Turkey-Russia Relations – OpEd


In the past this writer spent a lot of time marketing industrial installations in Syria, Israel, Jordan, and other countries in the Middle East. During these trips we secured many profitable orders. Syria housed a business environment very similar to ours in Turkey, it represented a properly functioning business climate where we could earn money. However, it now goes without saying that those times are over. Unfortunately there will be no way to conduct any business in Syria for at least the next 10 years.

We were able to easily access the Syrian market due to Turkey and Syria’s shared border We had close cultural ties, and natural similarities. Unfortunately, the old Syria is no more. Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Deir ez-Zor now lie in ruins due to clashes between government forces and foreign backed insurgents. We do not know how the new Syria will be created or how its new economic environment will be rebuilt. However, if you want to avoid war, you must always be prepared for war.

We are not Arab, we are Turkish. Our two peoples do not share a common language. We Turks have our own democracy, our own political system. We do not need to lead the Middle East nations, nor do we need to be their role model. Each Arab nation should create their own political system based on their own historical and cultural heritage as well as their own geography.

Turkey created its own approach to international politics based on “non-interference in the internal affairs of other neighboring countries” as formulated in the mantra “peace at home, peace abroad” which was adopted after WWI and tested during WWII, subsequently being validated and proven correct for its geopolitical location.

When you get involved in the internal conflicts of others, the situation hurts you economically and politically. Trade relations stop, you lose money and markets. Now, we have more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees in our border regions, all of whom are unemployed and in dire need of our humanitarian assistance. We have already spent more than 6 billion USD on refugees in Turkey over the last 6 years since conflict was first initiated. With the money they allocated to securing refuge abroad, rich Syrians and their families left Turkey for Europe or elsewhere soon after their arrival.


There is an important Russian naval base in the sea port town of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. This site embodies the most powerful point of logistical support for Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. Assad’s government has granted this base to the Russians in order to win their military, political, and financial support. Almost all Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean receive their logistical support, whether food, fuel, or maintenance, from this naval base. This base represents the life support of the Russian Navy, and Russia would not risk losing the military seaport for any reason. Its position in the palm of Russia’s hand is nonnegotiable.

Next to the city of Latakia in northwestern Syria is Bassel Al-Assad International Airport, part of which has been converted into the Khmeimim airbase that is now being operated by the Russian military. Here, Russia has deployed its latest military technologies including Su-24 and Su-34 warplanes, T-90 war tanks, and S400 anti-aircraft missiles. Russia has now imposed its own “rules of engagement” in Syria that allow it to shoot without warning anything it deems to be a danger.

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

Russia is our “Northern Neighbor”, not a distant nation overseas. We share close economic, trade, and social relations with this country and hope to increase our bilateral trade volume to more than 100 billion US dollars. By ignoring the defense sensitivities of our major neighbor to the north, we cannot hope to continue to maintain our friendly relations with the country that would lead to our mutual prosperity.

Russia is not the “Soviet Union” any more. It now has its own version of democracy that is still being shaped to bring greater prosperity to the Russian people. As market forces settle slowly, it should be noted that Russians are not “Comrades” any more. They have been repositioned as highly qualified, educated, and competent businessmen and women.

Today in front of the Kremlin, there are no more old Soviet cars, but high-quality BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis. The Russians have money, they buy the best there is to buy in the international market. They have no hard feelings about their local relatively lower quality manufactured products. They have their own high-technologies that have gained a solid reputation in the space, military, nuclear, and defense sectors.

Under strict surveillance of government hosts, your writer paid a short visit to a few pre-selected industrial sites in Western Siberia in 1976 under the auspices of the United Nations. Back then the Russians had a few gas turbines displaying the UK Rolls-Royce design with small outputs. They were skilled in reverse engineering and produced hundreds of these turbines. In case of the need for 100-Mwe, they would install 10x 10-MWe simple cycle gas turbines of their own, whereas we would install 2×50-Mwe from a reputable Western supplier.

Nowadays, they have money to spend, so they buy the best and they can’t be bothered to manufacture themselves. Our local contractor companies in Turkey had many orders for combined cycle power plants that were to be constructed for Russia in locations spanning from its western border with Poland to the east Pacific Ocean shores on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Our northern neighbor has agreed to build, own, and operate Turkey’s Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant within the framework of an intergovernmental agreement that stipulates Russia’s complete financing of the project. All industrialized countries have nuclear power plants; and we may also have one of our own someday. You may oppose nuclear power, but this is the reality. That said, let us do it properly, under our own supervision together with internationally reputable partners and engineers.

However, without competitive market tendering, projects arranged under intergovernmental agreements are too dangerous for the purchasing as well as the supplying countries. When Aswan Dam in Egypt was in its design stage, suppliers had no available high-capacity, high-head hydro turbines for the desert site. All of their water turbines were suitable for rivers in northern Siberia. Nonetheless, they decided to install whatever was available at that time. These turbines worked at first and generated electricity in Aswan, but in the long term they were plagued with failures and came to need frequent repair and rehabilitation in the desert environment where the dam is located.

We have had similar experiences in our country related to the design and supply of industrial installations, such as the Orhaneli 210 Mwe thermal power plant steam turbine, the Seydişehir aluminum producing facilities, the Iskenderun iron and steel mills, and the Petkim Aliaga refinery.

The designs of these installations were meant for cold Arctic environments, whereby our sites were located in tropic weather conditions. In this way, we need to evaluate the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant designs carefully. A nuclear power plant designed to thrive in a cold Arctic environment may have difficulty in coping with the climate of our tropic Mediterranean coastal regions. We all wonder how the plant designers will ensure the functioning of the plant cooling system when considering the warm temperature of the available sea water nearby.

Who would honestly give preference to an industrial plant designed and fabricated by our northern supplier? When was the last time you purchased an industrial product? Please do recommend a brand name of high-quality. If you could, would you prefer to buy an AirBus, Boeing, or a Tupolev? When was the last time you flew on a Tupolev?

There are unconfirmed rumors among the circles of the nuclear industry that suppliers would prefer to supply nuclear cores only and then outsource the rest, whether steam turbines, instrumentation and controls, or boilers, to other reputable sub-suppliers provided that they furnish Exim financing themselves. There are rumors on the market that German Siemens-KWU could supply steam turbines to the project under German or European Union Exim financing.


We have young Turkish students who are receiving their higher education on nuclear power plants in Russia. Over the last few years, they have learnt the Russian language. They have at least 5 more years until they graduate. During this period their number will reach almost 400. The Russian university environment is not like ours. Sexual freedom is beyond our understanding. Young men and women over the age of 15 have absolute sexual freedom in Russia. Our sense of morality is not valid there, where the youth play by their own rules.

How will our youth cope in that environment? They were chosen to participate in these programs based on their technical and scientific qualifications, yet they are being tossed into the water and told to learn to swim. How will this work? How can they protect themselves? When they finish their education in nuclear sciences, how can we ask them to control/ maintain full responsibility over a nuclear power plant with such limited experience? In your own industrial plant, how many years of operation experience do you ask from an incoming young engineer?


Leaders of Russia and Turkey now find themselves in a difficult phase characterized by misunderstanding and distrust due to the recent downing of the Russian Su-24. The situation is displeasing if not downright nasty. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey many times in the past to evaluate the Turkey’s foreign affairs and economic cooperation with Russia. His last visit was on 15-16 Nov. 2015 for the G20 Summit in Antalya. High-level face-to-face meetings are always important, as they give leaders the opportunity to express and evaluate their countries’ needs, mutual interests, and sensitivities. While translations may falter and consultants/experts may mislead, these instances of face-to-face communication between top authorities facilitate the formulation of resolutions to problem areas that are mutually satisfactory. We have much to learn from one another; it is essential that we keep open all lines of information and communication in the arena of international relations.

President Vladimir Putin is a well-educated, multilingual, rational, and pragmatic head of state. He holds a PhD degree from the University of Leningrad-Saint Petersburg in International Law and Economics. He speaks fluent German, and while he understands English, he does not necessarily volunteer to display his ability to speak it. He knows his capabilities and what he wants. These are important virtues. It is good to have a competent counterpart in international relations. These are important virtues. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks French, but most of the US’s earlier Secretaries of State have not known a second language besides English. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current US National Security Advisor Susan Rice do not speak any foreign languages.


Our relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War were thoroughly bitter. But now the walls have fallen and the Cold War is over. We have more than 200 thousand qualified Turkish workers in Russia securing contracts and constructing high rises, power plants, and industrial installations. More than 200 thousand weddings have taken place between Russian and Turkish nationals; 140 thousand Turkish-Russian binational families live in Russia, while 60 thousand live in Turkey, mostly on the Mediterranean coast in the Antalya region. Most of these couples consist of a Russian bride and a Turkish groom, but the number of Russian men marrying Turkish women is on the rise. Russian brides are the cultural inheritors of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Tchaikovsky. They are beautiful and highly educated. If the mutual relations between our two countries are not completely soured, many of our 400 students of nuclear science in Russia could marry Russians in the near future, then we would have even more binational mixed marriages. The Russian language could be used commonly as a language in their homes. In this sense, we might also expect a greater number of Russian in-laws in our communities. Nonetheless, the growth of such binational interpersonal relationships is severely hindered due to the environment of mutual mistrust created by the mismanagement that was the downing of Russia’s Su-24.


We should also note that Turkey is highly dependent on Russian natural gas. We generate almost 60% of our electricity from natural gas, and most of this is supplied by Russia. This is augmented by our unsustainably high current account deficient. Both our account deficit and dependence on foreign natural gas should be reduced. In the long term, the same can be said of our dependence on imported coal and future imported supply of nuclear fuel.

Such realities represent flashing emergency lights on our balance sheets. We must reduce our dependence to lower levels in the shortest amount of time within reason. We should mend our broken ties with Russia as soon as possible and open new joint ventures and promote new businesses together. Thanks to the internet, we now have a more free and independent social and political environment in which to discuss such matters.

As noted above, in 1976, under the auspices of the United Nations, your writer spent 3 months in Russia. 32 years later, in 2008, I went to Moscow and Saint Petersburg for 1 week on a touristic program that was paid for out of pocket. Your writer sincerely feels that the Russian and Turkish peoples are cut from the same cloth. The country is undergoing a slow but certain transformation from the old Soviet system to the market economy. Russian citizens are now more comfortable with this change. While the black market in the country has all but vaporized, its service sector is still struggling. Strict state scrutiny of daily life has nearly vanished. Traditional vodka is out, beer is in. Russian women are still very beautiful, while the men have acquired greater business savvy. Ballet and Opera performances are exquisite, but very expensive. If you ask for directions, ten or more locals will come to your aid; if they cannot help you with the map, they will take you where you need to go themselves.

Growing tension and hostility never help anyone. War, in any terms, harms all those involved. Good neighborliness, mutual trust, friendship, and cooperation should form the basis of Turkish-Russian relations. Turkey continues to seek to further develop the mutual interests of both countries. Concrete results of our cooperation should be seen in the energy and economic fields. Let us take comfort in the synergy that working together can produce, and hence stick to our tested motto “peace at home, peace abroad”, a major requirement for the survival of any independent nation in the Middle East region.

We wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!

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.

One thought on “Turkey-Russia Relations – OpEd

  • December 28, 2015 at 4:22 am

    Mr. Direskeneli’s comment is entirely practical in its approach. As an American, I wish the US, which has notions of being the global economic and military hegemon, would adopt a comparable attitude. Its regular covert interferences in the affairs of so many other countries under the mask of “promoting democracy,” or ensuring that human rights are respected are doing stupendous amounts of damage to a now fragile planet. They are also creating incredible human suffering and refugee flows, the consequences of which are now incalculable.
    Whereas in the United States, there are intense efforts to whip up fear of “Russian aggression” and “Russian expansionism”, this writer gives a far more sane and balanced view of the new Russia, which is quite different from the old USSR, and which deserves to be respected and included as one of the world’s power centers. Unfortunately for the world, the US neo-Cons, concentrating upon the desires of Israel and Saudi Arabia, have torn the Middle East apart with zero regard for the human suffering created, and with little coherent thought about the need to allow the Middle Eastern states, laid out a hundred years ago under Sykes-Picot, to change and develop according to their own internal logic and desires.
    The writer does not mention this fact, but the real bone of contention between Saudi Arabia (+the other Sunni monarchies) and Syria’s al-Assad lies in their desire to have the Pan-Arab pipeline from Qatar’s massive nat. gas field run through Syria to the EU. The implacable Saudi hostility to al-Assad originated with his refusal of this plan and his signing a deal with Iran, Iraq, and Russia for a Shia pipeline through Syria. Beneath every Middle Eastern problem lies the problem of who control the oil and natural gas and the requisite pipelines.
    The West’s removal of Saddam Hussein and M. Ghaddafi did nothing to improve the lives of Iraqis and Libyans; indeed, it made their lives far more insecure and wretched. The removal of al-Assad will likely be equally bad for Syria; the US should desist from this effort, but due to its unhealthy relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni monarchies, I do not see that happening.
    A very bad omen is the US Congress’ resolution, passed over-whelmingly, declaring Russia the target of a new Cold War. The world does not need a new Cold War, but an unhappy fact is that unless the US mil/industrial complex can create new enemies, it cannot keep selling the weapons with which to do the fighting. That is another issue the present writer does not take up, but it is relevant. The current “war on terror” sponsored by the US and its CIA has been largely created and funded by the US and its Sunni allies in order to sell weapons. Again, tremendous dislocations and human suffering ensue with Turkey as a partner in the agony because it is first, a member of NATO, and second, a place of refuge for so many displaced Syrians.
    The worst part of the picture is that there are so many players with divergent goals, it becomes next to impossible for Americans to unravel the situation intellectually; they are then a prey to the incessant propaganda at a time when they are running up to the 2016 elections. This, then, is an exceedingly dangerous time for the world with US policy at the heart of the mess. It appears that it will take great wisdom to not end up with WWIII and that wisdom does not seem to be coming from the US.


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