Turkey reaps fruits of Russian-Ukrainian tensions


Turkey is trying to position itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine amid fears of full-scale war.

Western intelligence agencies say Russia has massed up to 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and that President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion in late January. Should a conflict arise, Ankara, which has good relations with Moscow and Kiev, could be one of the main beneficiaries.

By selling arms to Ukraine and buying arms from Russia, Turkey appears to have already achieved some of its geopolitical goals.

In Kiev, Ankara is seen as one of Ukraine’s biggest backers against Russia, especially after Ukraine recently bought Turkish-made armed drones. Bayraktar TB2 was a game-changer in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

As part of the deal, Turkish company Baykar Defense and Ukrainian Ukrspecexport formed a joint venture named Black Sea Shield to produce Bayraktar TB2 in the former Soviet republic.

Reports suggest that the Ukrainian military now has more sophisticated military drones than Azerbaijan, which was the clear winner in the 44-day conflict against Russia’s nominal ally, Armenia.

In October, Ukraine used Bayraktar drones for the first time against Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region. Weapons could certainly prove to be very effective in a war against Russia, but they are unlikely to be enough for Ukraine to defeat the might of the Russian military.

Russia already has experience dealing with Turkish drones in Libya in a proxy conflict between the Russian-sponsored Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar and the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord. Haftar’s forces have successfully used the Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air defense system to bring down a number of Turkish drones.

Still, the Bayraktar could undoubtedly inflict heavy losses on the Russian proxies in the Donbass.

While Moscow has expressed “serious concerns” over Turkey’s sale of drones to Ukraine, below the surface, growing military ties between Ankara and Kiev do not appear to affect Russia’s relations with Turkey. In fact, Russia aims to increase its own military cooperation with Turkey.

Reports suggest that Moscow has started the transfer of technology for the production of parts of the S-400 air defense system in Turkey, and the Kremlin plans to deliver another batch of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Ankara.

In addition, Russia is in talks with Turkey and has offered to help develop advanced fighter jets.

Turkey is working on plans for the national combat aircraft – a nationally designed fifth-generation stealth fighter jet – and Russia wants to help build it. Given the current complex geopolitical reality, Turkey, with the second most powerful army of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations, could end up building jets with Russian help that could eventually be sold to Ukraine.

Turkey and Ukraine are strategic partners, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan misses no opportunity to stress that the incorporation of Crimea by the Kremlin in 2014 into the Russian Federation was “illegal and illegitimate”. At the same time, however, Turkish ships carrying construction materials made several visits to the disputed peninsula.

Even if Ankara verbally supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, it would continue to buy coal produced in the Donbass from Russia. Coal mines in eastern Ukraine are controlled by Russian-backed forces, and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic export Ukrainian coal to Russia. Moscow then re-exports it to several countries, including Turkey.

In the Russo-Turkish-Ukrainian triangle, Ankara seems to have the most pragmatic position.

Since the end of November, Turkey has offered its “intermediary services” three times to Moscow and Kiev. Erdogan’s desire to mediate between Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky is motivated by his ambition to be seen as a regional, if not global, leader. At the same time, it aims to protect Turkish interests in the Black Sea region, and this is one of the main reasons Ankara continues to help Ukraine.

Turkey is using Ukraine to counterbalance Russia in this region, while Erdogan, facing a currency crisis in his country, is in desperate need of a foreign policy victory to improve his approval rating. That is why he should continue to offer his services in Moscow and Kiev.

The Kremlin has already rejected Turkey’s offers, claiming that Russia is “not a camp in the Donbass conflict”, while the Ukrainian authorities have a clear condition: no deal behind Ukraine’s back. However, Turkey and Russia are used to making deals behind the backs of other countries, especially in Syria and Libya.

If the United States hadn’t been Kiev’s biggest supporter, Moscow and Ankara would likely have made various lucrative arrangements by now.

For the foreseeable future, Russia and Turkey – partners and opponents alike – should try to find a way to balance common defense contracts, huge energy projects such as the TurkStream pipeline and the construction of the nuclear power plant of ‘Akkuyu, as well as Ankara’s relations with Ukraine.

But even if there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, it is unlikely to have a negative impact on Russian-Turkish relations. Their pragmatic situational partnership will prevail.

This article has been provided by Syndication office, who owns the copyright.

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