Yonet Can Tezel mostly sat­is­fied with Ukraine-Turkey re­la­tions

Kyiv Post - - Business - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

When asked if Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan is a demo­crat or a dic­ta­tor, the coun­try's nor­mally ar­tic­u­late and fast-talk­ing am­bas­sador in Ukraine, Yonet Can Tezel, hes­i­tated slightly be­fore care­fully choos­ing his re­sponse.

"I rep­re­sent Mr. Er­do­gan, the pres­i­dent. What I would say is the fol­low­ing in a diplo­matic way: In­deed Turkey is go­ing through demo­cratic chal­lenges, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing the coup at­tempt last year which, for this or that rea­son, our al­lies failed to rec­og­nize and give us the demo­cratic sup­port that we need," Tezel told the Kyiv Post in an Oct. 24 in­ter­view. "That has eroded some of the con­fi­dence."

But democ­racy is far from dead in Turkey, Tezel said, speak­ing ahead of the Oct. 29 hol­i­day to mark the 94th an­niver­sary of the start of the mod­ern Turk­ish Re­pub­lic with Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk as its found­ing fa­ther and first pres­i­dent.

"We know, all too well, that we can de­velop fully only with democ­racy," Tezel said.

The de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of re­la­tions be­tween Turkey and many na­tions in the West, in­clud­ing the United States and in the European Union, ac­cel­er­ated after the failed coup at­tempt last year to top­ple Er­do­gan. Turkey's gov­ern­ment blames Fethul­lah Gulen, an Is­lamist cleric liv­ing in the United States, for mas­ter­mind­ing the coup at­tempt, and is seek­ing his ex­tra­di­tion.

Amer­ica's har­bor­ing of Gulen has fu­eled anger among Turks, some of whom blame the United States for back­ing or even lead­ing the coup, while oth­ers blame the U.S. for not warn­ing the Er­do­gan gov­ern­ment about the coup plot. The most be­nign ver­sion is in­com­pe­tence — that the United States sim­ply didn't know any­thing about the coup at­tempt.

The EU also comes in for blame in Turkey be­cause, after the coup at­tempt, Europe "did not stand up for the very val­ues and prin­ci­ples it wanted to strengthen Turkey. That led to a loss of con­fi­dence," Tezel said. Ad­di­tion­ally, many Turks are frus­trated by what they say is open

racism in Europe that is block­ing their decades-long as­pi­ra­tion to EU mem­ber­ship.

The West, of course, would say the bad re­la­tions are Er­do­gan's own fault, ac­cus­ing him of cur­tail­ing demo­cratic free­doms to re­press crit­ics, im­prison jour­nal­ists and thou­sands of oth­ers and kid­nap Amer­i­cans as hostages to win the ex­tra­di­tion of Gulen.

'Un­der­stand each other'

So it's no won­der that Tezel is happy to be in Ukraine, rather than in one of the many na­tions with whom Turkey is feud­ing.

"We don't have cri­sis. We don't have prob­lems with Ukraine," Tezel said. "I am a very happy am­bas­sador in the sense that my host coun­try and my coun­try have very good re­la­tions and they're go­ing up­wards… We un­der­stand each other."

He blames the news me­dia, in­clud­ing the Kyiv Post, for fo­cus­ing on Er­do­gan's ex­haus­tion at the Oct. 9 press con­fer­ence in Kyiv be­tween Poroshenko and Er­do­gan. The Turk­ish pres­i­dent had trou­ble stay­ing awake.

"He was tired, that was not a big story," Tezel said.

The real story, he said, is that at least 10 min­is­ters from Turkey joined Er­do­gan on the Kyiv trip and that the two sides held sub­stan­tive meet­ings for more than three hours that led to sub­stan­tial agree­ments to strengthen the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

"That's the story," the am­bas­sador said. "When Er­do­gan and Poroshenko meet, it's al­ways good, al­ways pos­i­tive, al­ways con­crete. Not all is fully shared with the press."

Be­sides the sign­ing of many de­fense agree­ments, Ukraine and Turkey also took steps to pre­vent dou­ble tax­a­tion and to stop tax eva­sion of cit­i­zens and com­pa­nies work­ing in each other's coun­tries. Agree­ments were also signed on the re­cip­ro­cal pro­tec­tion of in­vest­ments, he said.

No free trade deal

More­over, both lead­ers set an am­bi­tious tar­get of hit­ting $10 bil­lion each year in bi­lat­eral trade. Con­sid­er­ing that the cur­rent trade is worth only $3 bil­lion and no free trade agree­ment has been reached, tripling trade would ap­pear to be an un­re­al­is­tic goal.

But Tezel called the tar­get "quite achiev­able, not the least be­cause in 2007–2008, we had $8 bil­lion in trade with Ukraine. For the last three years, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, mainly prob­lems here (with Ukraine's econ­omy) hit­ting bot­tom, but also prob­lems in Turkey, trade has come down. But there are a lot of com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages and com­ple­men­tary (fea­tures) be­tween the economies."

Turk­ish in­vest­ment into Ukraine, at least $250 mil­lion by some es­ti­mates, is ready to go higher.

"Of course, we should trade more," Tezel said. "Turk­ish Air­lines is will­ing to fly twice the fre­quency of flights."

Other bright spots are agri­cul­ture and the ser­vice in­dus­try. He also said that Turk­ish com­pa­nies "are com­ing in and look­ing at in­vest­ing in re­new­able en­ergy" in Ukraine.

Trade ex­perts be­tween the two na­tions are meet­ing in Kyiv as part of six-year ne­go­ti­a­tions to reach a free trade agree­ment. Agri­cul­tural tar­iffs ap­pear to be one of the stick­ing points as many na­tions seek to si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­tect do­mes­tic pro- duc­tion and boost ex­ports.

Tezel sug­gested that Turkey is not to blame for the slow progress.

"Turkey has ne­go­ti­ated more than 35 trade agree­ments. Ukraine is rel­a­tively new to this," the am­bas­sador said. "In all the cases, in all the agree­ments, we haven't been able to fully lib­er­al­ize in agri­cul­ture. It's no sur­prise. Ukraine is look­ing for a fuller lib­er­al­iza­tion, which would be not pos­si­ble at this stage."

Ukraine has a trade sur­plus with Turkey, so has ev­ery rea­son to reach a trade agree­ment soon, he said.

"Ukraine has the ad­van­tage," Tezel said. "We want to make the pie big­ger so each side gets a big­ger part of the pie."

He said, how­ever, the Ukrainian

side is "afraid of Turkey com­ing in too strong in cer­tain sec­tors" un­der a free trade pact. "We want them to see the big­ger pic­ture."

Con­se­quently, reach­ing a trade pact could still be many months away, Tezel said.

He added that achiev­ing a deal would "be an­other bonus, seal of ap­proval, sign of trust on the part of the Turk­ish and Ukrainian gov­ern­ments. Even with­out it, I'm en­cour­ag­ing busi­nesses to come to Ukraine and to put Ukraine on their radar, but also to con­sider real­is­ti­cally the risks."

Turkey has an es­ti­mated 15,000 cit­i­zens in Ukraine and more than 600 busi­nesses.

But Tezel said he still hears more com­plaints than suc­cess sto­ries.

Ukraine has not achieved a "level play­ing field" — mean­ing strong rule of law with trust­wor­thy courts, he said. "The faster it hap­pens, the quicker this trade will grow. If the in­vest­ment en­vi­ron­ment is im­proved as we all want, that's what Turk­ish busi­ness­peo­ple are look­ing for. The Turk­ish business as­so­ci­a­tions share our views on that."

Tezel said Turkey was able to at­tract record amounts of in­vest­ment in the last decade by strength­en­ing rule of law and ar­bi­tra­tion pro­ce­dures to re­solve business dis­putes. He said Ukraine must do the same.

Tourism boom & bust

Turkey's round of con­flicts with many coun­tries have hurt its vi­tal tourism in­dus­try, which ac­counts for 13 per­cent of the na­tion's gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by some es­ti­mates. The num­ber of for­eign tourists dropped from 36.2 mil­lion peo­ple in 2015 to 25.4 mil­lion peo­ple in 2016, a 30 per­cent fall.

In 2015, after Turkey shot down a Rus­sian war­plane near the bor­der with Syria, the Krem­lin re­tal­i­ated by sus­pend­ing visa-free travel be­tween the two na­tions and ban­ning some im­ports, such as toma­toes. The num­ber of Rus­sian tourists com­ing to Turkey de­clined.

After con­flicts erupted with the EU, Ger­mans and other Euro­peans also started by­pass­ing Turkey.

Ukraini­ans, by con­trast, are trav­el­ing to Turkey in greater num­bers than ever, aided by close prox­im­ity to its Black Sea neigh­bor and visa-free travel. A record 1.1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans are ex­pected to visit Turkey this year, Tezel said.

Tezel said that the tourism in­dus­try in Turkey "is pick­ing up again" as more Euro­peans, Rus­sians and oth­ers re­turn.

"Reser­va­tions for next year are very good news," Tezel said. "De­spite the prob­lems, Ger­man reser­va­tions have in­creased for next year. We have to go up above 40 mil­lion tourists again (each year). Some of our more tra­di­tional European cus­tomers went to al­ter­na­tive coun­tries. Now they're com­ing back be­cause the level of ser­vices, in­fras­truc­ture that Turkey has to of­fer is so good."

Rus­sian re­la­tions

Turkey has a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia. They have con­flicts over Syria and other parts of the Mid­dle East, over the NagornoKar­abakh en­clave in Azer­bai­jan, over Cyprus and other is­sues.

But Turkey re­fuses to join most eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed by the West on Rus­sia for the Krem­lin's 2014 mil­i­tary in­va­sion and an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine's Crimean penin­sula and the on­go­ing war in the Don­bas, which has left Ukraine dis­mem­bered and has killed more than 10,000 peo­ple.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Turkey — a NATO mem­ber — has reached an agree­ment to buy more than $2 bil­lion worth of S-400 anti-air­craft mis­siles from Rus­sia. The two na­tions are re­viv­ing trade in other ar­eas. Yet the sus­pen­sion of visa-free travel re­mains in place.

Turkey also re­mains de­pen­dent on Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas, too de­pen­dent to cur­tail trade and im­pose sanc­tions.

"Rus­sia has been a big file for us for cen­turies…with ups and downs and lots of dis­agree­ment," he said. "We in many ways dis­agree with Rus­sia but peo­ple still trade."

He noted that Ukraine's big­gest sin­gle trad­ing part­ner re­mains Rus­sia, de­spite nearly four years of war. The EU, which has im­posed sanc­tions on Rus­sia, is still buy­ing Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas.

"You still work and trade with them, with­out giv­ing up our prin­ci­ples," Tezel said, de­scrib­ing Turkey's for­eign pol­icy with Rus­sia.

Sup­port for Ukraine

De­spite Turkey's need for trade with Rus­sia, he said, Turkey "has not moved an inch on our po­si­tion on Crimea and the Don­bas." Turkey con­demns the seizure of Crimea and Rus­sia's war and has called on Rus­sia to change its po­si­tion and re­solve the cri­sis.

While Turkey plays no di­rect role in the peace talks, it has con­trib­uted in other ways. Its in­ter­ven­tion per­suaded Rus­sia on Oct. 24 to free two im­pris­oned Crimean Tatar lead­ers to Turkey. The for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiy­goz, were ex­pected to ar­rive in Kyiv on Oct. 27.

Also, Am­bas­sador Er­tu­grul Apakan of Turkey has been the chief mon­i­tor of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe's Spe­cial Mon­i­tor­ing Mis­sion to Ukraine since April 2, 2014, al­most from the start of the con­flict.

Turkey is also in fa­vor of some of the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

For in­stance, Turkey bans ship and air­plane traf­fic be­tween Rus­sianoc­cu­pied Crimea and Turkey. Tezel said Turkey also re­cently moved to more strictly en­force the ban after Ukraine com­plained that some ship own­ers were hid­ing their move­ments and their true own­er­ship be­hind false flags and false doc­u­ments.

Tezel said Turkey will con­tinue to en­sure that it does not le­git­imize the Rus­sian takeover of Crimea. "Why would Turkey sell out Ukraine and its prin­ci­ples so that a few guys will sell a few tons of toma­toes to Crimea?" he asked.

"We sym­pa­thize with the Ukrainian po­si­tion mo­rally and in in­ter­na­tional law," Tezel said. "We sup­port them be­cause that's the right thing to do. Strate­gi­cally and geopo­lit­i­cally, we need Ukraine to be strong and stand on its feet and have demo­cratic, in­clu­sive pol­i­tics, rule of law, suc­cess­ful re­forms and a suc­cess­ful fight against cor­rup­tion."

A gen­eral view taken on Jan. 2 in Is­tan­bul shows seag­ulls fly­ing near the Or­takoy Mosque by the shores of the Bospho­rus Strait, the world's nar­row­est nav­i­ga­ble wa­ter­way, which con­nects the Black Sea to the Sea of Mar­mara. (AFP)

Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk, the fa­ther of mod­ern Turkey in 1923.

Turkey's Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Yonet Can Tezel speaks with the Kyiv Post in his of­fice on Oct. 24, five days ahead of the hol­i­day to cel­e­brate the 94th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the mod­ern Turk­ish Re­pub­lic. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko wel­comes his Turk­ish coun­ter­part, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, as they re­view an honor guard dur­ing a wel­come cer­e­mony ahead of their meet­ing in Kyiv on Oct. 9. (Mikhail Pal­in­chak)

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