Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey hopes to help defuse tensions between its NATO allies and Russia over the Ukraine crisis, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan due to meet his counterparts on both sides of the conflict in the coming weeks.
Turkey was “ready to do whatever is necessary” to avoid a war, Erdogan said in a television interview on Wednesday evening.
“I hope that Russia will not make an armed attack or occupy Ukraine. Such a step will not be a wise move for Russia or the region,” he said. “There needs to be a dialogue that listens to Russia and eliminates its reasonable security concerns.”
For months, Ankara has been calling on NATO and Russia to moderate their rhetoric.
Erdogan meet frequently and spoke by phone with Putin, and on Thursday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader was ready to visit Turkey, although the exact timing of such a visit depends on the calendar. and concerns about the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Erdogan is already due to travel to Kiev in February to meet President Voldomyr Zelenskyy.
Russia has implemented 100,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian borderr, raising fears among NATO members that Putin is planning an attack, in particular, to take eastern parts that have a large ethnic Russian population, where in the past Moscow has tried to exert influence.
Moscow says it has no intention of launching such an invasion and has instead asked NATO to prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance and to ensure that missiles and other military assets are not not placed near its border – demands that Washington and the alliance have rejected.
“By virtue of both geography and history, but also beyond that, more concretely, by virtue of economic, security and defense interests, Turkey has a stake in what happens between Russia and Ukraine, or what’s cooking,” said Alper Coşkun, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan.
By making a point of reaching out to both sides, Coskun said, Turkey is ensuring it is understood that it has a role to play in the crisis.
Turkey is invested in the Ukrainian defense industry, having sold it Bayraktar TB2 drones from 2019, which Kyiv has deployed and used to attack pro-Russian forces in Donbass in recent months.
This use of Turkish drones drew a sharp rebuke from Moscow, with Putin telling Erdogan in a phone call in December that Ankara was involved in “provocative” and “destructive” activities.
Turkish officials have since said they shouldn’t be blamed for what Ukraine does with drones; Ankara has signed agreements to sell more drones to Kiev and has pledged to produce jointly.
In September, Turkish drone maker Bayraktar signed an agreement to build a TB2 production plant near the Ukrainian capital, and in December Ukrainian officials announced they would produce the long-endurance Anka drone, made by Turkish Aerospace. Industries, in facilities across the country. , the engine being produced by Ukraine.
The same time, Turkey is involved with Russia militarily in a number of conflicts. In Syria, Turkey and Russia coordinate joint military patrols and ceasefire agreements in a very complex dance where US, Iranian, Kurdish and Syrian government forces frequently cross paths.
In Libya, Turkey has backed a UN-recognized government that is at war with Russian-backed groups.
Turkey is also economically dependent on Russia, with millions of Russian tourists bringing much-needed foreign currency to the country every year, and Ankara relies heavily on natural gas from Russian suppliers.
There are also the very real implications of Turkey’s geography: under the Montreux Convention of 1936, it is a duty to ensure access to the Black Sea not only for Russian warships, but also for those who would end up on the other side in a war, including Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
As NATO’s second-largest army, Turkey would be on the front line in any protracted war between the alliance and Russia.
“Turkey does not want to be put in a position to choose between Russia and Ukraine because it has relations with Russia in other theatres, notably in Syria, where it relies on Russia to control the situation and the situation. ‘prevent it from degenerating,’ said Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and director of the Istanbul-based Center for Economic Studies and Foreign Policy.
He added that Turkey also needed Ukraine, “where there is a budding relationship focused on defense industries.”
So far, Turkey has come a long way on the issue of Russian expansion in the region.
During the 2008 Russian intervention in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Turkey refused to lift restrictions on the size and number of American warships it would allow to cross the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and confront the Russia.
And this despite the fact that Turkey, as a member of NATO, had supported programs for training and equipping the Georgian armed forces by the alliance.
After 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, Turkey refused to apply US and European sanctions against Russia.
Since then, Turkey has refused, along with its NATO allies, to recognize Russian annexation as legal – but it has still not implemented these unilateral sanctions against Moscow over the occupation.
This contradictory policy towards Russia should change if a war involving NATO breaks out, Ulgen said.
“If it is a question of conflict, Turkey will also be pressured to align itself first with the sanctions policy, and that [be] a major dilemma,” Ulgen said. “And the second big dilemma would be on the ongoing relationship with Ukraine, in particular, whether Turkey will continue to supply armed drones or not. And there, there is very little neutral ground, in the sense that the answer can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and the two would put Turkey firmly on the same side.
Although Erdogan is unlikely to influence NATO over Russia’s demands, such as barring Ukraine from membership, Coşkun said it could play a positive role in launching NATO. a debate on what appears to be Putin’s greatest concern: the problematic nature of the European security alliance near Russia’s borders.
“The fact that we are even debating all of this right now, in this way… is a development that [Russia] seemed to want,” Coşkun said. “So it depends on the end goal in Putin’s mind. If it is about kinetic warfare, and to further advance its presence and dominance over the Donbass, it is very difficult to stop this.
“But if it’s more about triggering, really, an in-depth debate about Euro-Atlantic security, and how we can build an architecture where we will continue, maybe, to have our disagreements, but we can inject more stability – then this is something that Turkey can contribute to.