|Russia was long considered enemy number one in Turkey. Through the long Ottoman era Turkey and Russia fought a number of brutal wars. From 1923 until 1991, the Turkish Republic was responsible for guarding NATO’s southern flank.|
However, these circumstances changed after the end of the Cold War, when scores of Turkish entrepreneurs, looking for business opportunities in the underdeveloped economies of the Soviet states, flocked east.
These investments paid off because in 2008, Russia surpassed Germany as Turkey’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade expected to top $40 billion by the end of 2010. Russia provides Turkey with 68 percent of its natural gas and 20 percent of its imported oil. Thousands of Russian tourists visit Turkey every year and the two countries recently signed an agreement to waive visa restrictions. Moreover, Turkey recently removed Russia from the “Red Book” -- a national security document that lists Turkey’s external security threats.
Much of the growth in trade volume is due to Turkey’s growing energy imports from Russia. Turkey finds itself at the center of the energy-rich Middle East and Eurasia region and has made it a priority to establish itself as Europe’s oil and gas hub. Russia, which is keen on controlling natural gas supply routes to Europe, sees Turkey as a vital strategic choke point and is intent on making a number of diplomatic inroads to ensure that its energy and economic interests are protected.
*Aaron Stein is a freelance journalist based in İstanbul.