While Turkey’s ruling party fared worse than expected in national elections, there is no reason why Russian work on the Turkish Stream pipeline project will not continue.
A poster of Turkey's Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Ahmet Davutoglu is seen as AKP supporters celebrate over the election results in Istanbul, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. Photo: AP
For a different take read: "Turkey's elections could result in weaker Russian-Turkish ties"
Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Turkey have confirmed that the group ruling the country since 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), remains the leading political force in the country. During the twelve and one-half years of AKP rule, Turkish society has accomplished a tangible leap forward.
The Islamic-conservative government, led for a long time by the current president of the country Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has managed to achieve real success – in terms of economic growth, a sharp reduction in inflation, and higher living standards for the general population. The AKP still has solid support among the various segments of the population, as evidenced by the support the party received from nearly 41 percent of the population.
Taking a deeper look at Turkey’s election results
Despite this electoral success, we cannot talk about the complete victory of the AKP. After all, in all previous elections, the AKP had always strengthened its position, but this time around, its support went down 9 percentage points. The AKP not only failed to achieve its strategic objective – receiving a constitutional majority, but also lost the absolute majority in terms of representatives in the 550-seat parliament (the Grand National Assembly), electing only 256 MPs.
The slowdown in economic growth, social problems, and clear manifestations of political authoritarianism on the part of Erdogan and his associates – all of these aspects have contributed to the reduced influence of the AKP.
Second place was taken by the center-left Republican People’s Party (earning 25 percent of the votes), while the third party, with nearly 16.5 percent of voters’ support, remains the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Elections on June 7 brought another surprise – the ten percent threshold was for the first time surpassed by a radical left force, mainly representing the interests of the Kurdish minority – the Peoples’ Democratic Party.
Thus, the Parliament now has representatives from four parties in addition to the AKP, which is likely to remain in power, but now must seek a partner to form a majority.
Turkey’s multi-vector foreign policy
For more than ten years of the AKP government, Turkish foreign policy has adhered to the principle of multi-vector diplomacy. Incumbent Prime Minister Ahmet Davitoglu, with experience as foreign minister, sincerely believes the full national interests of the Turkish state can only be assured via a decisive implementation of a multi-vector policy. It is obvious that President Erdogan also holds a similar view.
Turkey has been, and remains, a staunch ally of the United States and NATO. Nevertheless, despite being a strategic partner of the U.S. in the military-political sphere, under the AKP-led government, Ankara has repeatedly shown that it does not agree with Washington on all global policy issues.
Yet, Turkey continues on the course set by previous governments, seeking membership in the European Union (and we should add, having carried out a number of administrative and economic reforms, objectively directed towards “Europeanization”), thus expressing the desire of Turkish society for the country’s full membership in this association.
Turkey has also shown that, as far as the “Euro-Atlantic choice” is concerned, other possibilities exist. For example, Turkey’s foreign policy in recent years has shown a clear desire for strengthening of the “eastern” vector. Turkey is really fighting for influence in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab region.
Nevertheless, Erdogan has also shown that for Turkish foreign policy and foreign trade, regions such as Central Asia and the South Caucasus are extremely important. In fact, the Republic of Turkey is an influential regional power, sitting at the crossroads of Western Asia and South Eastern Europe. Therefore, it is obvious that in the coming years, Turkey’s influence in international affairs will increase.
Economic relations between Russia and Turkey: What’s next
Of course, Turkey’s foreign policy activities have an impact on the development of Turkish-Russian relations. No matter how strong the official pronouncements of mutual friendship, we cannot deny that in many areas of global politics (Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran, Syria, and in the recent past, Libya), the approaches of Moscow and Ankara, to put it mildly, are far from being aligned.
In Turkey, there are influential political forces that are criticizing the excessive “indulgence” of the government in relation to Russia. Thus, as associate professor at St. Petersburg University Alexander Sotnichenko noted, “The MHP has been critical of the too tight (in its opinion) ties between Turkey and Russia,” demanding more attention be paid to the Central Asian republics and Kazakhstan. We should not forget also that Ankara has not recognized, on the official level, the legitimacy of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea joining the Russian Federation.
At the same time, against the background of anti-Russian Western sanctions, the potential for Russian-Turkish trade and economic relations has grown stronger. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner after Germany, although it must be noted that Turkey’s mutual trade with Russia carries a negative balance – more than $18 billion in 2013.
However, it is very important for Turkey today to continue on the path of active relations with Russia as an exporter country. After all, with the support of Russia, Turkey is constructing hydro and thermal power plants. In addition, with Russian support, the country’s first-ever nuclear power plant – the Akkuyu – is being built. Russian investment in the Turkish economy, in total, exceeds $1.5 billion.
The Turkish Stream pipeline remains the most ambitious project for Russian and Turkish economic cooperation. For now, no legally binding agreement has been signed yet with respect to this project. At the moment, in fact, it is not clear who the final recipients of Russian gas will be, and the ecological impact of the Turkish Stream on the environment has not been assessed yet.
There is no doubt that yet another electoral victory of the AKP will give impetus to further economic cooperation between Russia and Turkey. However, for now, when it comes to the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline, many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps, now that the Turkish elections are over, actual work on this project will start to accelerate.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.