Although Russia expressed apprehension over this year's EU enlargement, it has reacted calmly to the prospect of Turkey's joining this organization. Indeed, Moscow might even gain something from Ankara's accession to the EU.
Moscow understands that Turkey still faces a long wait before it can become an EU member and the Europeans will be wary of the Turks for some considerable time to come, despite a number of European prominent politicians' support for this integration.
In reality, Turkey in the EU is part of the irreversible process of globalization. There is no use trying to resist it. Moreover, Moscow has gained experience of cooperation in recent years both on political and economic issues with countries set to join the EU. Even though it was not always positive, Russian politicians hope this experience will allow them to avoid many mistakes.
For example, Yevgeny Primakov, the president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted at the constituent meeting of the Russian-Turkish business council in late October 2004 that Moscow and Ankara would do everything possible, considering the previous experience of EU enlargement, to iron out problems in bilateral relations in advance, if Turkey were to join this organization. He added, "although this is Turkey's and the EU's business, all of Ankara's friends will be happy if this happens."
Mr. Primakov could not but realize that when Turkey joins the EU, many Russian businessmen may suffer economic losses. It is always easier to work with an individual country than with a group. For example, Ankara will work with the EU countries to secure lower prices for Russian energy resources. Nevertheless, sometimes the general climate is more important for the development of business initiatives than excellent results in individual spheres of interaction. To maintain a favorable climate in Russian-Turkish relations, we should, at least, avoid expressions of disapproval over Turkey's desire to join the EU, if not support it. At any rate, Russian-Turkish business cooperation has been developing very dynamically recently. This does not depend on whether or not the two countries are members of regional organizations. On the contrary, in some cases, this extends opportunities for multilateral projects, including outside Europe.
In the political sphere, Russia should not be afraid of Turkey's joining the EU, although this may give a new tone to relations between Moscow and Ankara.
In recent years, Turkey has not displayed a negative attitude to Russian policy, including in the North Caucasus. The Turkish authorities have never criticized Moscow with regard to internal political and internal economic issues. Although, a number of disputable issues have emerged in bilateral relations, and in some cases the two countries have been open rivals in the Caucasus and Central Asia, relations have been even enough in general. However, given that the EU often criticizes Russian policy, accession to this organization may also change Ankara's attitude to Moscow, especially if this corresponds to its geo-strategic interests. Such a turn of events cannot be ruled out, but nor can one claim that bilateral relations will radically change.
An important point to keep in mind is that Europe is a part of a huge continent, Eurasia. In the future, in order to retain its importance and influence, Europe should turn its face to Asia. And both Turkey and Russia, as two Eurasian powers, must become a part of this new Europe. Accordingly, Turkey's accession to the EU will, to some extent, cement Russia's links with this organization.
Moreover, the experience of Russia's Eurasian culture may be useful for Turkish-European integration, as it covers centuries of religious coexistence mainly between Islam and Christianity, as well as a mix of over a hundred ethnic groups, a common culture, which is now called Russian. At present, this experience is especially important for Europe, which is afraid of losing its identity after enlargement and given increased migration from the Muslim world. An important point to note is that a concept of "Euroislam" - a blend of Muslim values and the ideas of liberalism and democracy in modern conditions - has emerged among Russia's Muslim Tatars (the Tatars are a nation close to the Turks in language). This may be useful for both Europe and Turkey.
It is beyond doubt that, when compared with many Muslim countries, Turkey's interpretation of Islam is less severe, which is thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and the first president of the Turkish republic. Ataturk separated religion from the state and always emphasized the secularism of Turkey, where religion is just a tribute to traditions. However, in the past few decades, radical tendencies have emerged in this respect. Several factors at once have had an effect on this: the economic situation in the country, US policy in the region and the development of the Middle East crisis, as well as the general radicalization of Islam in the world. If, in the past, no one in Turkey's government spoke about the need to introduce the norms of the Sharia law in legislation, at present, this issue is raised quite frequently. Only Turkey's potential EU membership has prevented a large-scale Islamisation of Turkey's public life from being implemented. In this context, Ankara's rapprochement with Europe is advantageous for Russia, which is not interested in the radicalization of Turkish Islam and the strengthening of its influence near its own borders. This is yet another potential sphere for dialogue.
Accordingly, even if Russian-Turkish relations may not be called allied in the future, they will still be based on partnership, just like Russia-EU relations. The point is that too many major economic and political interests intersect in the EU-Russia-Turkey triangle.
Professor Mikhail Meyer, Doctor of Science (History), Director of the Institute of Asian and African Countries attached to Moscow State University
Source: Novosti, 16 November 2004