Turkey, between a rock and a hard place on Russian soil – POLITICO

Dimitar Bechevis is a lecturer at the Oxford School of Global and Regional Studies, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and the author of Rival strength: Russia in Southeast Europe and Turkey under Erdoğan.

Although it’s been less than a week, the war in Ukraine has changed the face of Europe – for the worse.

Outside of the immediate conflict, one of the countries most affected is Turkey, which has long profited from strong ties with both Moscow and Kyiv. Ankara’s delicate balancing act between the two partners is becoming much harder to maintain as fighting intensifies and the West puts pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. As part of NATO and as a regional heavyweight, Turkey is under enormous pressure to ultimately choose a side.

Currently, Turkey receives about a third of its natural gas supply from Russia. And although Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are often competitive, they have also collaborated on operations in Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus. In 2019, Ankara also purchased S-400 missiles from Russia, a decision that tainted its relationship with the United States.

Turkey also trades strongly with Ukraine and has ambitious plans to promote defense-industrial cooperation between the two countries, with drones purchased by Turkey purchased by Ukraine currently underway. carry out attacks on the invading Russian army. Turkey also considers itself a kinship of the Crimean Tatars and has made it public denounce annexation of the peninsula since 2014.

After trying to do it both ways in the days leading up to its invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has since taken several steps to challenge Russia. First, it has closure of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles naval ships, taking advantage of its rights under the Montreux Convention of 1936 in cases of war. At the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Erdoğan, the move was also welcomed by the US, although it brought with it mostly symbolic consequences. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been deployed, and even without deployment, Montreux is allowing the ships to return to their homeland. However, the closure of the straits prevented the Russians from sending more ships from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has also stepped up diplomacy to match its more assertive stance. First, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu description the conflict as a war – contradicting the Russian story of a “spetsoperatsiya, ”A special activity. This was followed by a fiery speech from Turkey’s permanent representative to the UN Feridun Sinirlioğlu, in which Mr. stated that the international community has a duty to protect helpless civilians. Erdoğan has called Russia’s invasion is “unacceptable” and state broadcaster TRT is also taking a critical stance on Russia, praising Zelenskyy’s courageous leadership.

However, Turkey has not given up on Russia. Ankara has not joined Western economic sanctions, nor has it closed Turkish airspace to Russian traffic. It also does not send new shipments of weapons and materials to Ukraine.

The wording from Ankara is that Turkey is a staunch member of NATO but must also take care of its national interests. This means that, in effect, Erdoğan is still trying to be the mediator between Moscow and Kyiv, an offer the first time he made during his visit to Ukraine in early February. Now that the first round of talks between the two sides, held on the Ukraine-Belarus border, did not lead to a ceasefire, Mr. discuss problems with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. More importantly, Zelenskyy mentioned Istanbul as a potential venue for negotiations.

Erdoğan has good reason to work on de-escalation – and it’s mainly economic. The war has taken a toll on the Russian economy as sanctions have destroyed the ruble, and this will no doubt affect Turkey, which depends on Russia for its tourism revenue as well as its markets. exports for construction services and agricultural goods. The spike in energy prices will have an even more devastating impact on ordinary Turks, whose income and savings have already been lost. runaway inflation This year.

Let’s not forget, Erdoğan is fighting for re-election in 2023. The last thing he needs is a fight along with an economic crisis. And the prospect of NATO being pulled or Russia ushering in a wave of refugees from Syria is even more terrifying for the Turkish leader.

The problem is that Putin shows no sign of coming down. The Russian leader tacitly threatened to use his nuclear arsenal against the West, and Russian forces doubled down on Ukraine, shelling and raiding populated areas in Kharkiv, the second largest city. two. Despite the heroic efforts of the Ukrainian defenders, the Russians are also moving towards Kyiv.

Putin after a military victory, not a settlement. Once he captures Ukraine’s capital, he may be ready to talk to the West again. But he would expect a phone call from US President Joe Biden, not from Erdoğan or French President Emmanuel Macron.

Erdoğan wants to see Turkey as a driving force and shaker in European geopolitics. Ready between Russia and the Western alliance, the Turkish leader has long played the two against each other, offering his best solution. However, when it comes to the new fight, he is currently very concerned about getting results.

Of course, there is no harm in having Turkey play the role of a pacifist. Given the opportunity, we should all hope that Erdoğan will succeed. For that to happen, however, Ukraine must first be able to thwart a Russian onslaught with the help of the West. As long as Putin thinks he can win, he won’t heed Erdoğan’s calls for restraint.

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