For all intents and purposes, Turkey has given up on the European Union, recognising it as a bastion of Islamophobia and captive to US diktat. As Switzerland bans minarets and France moves to outlaw the niqab, the popular Islamist government in Istanbul moves in the opposite direction -- supporting the freedom to wear headscarfs, boldly criticising Israel and building bridges with Syria. This is nothing less than a fundamental realignment of Turkish politics towards Turkey's natural allies -- the Arabs ... and the Russians.
Ukraine's Western-backed "Orange Revolution" in 2004 further tilted the balance away from Russia, with defiantly vowing to join NATO and kick the Russian fleet out of Crimea. He even armed Georgia in its war with Russia in 2008.
In contrast to the US-sponsored colour revolutions in the ex-socialist bloc, Turkey's "Green Revolution" brought the religious-oriented Justice and Development Party to power in 2002. Its political direction has been in search of balance in the region and peaceful relations with its neighbours, including Armenia and the Kurds. In 2004 Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a joint declaration of cooperation in Ankara, updated in February 2009 by Gul and in Moscow. Gul declared, "Russia and Turkey are neighbouring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. I hope this visit will in turn give a new character to our relations."
Key to this is Turkey's proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform. Following Gul's visit, Turkish media even described Turkish-Russian relations as a "strategic partnership", which no doubt set off alarm bells in Washington.
None of this would be taking place without solid economic interests. Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade reaching $33 billion in 2008, much if it gas and oil, making Russia Turkey's number one partner. They may soon use the Turkish lira and the Russian ruble in foreign trade.
This is the context of Medvedev's visit 13 January to Ankara, which focussed primarily on energy cooperation. Russia's AtomStroiExport had won the tender for the construction of Turkey's first nuclear plant last year, and Medvedev was eager to get final approval on Turkish cooperation in Gazprom' gas pipeline to Europe. Turkey will soon get up to 80 per cent of its gas from Russia, but this dependency is no longer viewed as a liability in light of the two countries' new strategic relations.
Just what will happen to the West's rival , also intended to transit Turkey, is now a moot point. Nabucco hopes to bring gas from Iran and Azerbaijan to Europe through Turkey and Georgia. Given the standoff between the West and Iran and the instability of Georgia, this alternative to Russia's plans looks increasingly unattractive. Azerbaijan, shrewdly, has already signed up with South Stream. quoted Gazprom officials as saying that Turkey could soon join Italy and Germany as Russia's "strategic partner". Italy's ENI is co-funding the . The other arm of Gazprom's pincer move around Ukraine is Nord Stream, and Germany late last year gave its final approval for Nord Stream. A Polish minister compared the Russia-Germany Nord Stream project to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, because the pipeline allows Russia to deliver gas to Western Europe and "turn off the taps" to Ukraine in case it stops paying or starts stealing gas as happened several times under the Orange revolutionaries.
Turkey is very much a key player in this new Great Game, only it appears to have changed sides. The Russian and Turkish prime ministers voiced the hope that their trade would triple by 2015, and announced plans to for a visa-free regime by May this year. "In the end, without doubt, [a visa-free regime] will lead to activating cooperation between our countries," said Erdogan.
The presidential elections now in progress in Ukraine could take some of the wind out of the sails of South Stream. Its rationale could be brought into question if the new Ukrainian president succeeds in convincing Moscow that s/he will make sure no further hanky-panky takes place. Ukraine, in dire economic straits, needs the transit fees, which would disappear if current plans go ahead. But the damage the Orange revolutionaries did to Ukraine's economy and relations with Russia is already a fait accompli. Says Alexander Rahr at the German Council on Foreign Relations, "Under every leadership, Ukraine will try to make use of its geographical position and the Russians realised this some time ago. This is why they desperately need a way to circumvent Ukraine."
Even if Ukraine, too, changes teams and rejects NATO expansion plans, it will still have to thrash out a new role, most likely minus its gas transit commissions. Contender Viktor Yanukovich has signalled he would sign up to an economic cooperation agreement with Russia and smooth over existing political problems like the question of the Russian fleet and possibly the recognition of South Ossetia and . Turkey could well follow suit. "If any Western country is going to recognise the independence of Abkhazia, it will be Turkey because of a large Abkhazian diaspora there," says Rahr.