Sphere of influence: Turkey intends to compete with Russia in Central Asia
Turkey intends to compete with Russia in Central Asia
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday urged Uzbekistan, the Turkic states of Central Asia at the crossroads of key energy and trade routes, to strengthen cooperation with Ankara, hoping to take advantage of the weakening of Moscow, a former guardian power mired in Ukraine. .
“It is even more necessary to strengthen our cooperation, solidarity and harmony in the face of the Ukrainian war, which opened a delicate and risky period,” said Mr. Erdogan during the summit meeting of the Organization of Turkic States (OET). Samarkand.
This is the third visit of the Turkish president to Central Asia in the last two months, which is an indication of his efforts to strengthen relations with the former Soviet Turkic republics of the region and the Caucasus, where Turkey has cultural, linguistic and religious ties.
Mr. Erdogan asked his colleagues in the region to create a Turkish investment fund “as soon as possible” that would allow strengthening economic cooperation between these countries.
Founded in 2009 as the “Turk Council”, the OET unites four former Soviet republics from the Caucasus (Azerbaijan) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), as well as two observer countries: Turkmenistan – another former Soviet country. Central Asia — and Hungary.
Ankara hopes to increase its influence in the region, which Moscow has dominated for decades and maintained a stranglehold through military and economic alliances even after the fall of the Soviet Union.
But Russia’s intervention in Ukraine at the end of February opened up a breach, distracting Moscow and worrying regional countries that are looking more than ever to China, but also to Europe.
Kyrgyz leader Sadyr Japarov insisted on “the need to cooperate more closely at the commercial level”.
However, the summit was marked by the image of the self-proclaimed and unrecognized Northern Cyprus, which was announced by Ankara as an observer member of the OET.
Although Mr. Erdogan “thanked” his colleagues for “accepting” this membership during his speech, no other country has confirmed it. Worse, Uzbekistan cast doubt on the fact that no text was “signed” in this sense.
Kazakh President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev emphasized the importance of “territorial integrity of all states”, which Kazakh diplomacy claimed was related to Turkey’s demand for the integration of Northern Cyprus.
The summit and Mr. Erdogan’s frequent visits to Central Asia, in any case, demonstrate Ankara’s hope to give greater opportunities to the OET after decades of Moscow’s unchallenged dominance in the region.
Bayram Balci, a former director of the French Institute of Central Asia and a doctor of political sciences associated with Sciences Po, explained to AFP: “Since the beginning of the desire to create a Turkish union, Russia’s weight and influence have been obstacles.” Studies.
But this influence of Russia has weakened in recent years, especially after the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, and especially after Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine this year.
“Turkey indirectly benefits from Russia’s failures and mistakes, which creates conditions for other countries to gain a position,” said Balci.
According to Andrey Grozin, a Russian expert on Central Asia at the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, “any activity in Central Asia is considered undesirable by Moscow (…)”.
But Turkey and Russia, which cooperate on a number of issues, can find a common language to try to exert joint influence, because their interests are “not compatible”.
According to Mr. Balci, the Central Asian states “will be part of these two alliances (Turkey and Russia), they will take what interests them and reject what does not interest them.”
Although Turkey has tried to sell military drones to former Soviet republics and to apply soft power through cultural projects, trade exchanges remain limited at this stage compared to other regional powers.
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