Serhii KORSUNSKY: “Turkey must remain Ukraine’s friend, for as long and in as many terms as absolutely possible”
There are media reports about Ankara-Moscow strategic relationships, the signing of dozens of instruments, cut-rate Russia’s gas supply to Turkey, replacing South Stream with Turkish Stream. Turkish Ambassador Yonet Gian Tezel told me Putin’s visit was nothing out of the ordinary, just another one in keeping with protocol, considering that both heads of state had been meeting on a pretty regular basis. The Day got in touch with Ukrainian Ambassador Serhii Korsunsky in Ankara via Skype and asked for comment on the Russian leader’s visit: what actually had taken place and whether Turkish Stream was a threat to Ukraine. Mr. Korsunsky also spoke on what Ukraine could expect from the meeting of the Ukraine-Turkey High Level Strategic Council scheduled for the first quarter of 2015, to be chaired by the Turkish president.
“That one was obviously an ordinary, senseless, and fruitless visit, in the course of which the High-Level Strategic Council’s session allegedly took place. We also hold annual Strategic Council sessions, and we sign agreements, but we know them for what they are. In the case with Putin, he signed eight memorandums and an agreement on legal assistance. Memorandums are just protocols of intentions; they have no legal effect.
“All talk about increasing the commodity turnover [between Russia and Turkey] threefold, six-percent discount gas supplies, the official visit were just another PR project architected by Russia’s secret police, the FSB. They tried to show the rest of the world – and Putin in the first place – that he wasn’t a pariah in the eyes of the international community. And the six-percent discount is, in fact, envisaged by the contract currently in effect. The price-setting formula has to be altered in keeping with market prices. Considering that they are on a downward curve, six percent is the exact result of this clause.
“Russia’s media came up with untruthful reports to the effect that the High-Level Strategic Council held a meeting in Ankara during Putin’s visit. I heard from the Turkish side the very next day that Turkey had no strategic relationships with Russia, just an economic agenda, and that there was no understanding in regard to such political issues as Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, the Caucasus, and Egypt. What kind of strategic relationship could there be with a country with which [Turkey] had no cooperation in the security domain?
“Without a doubt, Putin’s statement concerning the stoppage of South Stream was a positive result for Ukraine. I’d kept saying for five years that there would be no South Stream, ever, just as there would never be Turkish Stream, considering that there are no gas pipelines from Turkey on the border with Greece. Why should Greece be a better choice than Bulgaria? Both countries are members of the European Union. Lots of questions and few answers there.
“Putin keeps saving face, what with Russia having wasted five billion dollars on South Stream, a project that just burst like a soap bubble. Now they’re saying all this was for [Russia’s] good, that they will start investing in Turkey. Fiddlesticks! This just won’t work. What this is all about is another FSB operation meant to cover up their tracks.”
I read Poroshenko’s critical statement addressing the Indian government when Putin’s delegation visiting Delhi included Sergei Aksyonov.
“A disgusting frame-up, indeed.”
Were there any “officials” from the annexed Crimea during Putin’s visit to Ankara?
“None that I know of. During the talks with the Russian president, Mr. Erdogan, on our request, told him everything in regard to Crimea. In fact, Turkey takes an ironclad stand in the matter. Ankara will never recognize the annexation, period. We have a clear understanding that the Crimean Tatars will live only in Ukraine. We will never allow anyone to recognize [Russia’s] occupation of the peninsula. The Turkish government and President Erdogan are of the same opinion. And so Aksyonov or the likes of him had no right to set foot on Turkish soil. This message was conveyed to Putin in full. He replied that the situation in Crimea was OK, that he was making every effort for the Crimean Tatars’ benefit, but that they were ungrateful. Well, we know what is actually happening in Crimea. Genocide. We’ve been fighting it and will continue to do just that.
“Turks are notably pragmatic. They work hard to earn their daily bread and the domestic economic situation isn’t as good as meets the eye. Actually, they would be prepared to haggle over gas prices or other privileges, the way they do at their traditional bazaars. They are hard to negotiate with, but they also have their principles. For example, they are negotiating a FTA deal with Ukraine after telling Russia such a deal is impossible in principle (although they would be interested). The Russian side says Turks will be supplying products to break through the blockade, and the Turkish side says that they are implementing the contracts that are still in effect, otherwise their manufacturers will go bankrupt. Turkey previously made supplies to Iraq and Syria, but then the war broke out, stopping supplies, so they have to carry out their contracts with Russia because bankruptcy is the only option. The fact remains that there is no strategic [market] reorientation toward Russia. I have every proof, including statements made on the highest level, that Ankara is fully aware of whom it is dealing with, and of what actually happened in Crimea.
“Ukraine, Syria, Iraq aren’t empty words for Ankara. This is a serious domestic and foreign political challenge, so when they heard Putin say to the contrary, there was no love lost between them.”
Mr. Tezel told me that the President of Turkey will visit Ukraine in the first quarter of 2015.
“That’s true. We are expecting President Erdogan to visit Ukraine, sometime in February-March 2015. We are preparing large-scale projects. I hope we’ll manage by the time of his visit, so that these strategic projects will be ready to be signed… They spell billions [of dollars] and their objectives are absolutely implementable. We’re working on them on a daily basis, but we aren’t advertising them. We have no fake energy projects. All of them are for real.
“Petro Poroshenko has a clear notion of whom we’re dealing with, what Turkey is all about. He wants Ukraine to do serious business with that country. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. I’ll let you in on a small secret. President Erdogan’s visit could be preceded by that of Prime Minister Davutoglu in January. Two such top-level visits, one shortly followed by the next, would be unprecedented. Ankara has a clear real-time picture of what’s happening in Ukraine. They are horrified to watch Crimea turn into a [Russian] military base.”
Could this be giving an impetus to the military and technological cooperation between our countries? Ukraine at one time offered Turkey to buy a tank, then a joint frigate production project.
“That’s the domain we’re working in. I mean not tanks or ships, but aircraft and spacecraft. We have the Antonov Design Bureau and engines. That’s our objective. We have made progress and there are documents ready to be signed not as memorandums, but as contracts spelling tangible sums. We’re trying to get everything ready before the next meeting of the High Level Strategic Council, so that, instead of several dozen preparatory trips to Turkey, Ukraine, and back, President Erdogan will come and find the documents ready to be signed. Also, the FTA paperwork should be done by then. We know that the Council will hold a full-fledged meeting, but we don’t need publicity.”
What about Erdogan’s palace that made headlines across the world?
“I visited the place in conjunction with a Turkish national holiday. The palace is really impressive, I mean the size and exterior, but I can tell you I was most impressed by the modest interior design and decor. No gold, no king-size chandeliers or other signs of excessive luxury. Instead, simple dark wood panels, everything kept in a restrained color style. The area and the structure appear incredible for Turkey. When I first saw it, I found myself comparing it to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. A palace and a huge empty area in front of it, with what looked like three pagodas there. I had visited the old palace perhaps a hundred times. Now it looked like a small structure, one of several on the giant territory of the new one. This palace is actually a housing and business complex that accommodates homes for the staff, conference rooms/halls, all kinds of offices and services. That’s not his palace, even though it has ample room for his living quarters.”
Could this be President Erdogan’s attempt to emulate the example of Suleiman the Great?
“He has ambitions. He wants his name to go down in history and stay there forevermore. Of course, he is tough and has problems with the press. He is being criticized by Americans and Europeans, with the rest keeping silent. Well, it’s best to solve one’s own problems before criticizing anyone else for failing to solve his own. I guess we’ll start criticizing after solving our problems (laughing).
“I have tasks to carry out that were assigned by the president. Turkey must remain Ukraine’s friend, for as long and in as many terms as absolutely possible. This country isn’t in the front freedom-champion ranks, but it is doubtlessly following in the European Union’s and US footsteps in all international organizations. Everyone realizes that Turkey is on a human level. That’s an undeniable fact.
“Owing to our partnership, Turkey is increasingly associating itself with Europe. Look at the contracts between the EU and Turkey. It’s amazing! I mean it’s common knowledge that Turkey is playing the key role in the region. We’re just trying to use this to Ukraine’s advantage, and my contacts here are helpful. Let me say that our efforts rate school grades ranging from A to B plus. I’m a perfectionist and I’d love to see Turkey join the sanctions campaign, but they keep saying ‘no, this would spell disaster for us.’”