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11/04/2021

Dynamics of Turkish strategic policy in Central Asia

Dynamics of Turkish strategic policy in Central Asia

Following the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, Central Asia has once again returned to the focus of international politics. Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign ministry long declared the “Asia Anew” initiative, aiming at deepening relations with Asian countries.

United World International expert Mehmet Perinçek gave an interview to the Iranian Eastern Strategic Research Center on Turkey’s relations with Central Asian countries.

Below we document the translation of the interview as published by the center. The original text in farsi can be read here.

Subtitles were set by UWI.

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Turkey’s relations with Central Asian countries in all political, security, military, economic and cultural dimensions have grown significantly over the past decade. Today, Turkey is one of the main partners in the region and, despite its lack of geographical cohesion, has become an influential player in Central Asian regional relations. However, especially after the recent developments in the South Caucasus, there are different perceptions regarding the strategic axes of Turkey’s performance in the region and the responses of its approach to future developments in Central Asia. In this context, we have conducted an interview with Dr. Mehmet Perinçek, a visiting professor at the Moscow State University and a former professor at Istanbul University. Dr. Perinçek has been working and researching in the field of Eurasian relations for many years. He has specialized in the history of Turkish-Russian relations and has evaluated the Caucasus and Central Asia as one of the joint cases between the two countries.

Eastern Studies: Do you think that the relations between Turkey and Central Asian countries can be called strategic? What are the strategic dimensions of this cooperation?

Perinçek: Before answering your questions, we must remember that Central Asia has a very important role to play in the US’ strategic plan to dominate of the world. Mastering the natural resources of this geographical area, as well as the role that this area plays in the transfer of energy and resources in the world, is one of the significant goals of the Americans. Obviously, in order to achieve these goals, the United States must bring economically and militarily important states to their knees. At the top of these countries are evidently China, Russia, Iran and Turkey. These are countries with significant tradition of statehood. Thus, US policies in Central Asia have somehow brought these countries closer together. Of course, these US plans have been significantly thwarted by the scandalous escape it has experienced in Afghanistan.

Fundamental change in Turkey’s policies towards Central Asia since the 1990s

As for Turkey-Central Asia relations, it should be noted that Turkey’s policy towards Central Asia during the collapse of the Soviet Union was not its national policy. Those policies were, in fact, US-imposed policies on Turkey, or in other words, policies defined in the context of American strategies, which focused on controlling the newly independent states through Turkey and resisting Chinese and Russian influence in the region. On the one hand, these policies were in conflict with the national interests of Turkey. On the other hand, they were not compatible with the interests of these countries due to the included confrontation with countries of Central Asia, China and Russia. This policy is no longer in force.

In that period, especially the Gülen movement was introduced as one of the beads, whereas Turkey introduced this movement into Central Asia with US support. This policy, of course, also caused discord between Turkey and Central Asian countries. The attempted assassinations of Karimov in Uzbekistan or the attempted coup in Azerbaijan were among the events that occurred under the guidance of this movement. Within these policies, the Turkish world was divided according the interests of the United States.

But at the present stage, it should be emphasized that Turkey’s policies with the countries of the region take place in a different framework from those of the 1990s. Turkey does not use its relations with the Turkish world to confront or harm Russia, China and Iran. On the contrary, the real activity in this region, from Turkey’s point of view, depends on good cooperation with China, Russia and Iran. These countries all have common interests in face of US crisis-creating policy in the region.

The countries of Central Asia are of considerable importance to Turkey, economically and militarily and politically. From an economic point of view, they are important for Turkey considering the energy resources available in these countries. Of course, cultural communication is also very important, and the issue of Turkish language and communication based on Turkish identity is also of great importance.

Turkey’s Eurasia policy defined in cooperation with China, Russia and Iran

Based on these principles, the communication relies on common mutual interests without having any hegemonic goals. Also, its content is not defined in the interests of the United States, as was the case in the 1990s. Rather, Turkey’s Eurasian policy is mostly defined as cooperation with China, Russia, and Iran in the region.

Eastern Studies: Tajikistan is the only non-Turkic republic in Central Asia. What is Turkey’s view on cooperation with this republic?

Perinçek: Although Tajikistan is not a Turkish country, communicating with them is for Turkey as important as relations with any other Central Asian country. Because, as we mentioned earlier, Central Asia is of great importance to American strategies, while the Turkey needs the cooperation with countries in the region to resist US plans in the region. Especially with the withdrawal or, to be more precise, with their flight from Afghanistan, the United States seeks to impose fictitious crises on the region.

The United States is trying to create a major crisis in the region by creating a vacuum for various terrorist groups and pressuring the Taliban and surrounding factors in Afghanistan. In such an atmosphere, it is natural that communication with Tajikistan is of key importance. Because of its geographical location, Tajikistan is closely related to the Afghan equation. Thus, despite the fact that Tajikistan is not a Turkic country, it is of great importance from the Turkish point of view, both because of the Afghan issue and Turkey’s strategic interests in Central Asia, which depend on peace and cooperation throughout the Central Asian region. Given these circumstances, it can be concluded that Tajikistan is in any case of considerable importance to Turkey in Central Asia.

Eastern Studies: In the Caspian Sea basin, Turkey seems to be very interested in launching the Caspian Trans-Caspian pipeline and has also held talks with Turkmenistan. What is the stage of these negotiations and when do you think this pipeline will be finalized?

Perinçek: The transfer of Central Asian gas and energy to Europe is of great importance for regional cooperation and development. Projects such as the TANAP Project, the Turkish Stream Project, or the Blue Stream Project, as well as the North Stream Project 2, are all aimed at regional integration in Eurasia. These projects should not be considered as competitors. On the contrary, these projects have complementary features for each other. All of these projects can be considered as part of a larger Eurasian integration project. The most important condition in these projects should be not excluding or harming one of the countries. In this case, based on these projects, the logic of mutual benefit in the region can be achieved.

Threatened by NATO, Turkey needs new allies

Eastern Studies: Is Turkey also a Central Asian military and defense partner? What is the current level of this cooperation?

Perinçek: Turkey is officially member of NATO. But it has now become a real target of NATO and is under US and NATO pressure in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. These are not average or simple differences but strategic contradictions. Because the United States needs divide Turkey and bring it down in order to realize its plans. That is why the US supports the PKK in northern Syria. Similarly, the US supports in the Mediterranean a coalition of Greece, Southern Cyprus and Israel as adversaries of Turkey.

If tensions between Turkey on one side and NATO and the United States on the other escalate to such an extent that Turkey is forced to confront them, then Turkey will not be able to use its existing weapons, as these are dependent on US and NATO systems. These systems will all be under US control. In this sense, Turkey needs independent military industries and systems. Purchasing the S400 was one of the steps that had to be taken in this direction.

On the other hand, Turkey’s national and domestic military industries in recent years have achieved a great and very important leap. The projects of national tanks and various UAVs are important in this context. Given these areas, Turkey’s cooperation with Central Asia is of great importance. Turkey’s cooperation with Azerbaijan, Central Asian countries and even with countries such as Russia and China, as well as even Iran, can have consequences on preventing US influence in the region.

In other words, Turkey’s powerful military industry would mean acting independently of American industry and policy. The same logic would apply to the military industries of Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, and China, and would be an obstacle to American policy. From this perspective, a strong Iran means a strong Russia and Turkey, and an independent and strong Turkey will mean a strong Iran. From this point of view, cooperation in the field of military industries is of great importance in the regional dimension and is in favor of macro-regional cooperation. Turkey’s military relations with Central Asian countries should also be evaluated in this regard and considered as an example of this constructive cooperation.

Eastern Studies: Do you think that this military cooperation makes Russia sensitive? What is Turkey’s response to this challenge?

Perinçek: As I mentioned a moment ago, Turkey’s policy of entering Central Asia as part of the US strategy pursued in the 1990s has failed. Turkey has realized the contradiction of serving US interests and cooperating with Russia and China. That former policy was against both Turkey’s own interests and the interests of these countries. In this regard, Turkey at the present stage does not seek cooperation with Central Asian countries in order to limit Russia, but on the contrary, sees cooperation with these countries as a facilitator of cooperation with Russia. That is, Turkey defines cooperation with these countries as part of its larger Eurasian cooperation project, which includes China, Russia, and Iran.

Turkey’s cooperation with Central Asia will limit US influence and intervention

Russia currently has strategic partnerships with Central Asian countries in various fields, such as joint security cooperation or the Eurasian Economic Union, and Turkey is defining its policies with this in mind. Turkey’s cooperation in the region will naturally be more directed against US plans than creating a problem for Russia. In this regard, Turkey’s cooperation on Afghanistan is without doubt important.

The issue of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is also of considerable importance. Due to the presence of China, Russia and Iran, this organization will bring Turkey closer to these countries and on the other hand will bring Turkey closer to Turkish countries. In this regard, Turkey should start the membership process as soon as possible.

The Gülen Organization is a US tool

Eastern Studies: Turkish-Kyrgyz relations have recently been challenged following some bilateral disputes over Orhan Inandı. How do you assess this challenge and its impact on the relations between the two countries?

Perinçek: The Fethullah Gülen terrorist group is not just an organization affiliated with Turkey. This movement is a Turkish-labeled tool in the hands of the United States, which Washington uses in all areas of need. This group is as much against Turkey as it is against Iran, Russia, China and the countries of Central Asia, because it allows the United States to carry out espionage activities within these countries. Kyrgyzstan has unfortunately become a base and a center for the Gülen movement in this regard. In this regard, the Kyrgyz authorities’ disregard for the Turkish government’s recommendations goes essentially more against the interests of the Kyrgyz themselves, as allowing a current such as the Gülen movement to operate inside the country would mean the possibility of US operations against Kyrgyz officials themselves in the future. It is spying for Americans in their own country that will cause a disaster for them in the future.

In this regard, eliminating the Gülen movement from Kyrgyzstan and returning terrorist leaders from Kyrgyzstan to Turkey is also in the interest of the Kyrgyz government. Unfortunately, despite all the warnings from Turkey, the Kyrgyz authorities did not show the necessary sensitivity to this issue. Orhan Inandı’s issue is not just a matter of Turkish interests. Rather, it concerns the interests of Russia, Iran and Kyrgyzstan itself. Because the presence of the Gülen movement in a country like Kyrgyzstan and a region like Central Asia is more in conflict with the interests of that country and the region than anyone else. Therefore, arresting a CIA agent and bringing him to Turkey is also in the regional interest. 

Mehmet Perinçek
Historian and political scientist (Turkey)

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