Crimean issue: between Ankara and Moscow

Author : Mykola Murskyj

Source : 112 Ukraine

What does the normalization of the Russian-Turkish relations mean for Crimea?
22:15, 4 August 2016

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From the first days of the occupation of Crimea, Turkey's position was Janus-faced: officially Ankara did not recognize the annexation, expressing support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. At the same time, it did not join the anti-Russian sanctions, and Turkish business has been successfully cooperated with the occupied peninsula.

During the 2014-15's, Turkey has been a leader in the foreign trade turnover of Crimea. Thus, from April to December 2014, Crimea’s foreign trade turnover with Turkey totaled $ 32.8 million. At the same time, the export of goods from Crimea to Turkey (27.1 million US dollars) was 5 times higher than Turkish imports ($ 5.7 million).

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In 2015, these figures have fallen by a third: the foreign trade turnover fell to $ 22 million, while import of Turkish goods amounted to $ 12.9 million.

However, this harmony was destroyed by the single Turkish pilot, who shot down a Russian bomber in the sky of his country. In response, Russia forbid its tourists to go on holiday to Turkey and imposed an embargo on the Turkish vegetables and fruits.

Crimean government decided to cut economic ties with Turkey before the signal from Moscow. Self-proclaimed leader Aksenov called the actions of the southern neighbor "treacherous" and promised to cease cooperation with Turkey in all its forms.  Consequently, in the first quarter of 2016, Crimean exports to Turkey fell by 3 times.

Pending a flow of Russian tourists in June 2016, Crimea has faced an unpleasant surprise. After Turkish President Erdogan “asked forgiveness” for downed Russian Su, Putin has allowed the Russians to rest in Turkey.

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This decision of the Russian president was perceived as "a treacherous stab in the back." Crimean leadership did not know how to react on it correctly. Aksenov promised to restore relations with Turkey if needed; he also tried to convince Crimean people that Turkish resorts cannot compete with the Crimean ones.

The crucial event for the Turkish-Russian relations would be the meeting between Putin and Erdogan, which to take place on August 9, 2016 in Moscow. The key topic of conversation would be the Syrian issue, in which Ankara might become a mediator between Russia and the West. Apparently, the two sides would also discuss the restoration of economic cooperation: negotiations on construction of gas pipeline to Turkey, cancelation of the Russian grocery embargo on Turkish goods.

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Probably, the Crimean issue would not be negotiated. At this stage, Erdogan does not want to remind the Russian president that Turkey supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Most likely, the leaders would not raise the issue of the Crimean Tatars, at least on the official level. Russia does not admit the rude violation of the human rights in Crimea, and Turkey does not have too many concerns about its Crimean Tatar brothers.

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What does the normalization of the Russian-Turkish relations mean for Crimea? Most likely, the main trade relations would resume. Turkish investors would enter Crimea, but only to a limited extent - the Turks do not like to take risks, and the situation with the peninsula is becoming less predictable. It is possible that Turkey would become more restrained in its statements on the Crimean Tatars.

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Turkey after the failed coup is looking for an ally. But even in the current difficult conditions, Moscow cannot be a full-fledged partner. At the same time, Turkey has strong economic and military-political ties with the EU and US. Let us think rationally, how would Turkey benefit from restoration of relations with Russia? Getting into the Russian market? Russian tourists on the Turkish resorts? Europe refused from Russian gas (which Kremlin could export via Turkey), and in this energy game, the role of Baku might be crucial.

Thus, Russia and Turkey are unlikely to become long-term strategic partners. It would rather be a situational game. Therefore, warming of the Russian-Turkish relations is not a serious danger for Crimea, and restoration of economic ties between Crimea and Turkey just would not save the Crimean economy.

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