Turkey’s Stakes in Ukraine War

  • IASbaba
  • March 11, 2022
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  • GS-2: International Relations

Turkey’s Stakes in Ukraine War

Context: The foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia are to meet for talks on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum.

  • The talks will be held in “trilateral format”: that is, with Turkey present in the room as a mediator.
  • Ukraine has not yet confirmed that it will attend. Irrespective of whether the meeting takes place and its outcome, Turkey’s interest in the crisis, particularly in playing the role of mediator, is of significance

How is the relationship between Turkey and Russia?

  • Turkey, as the gateway between Europe and Asia, is a country of many parts. It is a member of NATO, and was at one time thought to be a natural fit for membership in the EU.
  • Turkey is also increasingly a religious conservative state, whose authoritarian leader wants to turn the clock back to Islamism.

Tensions between Turkey & Russia

  • Russia is a friend of Turkey but also an age-old geopolitical rival, going back to the Russo-Ottoman wars. 
  • For Turkey, Moscow’s annexation of Crimea has been a nagging concern. Turkey’s President has said Turkey will never recognise this “illegal” action.
  • Russia’s proximity to the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish rebel group, from the Soviet Union days is a major irritant for Turkey. 
  • In Syria, Russia and Turkey fought on opposite sides, Russia to preserve the Bashar al-Assad presidency, and Turkey on the side of groups fighting him. 
    • Russia-Turkey battle for supremacy in the region was played out in the small territory of Idlib in north-western Syria on the border with Turkey.

Growing Partnership

  • Russia is now among Turkey’s main trade partners. Turkey’s economy depends heavily on imports from Russia. In 2019, their bilateral trade was about $ 16.4 billion, and the biggest item imported from Russia was refined petroleum.
  • There is a gas pipeline now under the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey. 
  • In 2020, Turkey bought the S 400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system from Russia, and was sanctioned by the United States under its CAATSA law.
  • Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Ayukku in southern Turkey.

How is the relationship between Turkey & Ukraine?

  • Turkey is also a close trading and strategic partner of Ukraine. 
  • Their bilateral trade in 2019 was about $ 2.15 billion, with Turkey a major exporter to Ukraine. The biggest export in 2019 was refined petroleum. 
  • Turkey also supplies Ukraine with a lethal missile carrier drone, which Ukraine has been using against Russian tanks during the current conflict.
  • In February 2022, when matters were reaching a boiling point between Ukraine and Russia, Turkey’s President made a visit to Ukraine, and signed a Free Trade Agreement and an agreement to co-manufacture the armed long-range Bayrakthar drone in Ukraine.
  • Russia has been angry with Turkey for arming Ukraine. 

What is Turkey’s position in the conflict between Russia & Ukraine?

  • Turkey has described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as unacceptable and a blow to regional peace. 
  • Turkey has rejected Russia’s recognition of the “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk.
  • Turkey was one of the 80 sponsors of the General Assembly resolution titled “Russian Aggression in Ukraine”.
  • Turkey also invoked clauses of the 1936 Montreux Convention, a convention that put Turkey in charge of the Bosphorous and Dardanelles Straits, to bar the passage of warships through the Bosphorous Straits.
  • But Turkey has also said that under the terms of the convention, it cannot stop warships of the Black Sea littoral countries – Russia is one of them – from returning to their home base. 
  • Turkey has not joined the sanctions against Russia 
  • Further, Turkish President has said Turkey cannot abandon ties with either Ukraine or Russia.

Why is Turkey keen to mediate?

  • In its efforts to mediate, Turkey is seeking to take on the role of the regional leader. 
  • It may also help Erdogan shed his bad boy image in the West, where he is ranked alongside the authoritarian leaders of the world. 
  • It is also seeking to protect its considerable economic interests in the region, the stability of the Black Sea and the Turkish straits, its defence relations with both countries, and its oil and gas supplies from Russia.

Connecting the dots:

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