Turkey-Russia Relations: Putin’s Turkey Visit – OpEd


I am reading 1949 Lebanese-born French writer Amin Maalauf’s latest novel, “Far East”. I draw parallels with today’s Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. I believe that we have to take lessons through the similarities, leading present world situations between Israel and Gaza.

In the past I spent a lot of time for marketing industrial installations in Syria, Israel and Jordan, and the Middle East. We got good, profitable orders. Syria was a business environment very similar to ours in Turkey, properly functioning business climate where we could earn money. However now it is all over, unfortunately there is no way to make any business at least for next 10-years.

Syrian market was ours due to border and natural similarity. Unfortunately, there is no longer we have the old Syria any more. Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Diar-Ez-Zor were now all in ruins due to war torn clashes between government forces and foreign backed insurgents. We do not know how is the new Syria will be created, how the new economical environment will initiated and put into functioning once again.  However, if you want to avoid a war, you have to be always ready for war.

We are not Arab, we are Turkish. We do not have a common language. We have our own democracy, our own political system. There is no need to lead the Middle East nations, nor any need to be a role model. Each one of them should create their own political system based on their historical and cultural heritage as well as their geography.

Turkey created her own international political system as formulated “peace at home, peace abroad” which was tested during WW2, validated, proven correct for our own location, based on  “non-interference in the internal affairs of other neighboring countries.

When you get involved into internal conflicts of others, the situation hurts us economically, politically. Trade relations stop, we loose money. We loose markets. Now we have more than 130K Syrian refugees in our border regions all unemployed in need of our humanitarian help. We have already spent more than 400m USD in the last 6 months since conflict is initiated.   Rich Syrians and their families have already left soon after they arrive to Turkey for Europe and elsewhere with money they allocated looking for refuge.


There is an important Russian naval base in the sea port town of Tartus, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. This is the most powerful logistical support Russian Naval ships receive in the Mediterranean Sea. Assad’s government has given that base to Russians to get their military, political and financial support.  Almost all Russian naval ships get their logistical support, food, fuel, maintenance in this naval base. This base is a life support of Russian Navy and Russians cannot risk loosing that seaport for any other reason.

In foreign affairs, there is only one mission; it is your national interests. Democracy, human rights, humanitarian sentiments are useless. It is not your job to bring democracy to other nations. It is not your responsibility to solve internal problems of other countries. You should have close, equal, profitable relations with al your neighboring countries including Russia, a super power nearby, and you should pay attention to Russians’ red lines, sensitivities, interests, military concerns.

Russia is our close neighbor, not placed on the overseas. We have close economic/ trade/ social relations hoping to reach more than 100 billion US Dollar trade volume soon.  By ignoring the defense sensitivities of our major neighbor on the North, we can not continue friendly relations which would lead our mutual prosperity.

Russia is not the former “Soviet Union” any more. They have their own version democracy still in creation for better functioning to respect its own citizens. Market forces settle slowly. Russians are not “Comrades” any more, but they are repositioned as highly qualified educated competent business-people, business men and business women.

Today in front of Kremlin walls, there are no more old Soviet cars, but all of them are made and supplied by high quality BMW, Mercedes, Audi. They have money, they buy the best available in the international market. There is hard feeling for local fabrication. They have their own high tech technologies, space, military aircraft, nuclear, defense weapons.

Under strict surveillance of government hosts, I spent a short visit to some of the selected industrial sites in Western Siberia in year 1976 under the auspices of United Nations. Russians had a few UK Rolls-Royce design gas turbines with small size output.  They had reverse engineering and produced hundreds of them. In case of any need for 100-Mwe, they would install 10x 10-MWe simple cycle gas turbines of their own, where we would install 2×50-Mwe from a reputable Western supplier. Nowadays they have money to spend, so they buy the best, and not bother to manufacture by themselves any more.  Our local contractor companies have many orders to build combined cycle power plant in Russia from West border to Poland to the east Pacific Ocean shores in Kamchatka Peninsula.

Our Northern Neighbor has received Akkuyu Nuclear Power plant order within intergovernmental agreement based full financing by themselves. All industrialized countries have nuclear power plants. We may also have one of ours. You may be opposing to run a plant but that is a reality. Let us do it properly, under our own supervision together with internationally reputable owners engineers.

Without competitive market tendering, projects under intergovernmental agreements are too dangerous for the purchaser countries. When Aswan Dam in Egypt was in design stage,  Suppliers had no available high- capacity, high- head hydro turbines for desert site. All their water turbines were suitable for the rivers in northern Siberia. Anyhow they decided to install whatever available at that time. Turbines worked at first and generated electricity in Aswan, but in the long term they had random failures in need of frequent repair and rehabilitation in desert environment.

We have similar experiences in our country with similar design and supply of industrial installations, such as Orhaneli 210 Mwe thermal power plant steam turbine, Seydişehir Aluminum producing facilities, Iskenderun iron and steel mills, Petkim Aliaga refinery. Designs were based on cold Arctic environment whereby our sites had tropic weather conditions. So we need to evaluate Akkuyu Nuclear power plant designs carefully. Nuclear power plant designed to cold Arctic environment may have difficulty to cope with our tropic Mediterranean coastal regions. We all wonder how the designers will handle plant cooling system with available warm sea water nearby.

Do you prefer to buy an industrial plant designed and fabricated by our Northern suppliers? When was the last time you purchased an industrial product? Please do advise a brand name with high quality. If it was your free choice, would you prefer to buy Airbus or Boing airplane or Tupolev? When was the last time you flew on Tupolev?

There are unconfirmed unofficial rumors close to circles of Nuclear industry that the suppliers would prefer to supply the nuclear core only and would prefer to outsource the rest, steam turbines, instrumentation and controls, boilers to other reputable sub suppliers provided that they furnish their Exim financing themselves. There are inside rumors that German Siemens- KWU could supply Steam turbines under Germany or European Union Exim financing.


We have young College students to get higher education on the nuclear power plants in Russia. Last year they learnt Russian language. They have at least 5-more years to get graduation. During that period their number will reach to almost 400. Russian university environment is not like ours. Sexual freedom is beyond our understanding. Young men and women over the age of 15 have an absolute sexual freedom. Our sense of morality, are not valid there.

How do they cope with that environment? We chose them based on their technical and scientific qualifications, and send them to the Ocean to learn swimming by themselves. How will this work? How do they protect themselves? When they finish the nuclear education, could we ask them to get control/ full responsibility of the nuclear power plant with limited experience? In your own industrial plant, how many years of operation experience do you ask from a newcomer young engineer?


Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Turkey on Monday December 3rd 2012 for 8-hour scheduled working visit to evaluate ongoing foreign affairs and economic cooperation. We wish to have similar high level face to face meeting more often either here or there. It is important to express and evaluate your needs, common denominators, mutual interests, sensitivities. Translations can be done wrong. Consultants/ experts may mislead. There is nothing better that face to face communication between high authorities to find mutual satisfaction in problem areas. We have much to learn from each other. It is essential that we should keep open all information and communication channels in international relations.

Vladimir Putin is well educated- multilingual, rational and very realistic head of state.  He holds PhD degree from University of Leningrad- Saint Petersburg on International Law and Economics. He speaks fluent German, understands but does not necessarily volunteer to show his ability to speak English. He knows his capabilities and what he wants. It is good to have a competent counterpart in international relations.

These are important. U.S. Secretary of State does not know a second international language other than English.  Hillary Clinton will soon leave her post; her replacement Susan Rice similarly does not speak any language other than her own.

Our relation with Russia during cold war was bitter if not nasty. But now walls are down, cold war is over. We have more than 80K qualified Turkish workers in Russia for contracting business activities, constructions of high rise buildings, power plants, industrial installations.

We have more than 200K weddings between Russian and Turkish nationals, 140K of multinational families live in Russia, 60K are in Turkey, mostly on Mediterranean coast Antalya region. They are mostly Russian brides but also there is slight increasing number of Russian grooms. Russian brides are cultural-wise grandchildren of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky. They are beautiful, highly educated. Many of our 400 nuclear students will soon get married with Russians in future for sure. So we shall have more multinational mixed marriages. Russian language will be commonly used local language in our local families. I would expect more number of in-laws in our communities.


Please do note our high dependence on Russian natural gas. We generate almost 60% of our electricity from natural gas, mostly supplied by Russian sources. Our “Current Account Deficient” is too high. This is not acceptable in the long term. We should reduce it. We should also reduce our foreign supply natural gas dependence.  Please also do add dependence on imported coal and nuclear fuel in the long term.

These are emergency rings on our balance sheets. We must reduce our dependence to acceptable lower limits in the possible period of time. We have to open new joint ventures, promote new business together. Thanks to internet, we have now more free and independent social and political environment in future.

In 1976, under the auspices of the United Nations, I spent 3-months in Russia. Later in 2008, after 32 years I went to Moscow and Saint Petersburg for 1-week in a tourist tour program. I sincerely feel that Russian people are the same. There is certain but slow change from Soviet economy to market economy.

Citizens are now more comfortable with market economy. Black market is mostly vaporized but service sector is not so good. Strict state scrutiny is mostly vanished. Vodka is Out, Beer is in. Women are still very beautiful. Men are more in business manners. Ballet- Opera performances are great, but very expensive. On the road, you ask a direction for an address, 10 or more locals come to help you. If they can not help you on the map, they take you to the address you ask by them.

Good neighborliness, mutual trust, friendship and cooperation form the basis of Turkish-Russian relations, which Turkey seeks to further develop to serve the mutual interests of both countries. Concrete results of our cooperation can be seen in the energy and economic fields. Let us believe in synergy of working together and hence let us stick to our tested motto “peace at home, peace abroad” which is the major requirement for survival as an independent nation in the Middle East environment.

Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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