market from Lisbon to Vladivostok. In the security dimension we have to get back to the Paris Charter of 1990 and the Helsinki Act of 1975 modifying the provisions of the two documents to serve European security needs on the XXI century. These are the pillars, on which we can start shaping the vision of the Greater Europe that should be inclusive, democratic, unambiguous and attractive to all European nations – Russia and Turkey including.

*RIAC President, RF Minister of Foreign Affairs (1998–2004), Professor of MGIMO-University, RAS Corresponding Member

**This article was firstly published in Analist Monthly Journal’s January issue, 2015

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The Journal of Turkish Weekly

JTW is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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