Ambassador Stegniy at Bilkent

Petr Stegniy, Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Turkey, visited Bilkent University on 14 February 2006 to discuss Russian-Turkish relations. Before his speech, Stegniy presented a documentary film about the “Peace and Friendship Treaty” between the USSR and Turkey signed in 1921. The Ambassador reminded his audience that this Treaty is still active: it defined the eastern borders of Russia and Turkey as they stand to this day. He added that the year 1996 was the 500th anniversary of the first Russian Ambassador visiting Turkey and stated that our relations are deep rooted.

Russia and Turkey, Stegniy emphasized, are the biggest countries in Eurasia.  Both countries, he declared, have grounds for optimism in energy cooperation. He also discussed the importance of expanding human and business relations between Turks and Russians, which are helping to erode old historical tensions, present especially during the Cold War. The Ambassador informed us that there are currently 50,000 Turkish workers in Russia.  Turkish companies have constructed factories, hospitals, and schools in the Russian Federation since the collapse of Communism, which has helped to solidify bilateral ties.  

Political dialogue between Turkey and Russia, the Ambassador continued, is by now well developed: there were five meetings between Putin and Erdogan in 2005 alone. Putin’s visit that year to Ankara, particular, was a milestone in Turkish-Russian relations.  This June, Stegniy informed us, Turkish President Sezer will visit Russia, and the Russian Minister of Foreign Relations will visit Turkey.

Above all, Ambassador Stegniy emphasized the geopolitical importance of trade for Russian-Turkish relations. In 1972, trade between Soviet Union and Turkey amounted to only $80 million.  After Russia’s switch to market economy in 1991, trade volume expanded exponentially.  By 2002 it was $5.2 billion.  By 2005, this figure had tripled to $15 billion.  According to trade agreements already signed between Turkey and Russia, trade volume will soon reach $25 billion.

There has also been progress on the cultural front, although the two countries have not yet signed a legal agreement on cultural exchanges. Ambassador Stegniy stated that democracy, glasnost (openness), or freedom of speech, are common values.  He said that Russia trusts Turkey and her constructive role in the region.  The cultural ties are strengthened by the influx of Turkish workers into Russia and by Russian tourists visiting Turkey:  2 million last year alone.

After his speech, Ambassador Stegniy opened the floor for questions from Bilkent students and faculty.  The first question concerned Russia’s attitude towards Turkey’s European Union (EU) application. The Ambassador said that Russia had a positive view of Turkey’s application, but he cautioned that Russian diplomacy could not influence the process of Turkey’s entrance to EU as Russia is not an EU member and has little say in its internal policies. On the other hand, Stegniy stated that EU’s standards were helpful goals for reform, and that Russia was satisfied what was achieved in Eastern Europe through EU.  On Cyprus, the Ambassador emphasized that Russia is working hard to change European perceptions in order to achieve a solution with Greece and Turkey. He said that the best precondition for ethnic problems is direct discussion and technical dialogue.  In Russia’s view, the UN is the proper forum for resolving the Cyprus dispute.

Asked about the possible danger for Turkey of excessive dependence on imports of natural gas from Russia, the Ambassador said that it is not a matter of dependence, but interdependence between Russia and Turkey:  A market economy depends on producer-consumer relationships. The Ambassador added that 95% of Russian oil companies are now privatized, and that it is up to Russian companies to sign contracts with buyers.

            Finally, Ambassador Stegniy concluded his speech by saying that Turkish-Russian relations are very deeply rooted.  There will always be ups and downs, but mutual trust and cooperation will endure.