The Emergence of a New Turkic Space

The Presidents of Turkey and Kazakhstan October 2022
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s state visit to Kazakhstan on October 12, where he was awarded the first-degree Order of Dostyk from his Kazakhstani counterpart Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, highlights the deepening relations between the two countries. It also signifies tightening up relations among a larger group of Turkic states, in continuation to the joint statement on enhanced strategic partnership, signed by the two leaders in Ankara on May 11 of this year, which heralded an era of intensified economic and defense cooperation.

It is no exaggeration to say that, based on this bilateral cooperation, emerges a “new Turkic space”, of which Kazakhstan and Turkey serve respectively as the eastern and western anchors. This new space includes Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, plus Azerbaijan on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. These countries are all members of the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), a relatively new international body created in 2009 on the basis of the Turkic Council founded the same year, and which comprehends a full complement of subsidiary agencies and cooperative structures. Turkmenistan will become a member on 11 November 2022.

Diversifying trade routes

In this space, nature has endowed Kazakhstan with the largest quantities of natural resources, but the country also faces the greatest geopolitical challenges. Kazakhstan has borders of 7,644 kilometers (4,760 miles) with Russia and 1,783 kilometers (1,108 miles) with China.

Kazakhstan has been stung this year by its reliance on routes through Russia for the transit of its oil to world markets. Russia shut down its Novorossiisk terminal to Kazakhstan’s exports after Astana said it would be willing to export more hydrocarbons to European markets. Kazakh President Tokayev underlined the need to have reliable trade routes, saying, “Disruptions in global supply chains force us to take a revised look at the formation of efficient transit-transport corridors”.

To mitigate future threats to trade, the two presidents — along with their other Turkic counterparts, Georgia and China — are developing the Trans Caspian International Trade Route (TITR), also called the “Middle Corridor”. This endeavor is key to both Kazakhstan’s and Turkey’s economic security as it will consolidate an increasingly important Eurasian transit route, helping to unlock the region’s potential as a major global supplier of not only crude oil and gas but also wheat and other commodities.  

A more cohesive “Turkic bloc” of countries could act in better coordination among themselves. This development could help stabilize global commerce at a time of global economic fragmentation. In particular, it will serve the interests of Europe and the West, to achieve energy security through diversification

Guarantors of sovereignty

Presidents Tokayev and Erdogan have become inured to the geopolitical risks arising from the East-West tug-of-war that has played out for several decades in Europe and Eurasia. Erdogan’s solidarity with his Kazakh counterpart is understandable, as when, for example, he stated this month at a joint news conference in Astana that Turkey “will continue to support the stability, peace, sovereignty and territorial integrity of brotherly Kazakhstan, which has a deep historical background and state experience”.

This development is welcome. Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, Russia has been the main guarantor of the state’s security. Russia’s political and military heft has naturally decreased due to the ongoing aggression against Ukraine. Even before then, however, President Tokayev had managed to hedge his country’s strategy, allowing it to avoid the need to fall into lockstep with any foreign power.

As the Financial Times put it, Tokayev has engaged in “a diplomatic offensive to increase the number of world leaders invested in Kazakhstan’s stability and security” in East Asia, the Gulf, Europe, and North America. Notwithstanding Russia’s continuing “will to hegemony” in the region, its loss of military matériel in Ukraine since February of this year now provides all the littoral Turkic countries of the Caspian Sea with greater margins to realize their independent national interests.

The Turkic states vector

The emergence of the Turkic vector in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is a natural and promising development, but Kazakhstan and Turkey cannot provide themselves with the financial, economic, and technological basis to support the huge Central Asian conversion. While Russia is an international pariah, China and the EU states seem to be the natural partners to invest and benefit, from this tectonic geopolitical and economic change.

Once again caught in the diplomatic and strategic tug of war between East and West, the Turkic countries’ successful development of a new Turkic space, from Istanbul in the southwest to Astana in the northeast, would help diversify their trade and security relationships. This is a natural evolution of the post-Ukraine world order, and such a trend appears to be in the best interest of the region and the world at large.


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