— Which contacts between the Russian and the Turkish sides are planned in the foreseeable future?
I don’t have exact indications now, we have opportunities like the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul at the beginning of July. Next week on 29 June there will also be the Black Sea Cooperation Organization (BSEC) Foreign Ministers meeting in Istanbul. But looking in the past, in the last nine months the two presidents met six times face-to-face. Our prime minister visited Russia, and Prime Minister Medvedev went to Turkey for the BSEC Summit, so the prime ministers also met in Istanbul. So there was in 9 months 8 high-level face-to-face contacts, in addition to frequent phone calls. Judging by that I can say that our high-level politicians and statesmen, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers will use every opportunity to meet, to discuss the ever widening and developing Russian-Turkish relations.
— Who will represent the Russian and the Turkish sides at the Petroleum Congress?
I don’t know the Russian side yet, we sent an invitation to all levels. But on the Turkish side, I think it will be the president who will open the Congress.
— When will the licensing process of the project “Akkuyu” be completed?
I don’t know exact details of the whole process. But as you know our government has passed the necessary decrees giving priority to this project. On 19 June there was a signature for the participation of Turkish companies in the project. Our hope that the first unit will become operational by the 100th anniversary of the Republic, which is in 2023. It is expected that the licensing process and contracting process are completed until the end of this year. And then the construction starts in 2018.
— How is going the implementation of the Turkish Stream project?
As for the first line which will bring gas for Turkey all the preparatory work has been completed. The works for the under the sea part have already started and the project goes forward without any problems. This is Turkish Stream I. Turkish stream II is to carry gas to Europe and that also depends on the discussions between Russian and European friends.
— Which other new projects in the economic sphere are the two countries working on now?
These are already big projects, the Turkish Stream, and the nuclear energy plant “Akkuyu”. Also we have this idea of using local currencies in our trade transactions which I think is being studied by our financial institutions because it has many technical aspects. This is the big project. Of course, there are many projects which go through the private entrepreneurs.
— When will Russian agricultural products including meat and dairy products get an access to the Turkish market?
The fresh vegetable and fruits issue as we call it and agricultural products is an important aspect of our commercial relations but I think there is a good will now to make it work. There were some restrictions on the Russian side that were lifted. I think there will be progress very soon on all these things. It is almost solved or will be solved through normal economic technical mechanisms.
— When is the visa issue expected to be solved?
Our goal is to go back to the situation where there is visa exemption for all, like in the past. Now I understand we are waiting for the priority to be given to business people because to achieve the ambitious targets in the economic sphere the businessmen should be able to come here. Also our priority is government representatives, drivers. I think the Russian government has already taken a step to ease the visa issue on some categories. On the others we will have discussions as I mentioned to you on our priorities. I think we will have consultations in July for that matters specifically on consular affairs and I think we will find some solutions there. Consultations will be held on at the level of Director Generals in Moscow.
— How are the negotiations on S-400 supplies going on? When can the agreement be signed?
I will not be able to go into details on that. As far as we know, technical negotiations are proceeding well. However, no final decision has been taken yet.
— Russia-Turkey cross-cultural year is scheduled for 2019. Which events will be held in both countries? How is the cooperation in the cultural sphere between Turkey and Russia developing?
This decision for the cross-cultural year was taken during the visit of our president to Moscow on 10 March this year. We plan to organize concerts, exhibitions, seminars and the media events. Also we have a civic forum between the two countries. There are number of subcommittees under the Civic Forum dealing with culture, art, tourism, history, museums, education, sports, media, regional and religious cooperation. The idea is that we have good political and economic relations, but we should spread that to more cultural, academic, societal levels so that the basis of our relations at the level of our societies is strengthened.
— How does Turkey evaluate the Astana process as well as the role of Russia in Syrian settlement?
The Syrian conflict can only be ended through a political solution. We pursue our efforts to this end, in close dialogue with the Russian Federation. Thanks to our collective efforts with Russia, a nationwide ceasefire finally came into effect on December 30, 2016. We hope that the Astana meetings will produce positive results, which have been initiated to consolidate the country-wide ceasefire in Syria. A Memorandum on the creation of de-escalation zones was signed by three guarantor states, namely Turkey, the Russian Federation and Iran, at the fourth round of Astana meetings held on 3-4 May 2017. Effective implementation of this Memorandum is of utmost importance to consolidate the existing ceasefire regime. In this way, we believe that Astana meetings will contribute to the success of the Geneva process. We hope all the parties will act in self-restraint and contribute to finding a lasting political solution.
— These days Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu met with the heads of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the minister of foreign affairs of Qatar. They discussed the Qatar diplomatic crisis. Moreover, the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of troops at the military base in Qatar. In the light of that, which role can Turkey play for the settlement in the Gulf?
Turkish parliament approval of the military base has nothing to do with the crisis because it was conceived two years earlier. And it was not directly for Qatar but it was made for the regional security.
The region is going through a difficult period because of the instabilities in some countries and it requires even more solidarity within the region, for example, against extremism. So in this context we hope that the countries concerned solve these differences through dialogue in the first place. We believe that only through that way we can combat or stand against other risks in the region. And with this understanding Turkey is actively seeking contacts with the countries of the region and other important players. And therefore, one of the first things we did after the beginning of the crisis was that our President Erdogan and President Putin had a telephonic conversation and discussed that issue. Our efforts will continue to help de-escalate or to bring a peaceful end to this issue.
— President Erdogan claimed earlier that Turkey was considering the possibility to become a full-fledged member of the SCO. Is Turkey planning to apply for full membership?
Turkey was admitted as a dialogue partner for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2012 by the decision of the summit of Shanghai. So this document about our dialogue partnership says that the cooperation between the SCO and Turkey should develop in several areas: regional security, counterterrorism, counter narcotics, organized crime, and economic and cultural areas. There is also the Shanghai Cooperation Energy Club. In November 2016 at the meeting of that club we took over the chairmanship. The next meeting of the club was decided to be held in Turkey even though Turkey is not a member and only a dialogue partner. So this is another area of cooperation with the SCO we want to develop. Meanwhile, we are in favor of developing our relations and cooperation with the SCO.
— At the One Belt, One Road forum in Beijing the Turkish delegation was headed by President Erdogan which may be a sign of a significant interest of Turkey towards that Chinese initiative. Also at this forum president Putin articulated an idea of creating a big Eurasian partnership. What are the expectations of your countries from these projects?
The Belt and Road Initiative is a modern recreation of the Silk Road. As far as we are concerned, we see complementarity between our middle corridor project and the “One belt, one road” project. The Middle Corridor project envisages railway connection from Turkey to China via Georgia, Azerbaijan and further to Turkmenistan (via ferries on the Caspian Sea) and Kazakhstan. At the “One belt, one road” meeting in China in May, our president made an opening statement together with the Chinese president and the Russian president. So we are very much involved.
As far as Eurasian cooperation is concerned, we support any initiative that will increase welfare, strengthen stability, peace and mutual trust in the region.
— How is the investigation of the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey going on? Which measures are taken to ensure the safety of Russian tourists?
We condemn the attack against the Russian ambassador, we think it was an attack on Turkish-Russian friendship and the investigation continues. As far as the tourists are concerned, we take every precaution, every measure for their protection. The issue of Russian citizens’ security is also taken up by the officials of Rostourism and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism through working group meetings.
— How is the cooperation between Russia and Turkey on combatting terrorism?
We have a close and regular dialogue with Russia on combatting terrorism at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers with the participation of relevant authorities. On the margins of those consultations we share information and discuss measures against terrorist organizations, including DAESH, PKK, and FETO.
Almost a year has passed since the FETO terrorist organization masterminded the 15 July coup attempt against the democratic and constitutional order of Turkey. On this occasion, I would like to express once again my appreciation and gratitude to the Russian Federation for its principled stance against this heinous act and the support given to Turkey at the highest level. We stand resolute to continue our bilateral cooperation with the Russian authorities which has already taken necessary measures against this terrorist organization years ago.
Interviewed by Yulya Nemchenko and Leyla Turayanova