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
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
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.