Turkey, sometimes hesitant NATO ally, backs Ukraine


KYIV, Ukraine – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday agreed to increase the supply of one of the Ukrainian military’s most sophisticated weapons, a Turkish-made long-range armed drone whose combat use for the first time in Ukraine last fall has infuriated Russian officials.

Erdogan’s decision to provide arms and diplomatic support to Ukraine has been a public rebuke to Moscow and another complicating factor in the mix of cooperation and conflict between Turkey and Russia, historical rivals for supremacy in the region around the Black Sea.

The promise of more weapons for Ukraine, including an offensive weapon like the Turkish drone, is an extremely sensitive topic for Moscow, which says its security is at risk and it has no choice but to massage troops on the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainians, while welcoming diplomatic support, said they mainly needed more weapons to deter any attack.

The Turkish leader’s visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to announce the arms deal came as diplomatic dividing lines are drawn in the crisis, the United States, Britain and European countries from the East sending arms to reinforce Ukraine in case of war with Russia. A US airlift of anti-tank missiles and small arms ammunition continued on Thursday with the arrival of a seventh weapons cargo plane in Kiev.

At the same time, Russia denounced the Biden administration’s announcement that it would send additional troops to NATO countries, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov accusing the United States of “stirring up tensions on the European continent”. Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said on Thursday that the Russian military would send additional troops and equipment for military exercises in Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north, adding to the tens of thousands of soldiers already deployed there.

French President Emmanuel Macron pressed for a diplomatic effort in separate phone calls with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The calls are intended to lead to a summit of Russian, Ukrainian and European leaders to help defuse the threat of a Russian military incursion.

Mr Erdogan’s visit to Kyiv was mainly a show of support for Mr Zelensky’s government, but the Turkish leader has also offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, showing he is walking a line fine between supporting Ukraine and disrupting a complicated relationship with Russia.

“We are ready to do our part to end the crisis between two friendly countries neighboring Turkey on the other side of the Black Sea.” So far, no government has retained it.

Turkey is a member of NATO but also maintains economic and military ties with Russia. And the two countries are also opposed in two wars in the Middle East, in Syria and Libya, and in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the South Caucasus region.

Mr Erdogan said on Thursday he wanted to “lower tensions instead of stoking the flames” of the conflict, but did not back down from the arms supply deal to Ukraine, which was brokered to the first time in 2019 and expanded with a new agreement on Thursday.

Turkey has sold armed Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine which the Ukrainian military first used in combat during the war against Russian-backed separatists last October. The drone destroyed a separatist howitzer from miles away, surprising the separatists.

The missile strike suggested a shift in the military balance in the eastern Ukraine war using a NATO-supplied weapon, angering Russia. Mr Putin mentioned the drone attack last fall in speeches when he insisted Russia’s security was at risk.

And in December, Mr Putin directly protested the drone sales in a phone call with Mr Erdogan, saying the Ukrainians’ use of Turkish armed drones was a “destructive” and “provocative activity”, according to a reading of the Kremlin’s appeal.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksei Reznikov said Thursday that Turkey had agreed to locate production of the drone at a factory outside Kiev. The Ukrainian version of the Bayraktar will fly with a domestically produced engine. Turkey would also buy drones of this model for its own armed forces, Reznikov said.

The site would also become a training center for Ukrainian drone pilots, Reznikov said.

Mr Zelensky hailed the drone deal, which was a clear snub to Russia’s objections for years to Ukraine obtaining Turkish drone technology and its urgent demands last fall that NATO countries stop arming Ukraine.

“It’s about new technologies, new jobs and strengthening Ukraine’s defensive capabilities,” Zelensky said.

Earlier Thursday, in a bid to reassure Moscow, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stressed Ankara’s commitment to a treaty that restricts NATO forces’ access to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles Strait, which Turkey controls. The agreement, the Montreux Convention, prohibits aircraft carriers from crossing the strait and limits other warships to short voyages in the Black Sea.

In 2014, during a conflict in Georgia as Washington sought to deter Russian military action, Turkey refused to let US warships into the Black Sea.

Mr Erdogan has struck military deals with Ukraine and Russia, including the purchase of a Russian air defense system that has drawn criticism from fellow NATO members. This system, called S-400, placed Russian technology on the territory of a key Western ally; US officials were deeply angered by this decision.

But Thursday’s pledge to arm Ukraine at a time of threat of war with Russia sent an unequivocal signal, as did the martial-themed welcome Mr Erdogan received in Kiev.

During the visit, Erdogan stood to attention to watch an elaborate parade by a Ukrainian military honor guard and a marching band on the grounds of the Tsarist-era Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, used for official visits.

At the end, Mr. Erdogan greeted the soldiers with a phrase in Ukrainian associated with the country’s post-2014 struggles with Russia, another, albeit symbolic, sign of standing in the conflict.

“Glory to Ukraine!” Mr. Erdogan said. The soldiers shouted back, “Glory to his heroes!

Turkey and Ukraine also signed an agreement to increase trade between the two countries to 10 billion dollars, against approximately 7 billion dollars currently. The countries also signed agreements to deepen cooperation between their respective police forces and an agreement on closer coordination between their defense ministries.

The seven US cargo planes have so far carried a total of around 600 tons of military assistance, including anti-tank weapons and small arms ammunition.

The deliveries included additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the United States has supplied since 2018. Britain has airlifted around 2,000 light anti-tank missiles, known as NLAWs, to Ukraine over the past two weeks.

With US approval, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have said they will transfer more Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, plugging some holes in the country’s shoddy air defenses. ‘Ukraine. Poland also said it would send anti-aircraft missiles.

The shipments may have reached a significant tipping point, Andriy Zahorodniuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister, said in an interview on Thursday. With the additional British and American supplies, Ukraine now has more anti-tank missiles than Russia has operational main battle tanks in its army, he said, although Russia’s total, including including tanks in reserve, is even more important.

Ukraine, he said, does not have to achieve so-called “capability parity” with the Russian military – an impossibility anyway – to deter military intervention, he said .

“Invading someone’s territory is much more difficult than defending it,” he said. “The task of the defense is to cause such a level of casualties that it becomes unbearable.”

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