Turkey’s “active neutrality” in the war in Ukraine | European | D.W.

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators met again in Turkey, mediated by the Ankara government. According to its own statements, Ukraine offered Russia a new system of security guarantees during the negotiations. The Ukrainian delegation announced that Turkey is also considered as one of the main potential guarantors. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin announced after the negotiations that his country would “drastically” reduce military activities near kyiv and Chernihiv.

It is not certain that these promises will be kept. However, the meeting is already a diplomatic success for Turkey because it gives rise to hope for a ceasefire in Ukraine, and with it, hope for a solution.

Ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan stressed that his country had no formal mediating role; however, Ankara was willing to create favorable conditions for the peace process. Even before the war, Erdogan had repeatedly offered to mediate. However, his advances fell on deaf ears in front of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Freelance journalist and Russia specialist Aydin Sezer.

For Russian expert and freelance journalist Aydin Sezer, this comes as no surprise, as Ankara had clearly sided with kyiv even during the war in Ukraine, despite close economic ties with Moscow. The Turkish government has concluded arms deals with Ukraine and has defended the integrity and sovereignty of that country at every opportunity, Sezer said in an interview with DW. In this way, Ankara sided with kyiv. According to Putin, Ukraine is not independent, so Erdogan’s mediation offer is rejected in Russia, Sezer explained.

between the chairs

However, since the start of the war, Ankara has taken a more cautious line. President Erdogan describes his position as “active neutrality”. Concretely, this means that it maintains close relations with the two countries, always preserves the dialogue and does not hope to be mistaken in this regard.

Beate Apelt, representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Turkey.

Beate Apelt, representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Turkey.

For Beate Apelt, from the Istanbul headquarters of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the Turkish president is acting in this way “out of necessity”. Apelt, who has long carried out projects in Ukraine, believes that Ankara has so far had satisfactory relations with Kyiv and Moscow. Turkey has also occupied a special position in NATO-Russia relations. If the war forced Ankara to take a stand, Erdogan would find himself in a dilemma, says Apelt, because on the one hand Turkey is a member of NATO, and on the other hand the country depends on Russia in many ways. respects.

Ankara’s relations with Russia

Above all, Turkey depends on Russian gas. According to official figures, Turkey gets around a third of its natural gas demand from Russia. Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, located in the southern port city of Mersin, is being built by Russian state-owned company Rosatom. Russia is the main export market for Turkish construction companies, as well as an important sales market for Anatolian agricultural products. Moreover, in 2021, Turkey imported almost 70% of its wheat from Russia. And year after year, about 20% of tourists to Turkey come from this country.

Beate Apelt has been following the development of relations between Moscow and Ankara for years. He points out that Moscow has repeatedly used trade ties to the detriment of Turkey to express its dissatisfaction with Turkish support for Ukraine. In 2021, Russia suspended commercial flights to Turkey immediately after a meeting between Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky. In recent years, more and more Turkish agricultural products have been returned due to suspected pesticide contamination. There is often a temporary connection with “undesirable” political movements in Ankara.

Close economic ties with Ukraine

But Ukraine has also become increasingly important for Turkey in recent years. As of 2019, Turkish companies are among the largest direct investors in Ukraine. In 2021, Turkey was even the largest foreign investor, with a volume of 4.5 billion dollars. According to Burak Pehlivan, chairman of the Turkish-Ukrainian Business Association, some 700 Turkish companies operated in Ukraine before the start of the war. Bilateral trade volume reached $7.4 billion in 2021. On February 3, Erdogan and Zelensky celebrated the signing of a free trade agreement with the aim of raising the trade volume to $10 billion by year.

Turkish President Erdogan next to a Bayraktar TB2 drone.

Ukraine has had Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones since 2019. Here, Turkish President Erdogan stands next to one of these drones.

Ankara also supplies kyiv with weapons, such as Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones. Likewise, several agreements have been signed between kyiv and Ankara for the supply of engines and other components for warships and combat drones.

Erdogan’s internal goals

Aydin Sezer takes for granted that Turkey will continue its current line of “active neutrality”. Europe also seems happy with Ankara’s current policy. For Hüseyin Cicek of the University of Vienna, Turkey’s current policy is a wise move, as Ankara’s support for Ukraine simultaneously means “curbing Russia’s geopolitical ambitions across the region”.

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether President Erdoğan will use the war in Ukraine to turn the political situation in Turkey in his favor, Cicek said. The ruling party, the AKP, is losing more and more support one year from the next elections. Successful mediation between Moscow and Kyiv could also help Erdogan curb this trend.


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