Turkey's Good Example

New Russians prefer to vacation in Turkey than the Crimea: It's more restful, more luxurious and, as a rule, cheaper. The Turks may soon be the only builders in Moscow and other major cities in the former Soviet Union. Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller is forever in the media in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia. These signs of Turkish expansion have caused Turkey to be demonized as a new, all-powerful "tiger." But is Turkey a threat to Russia's national interests?

On the micro-econo-mic level, Turkey's relations with Russia are highly positive. So long as the service and prices in Sochi cannot compete with those in Antalya, Russians will continue to vacation in Turkey. They will keep buying Turkish clothes and building materials. Perhaps we Russians could have repaired the White House for less, but certainly we could not have done it as fast as the Turks did it in 1993 -- and not without a two-kilometer cordon of mud all around.

On the geopolitical level, Russia and Turkey are competing for influence in the southern and southeastern regions of the former Soviet Union. This rivalry hinges on the oil in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Whoever controls the pipeline has political influence. Of the three possible ways to pipe the oil -- through Russia, through Turkey, or through Iran -- the last of these is unacceptable to the West which, after all, will be the oil's consumer. The Russian way -- through war-torn Chechnya to Novorossiisk -- is cheaper, but not without its dangers. The Turkish way -- through Georgia -- is more expensive, but less problematic. The bargaining for Caspian oil has been going on for two years and has produced two camps, pro-Russian and pro-Turkish. The first camp includes Turkmenistan and Iran; the second includes Azerbaijan, and to some extent Kazakhstan and Georgia.

Turkey has promised the new Transcaucasian and Central Asian governments credits and is negotiating sizeable pipeline projects. Turkey is also flooding these countries with cheap consumer goods. The weak link is Armenia which, willy-nilly, remains a Russian ally. This has not stopped Turkey from trading with Armenia, however.

A few statistics: In 1994 Turkey's gross domestic product was $245 billion, or $3,975 per capita per year. For purposes of comparison, in 1994 Russia produced $4,000 per capita, Kazakhstan $3,500, Uzbekistan $3,200, Georgia $2,700, Azerbaijan $2,800. While Turkey is enjoying a surge, all the former republics are in economic crisis.

As an economic rival, Turkey is an energetic and ambitious trading intermediary as well as a watchdog on the Bosporus Strait. Russia has lost many of the strong ties it had with the former Soviet republics, while Turkey, which never had any ties, has the West's support. Turkey calculates that this support will make it a more attractive partner for Transcaucasia and Central Asia.

In the military sphere the trickiest issue in Russian-Turkish relations is that of the flank limitations in the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. As for Russia's demand that these now obsolete conditions in the treaty be reviewed, the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook (1994) says "the most adamant position was taken by Turkey which voiced concern that Russia was seeking to re-establish a strong military presence in and maintain domination over a strategic area." But "in Europe Turkey received the largest share of major conventional weapons ... It is also modernizing its army, air force and paramilitary forces with major conventional weapons systems of foreign origin," for the most part American. SIPRI also notes that for the United States and other NATO countries the flank issue is at present a minor one, but dangerous in that it could derail the entire treaty.

As well, Turkey has strong views about the conflict in Nagorny Ka-rabakh. According to Defense News (No. 2, Aug. 1993), "Russian military sources claimed that in February 1993, during the Armenian offensive against Azerbaijan, Turkey's 2nd Army mobilized 39,000 troops and 200 tanks along the Armenian border." SIPRI notes that "Turkey has actively helped Azerbaijan in training its military, provided it with diplomatic support and played an important role in maintaining a de facto blockade of Armenia." At the same time, Turkey objected to the domination of the Russian contingent in the peacekeeping forces in Nagorny Karabakh. Meanwhile, Turkey has been training guerrillas from the former Soviet Union to fight in Chechnya. Turkey's positions on Nagorny Karabakh and Chechnya are not just military policy. They are undoubtedly part of a strategy aimed at strengthening Turkey's leadership role in the region.

Would Iran do a better job of playing the role to which Turkey aspires? Would this suit Russia better? I doubt it. As a secular state anxious to join the European Community, Turkey is far less dangerous for Russia than Iran. Note that the governments of Transcaucasia and Central Asia have been deft enough to show an active interest in ties with Turkey without hurting relations with Russia. Moreover, Central Asia and Kazakhstan are actively repairing relations with Japan and China, potential partners at least as attractive as Turkey.

Is Turkey's competition dangerous for Russia? I think not. On the one hand, it manifests itself in chiefly civilized ways and in spheres where competition is natural and normal even among Western nations. On the other hand, one cannot consider Turkey's economic or military position out of the overall context of Russia's relations with the West, its leading institutions -- such as NATO and the EC -- and of course Russian-U.S. relations. The stakes in the struggle for influence in Transcaucasia and Central Asia remain high.

Irina Kobrinskaya is a senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Academy of Sciences' Institute of the United States and Canada. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.