Europe may be reluctant to embrace Turkey but the country is well underway to establishing itself as a regional power. As a gateway to the West, it engages with nearby Middle Eastern states, signing free-trade agreements with Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia. It is currently in negotiations with the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, to make similar arrangements, as it is with Syria. There is even hope that the newfound closeness with secular, moderate Turkey represents a move away from Syria’s controversial alliance with Iran.
Now Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is working on building a strategic partnership with Russia.
The two countries intend to boost their respective trade volumes over the coming years to a grand total of $100 billion. “Our relations are developing and becoming more diversified in the political, military, economic and cultural spheres,” according to Erdoğan. “What is exciting for me is that both sides have a positive will,” he said at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, last Wednesday.
The two leaders announced that they will abolish visa requirements for nationals traveling between Turkey and Russia. A final deal is expected to be worked out when President Dmitri Medvedev visits Turkey next May or June. A strategic coperation council meeting will be held at the time. Turkey has launched similar platforms with Syria and Iraq in 2009.
Erdoğan and Putin also discussed energy; specifically, the construction of Ankara’s first nuclear power plant. Russian firms will probably be given a chance to bid for the contract.
All in all, it would appear that Turkey isn’t waiting for Europe anymore. Contrary to European perceptions, Arabs regard Turkey as the closest thing to modernity around. As much as the country is a gateway to the West to them, it can be Europe’s arch to the East and a viable partner in relations with Russia. The EU ought to treat Turkey as the regional power it is therefore.