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Political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin says that Turkey’s relative independence from NATO is of interest to the Russian elite

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. President Putin of Russia and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey recently announced that they will hold a summit in St. Petersburg on August 9th. After 7 months of damaged relations and mutual sanctions, the 2 countries appear to be making up again. Last December, Turkey had shot down a Russian fighter jet near its boarder with Syria because it supposedly violated Turkish airspace. In retaliation, Russia stopped negotiations on a gas pipeline to Turkey and canceled all charter flights resulting in a 92% drop in Russian tourism to Turkey. Tourism makes up 15% of economic activity in Turkey. Now that the 2 countries might make up again it could signal an important shift in alliances if Russia succeeds in peeling away Turkey from NATO and it’s western allies. With us to discuss these developments is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Professor Buzgalin is a political science and economy professor at Moscow State University. He joins us from Crimea today. Thank you so much for joining us. ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m very glad to have debates with you and to have dialogue with you. PERIES: So let’s talk about Russia’s motivations here for repaying relations with Turkey. [Presimo] believed it’d be in Russia’s interest to peel away Turkey from it’s western allies. Is there anything else going on here in terms of geopolitical relations? BUZGALIN: It’s more political games than fundamental strategic changes. For Russia and for Turkey it’s very important to have mutual exchange because for Turkey Russian tourism is important. For Russia there is big chance we can go to Europe through Turkey with gases, oil, and petroleum there. Plus Turkey is a NATO country but very specific country which has [related] independent policy.  This of course is fundamental motivation for both Russian elites and government Turkey business to have future cooperation with Russia as it was before might be more [inaud.]. I want also to say that unfortunately both Russian and Turkey has very deep internal problems and we have economic stagnation and even small decline of gross national product plus continuing of inequality growth and some other big problems in our economy. Turkey also has no good situation in economics here. Plus of course there are limitations and restrictions of democracy in Russia.  There are the same problems in Turkey, especially after an attempt of coup d’etat and it’s also similar. Some form of visible features, I can say appearance of behavior have begun and Putin also have some similarities. That’s why we have now big new hopes, I mean not fears of Russian left democratic agenda or NGOs or social movements. But officials of Russia has new hopes for cooperation with Turkey and from their point of view this is chance to overcome isolation from foreign countries and to move forward to Russian cooperation with other countries. I’m not very optimistic about this plan but at least we have some small positive tends in economics here. Because as I said in the beginning cooperation with Turkey is profitable for both Turkey’s business and Russian business. PERIES: Now President Erdoğan in Turkey shut down 103 media outlets in Turkey. He’s also arresting a lot of dissent in the country. Teachers, professors, people in the military, and he’s obviously trying to take a greater control. Do you think that Moscow will turn a blind eye to this kind of activity because clearly some of the western allies are already stating their discontent with this kind of crackdown? BUZGALIN: There is so-called realpolitik. I don’t like this expression but it’s very typical to say. Of course it’s big problem when there’s some restrictions of human rights, freedom of speech and so on but there are questions of economic efficiency or geopolitical strategy and that’s why we must continue our population. By the way, Turkey’s a member of NATO and Turkey has a–even after all this negative anti-democratic service of propaganda, has normal relations with United States and I don’t think that US will start economic sanctions like sanctions against Russia because of Erdoğan made a lot of really very undemocratic steps and I can say with authoritarian attacks on intelligence, mass media, and so on.  I’m afraid that it will also be oppressions against all kinds of propositions especially democratic left position. And they will be or Erdoğan will proclaim that the democratic left position is or was supporter of coup d’etat or something like that. It’s typical for a [inaud.] leader to use such attempt for struggle against all possible enemies or so called enemies. Fortunately, in Russia, we don’t have such strong limitations of democracy. We still have radio air hub. Moscow which has [Pilmount] and sometimes absolutely primitive and stupid critical–[Putin] excessive to criticize economic-social policy in our country in Russia. But I don’t like personal ethics interconnected with model fundamental questions. PERIES: Until now Turkey has been on the side of the US when it came to the conflict in Syria. And it had insisted that peace in Syria would have to mean a departure of Assad. Now what’s interesting is this new alliance. How will it impact for Russia’s support of Bashar Al-Assad and how will Turkey weave it’s way through all of this differences? BUZGALIN: Really it’s a good question not toward Professor Buzgalin, it’s question toward Buzgalin and Putin. I can give only my suggestions about this question. I think that–and [Bagan] will find compromise between Washington and Moscow. I don’t know how it is possible but now it’s visible attempt to have a balance between these two centers and really it’s not very fruitful for both Russia and Washington because for Russia, possible of [Bagan] is from political point of view, from ideological point of view, from the point of view of principles, fundamental principles of democracy and some it’s not very good friendship or at least population. And before, a few months ago in Russia it was a lot of noise–a lot of information. I don’t know how it was true or not but it was a lot of propaganda that [Bagan] is supporter of Islam terrorism or that he has enormous amount of money from oil which is exported and this money are going to support Islam terrorists and so on and so forth. Now [Bagan] will begin friend of Russia. Not by befriend but being good partner for Russia. I don’t like this political games. Even though the [inaud.] people can understand that this is game interconnected with business, with geopolitical games and so on. I’m afraid that population upon negotiation relations with United States will be based on the same world pragmatic basis without any fundamental [bias]. It’s negative for Turkish people, for Russian people, US people, and this is not fun. After the words of I don’t know, academic person, it’s real important question. If foreign policy’s based on the fundamental values and strategy or it’s only game which must support leaders and big business. PERIES: Now on another matter, there’s a lot of speculation in this country that Russia had assisted WikiLeaks in tapping into private servers and helped WikiLeaks with all their leaks that were made in relation to the Democratic National Convention. And of course Donald Trump has endorsed Russia’s efforts to do this because it exposes the Democratic National Convention for their activity which was unethical. What do you make of all of this? Is this kind of thing even being covered in the Russian media at all? BUZGALIN: So we have only a few minutes, in TV it might be seconds better to say not even minutes. And even in the internet, I mean Russian internet we can find a few notes. A few small short sentences about this question. And this is not of course positive for our public, for our people. But what is important? As I said, we have restrictions for real freedom of speech in Russia but I’m sure that US has the same. And I can give you only one example. I mentioned this in our dialogues if I remember. When I was in [inaud.] I said, in Russia it’s very difficult to say something negative about Putin. And one of the Austrian journalists said and in Germany and in the United States it is impossible to say something positive about Putin if it is main channels. So in Russia you can criticize president of Russia. In small radio channel, not small federal radio channels but not federal TV channels. In United States as I know you cannot say that Putin or Russian foreign policy is positive and the really important for the piece in just TV channels of United States. So in some aspects we have similar negative process. And the same with WikiLeaks, the same with secret information which some journalist really positive intelligent people are trying to send to people. We have problems in Russia and I am sure that you have the same problems in the United States. I’m sorry for this [inaud.] but I’m not in details. I don’t know details of this problem. PERIES: No worries. Professor Buzgalin, I thank you so much for joining us today and I hope you join us and keep us posted on the developments in terms of the Turkey-Russia relations. Thank you so much. BUZGALIN: Yes. Thank you very much and I’m sorry to be a little bit tired but it’s midnight now in Russia. That’s why it was not simple for me to have this dialogue but I’m glad to be with you every time so when I can please ask me and I’ll be glad to command questions which I can command. PERIES: I thank you Professor Buzgalin for taking time off not only so late at night but also from your vacation. Thank you, have a good time in Crimea.  BUZGALIN: Goodbye. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Aleksandr Buzgalin is a Professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives, and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more then 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German and many other languages.