Unmanned aircraft have been used on the battlefield for quite some time, but to a greater extent they are still perceived by many armies only as a component of military doctrine, and not as an independent participant. However, the conflicts of 2021 on the example of Turkey showed that such technology can now play a leading role. Ankara with its “Bayraktars” caught the zeitgeist and loudly told the world about it.
The first Gulf War in the 1990s was a milestone in the art of war. High-precision strikes against Saddam Hussein’s troops could be seen by people around the world. The battles became public knowledge and part of the airwaves. From that moment on, the war ceased to be a closed territory. Gradually, it was more and more liberalized in terms of information accessibility for the masses and is now “documented” in real time, for example, in Twitter, available to every inhabitant of the planet.
In the current era of war as public property and hybridization of confrontations, Turkey has been able to declare itself as a party capable of easily working in such conditions and skillfully influencing the course of military conflicts. And, in any case, outwardly, not at all due to undercover games and secret agreements. Turkey this year has openly (and boasted on social media) used the tools of this renewed concept of war in its regional interests. And she burst into this sphere with drones, which help her to change the course of other people’s battles, to promote her own and NATO expansionist policies.
The war in Karabakh has become an excellent PR excuse for Turkey to explain to the world that now drones, in this case its own vehicles, decide the course of the battles, and the era of autonomy and seeming non-participation in wars has definitely come. Ankara managed to convey this to the world community. Politicians and experts began to discuss that now a third party can effectively help a participant in the conflict without getting involved directly in it. So “Bayraktars” in Karabakh became the main characters.
Further more. In October Ukraine used Bayraktars in its conflict zone. In the context of the growing tension between Moscow and Kiev, this precedent is critical. Earlier, when the topic of a contract for the supply of Turkish drones to Ukraine began to be actively discussed, the Russian Federation reacted sharply to this, accusing Ankara of trying to influence the situation in the conflict region. However, Turkey has categorically stated that this is only a business and it will sell its goods to anyone who wants to buy it. According to Bloomberg , since 2019, Kiev has received dozens of drones from Turkey and is preparing to accept new ones.
“Bayraktars” became such a loud topic that Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist of Japanese origin, commenting on the situation with Turkish drones in Ukraine, noted that they could change the rules of the game there.
In this context, one more factor must be kept in mind. At the expense of its military-industrial complex, Turkey has asymmetrically brought NATO and the United States closer to conflicts, from which they remain, in operational terms, at varying degrees of distance. They had the opportunity to receive first-hand data on the events taking place there. Actually, due to the introduction of drones in conflicts, Turkey is fulfilling its obligations to the alliance and the United States and smoothing out sharp corners. Indeed, recently, as you know, NATO members are not very happy with Ankara’s initiative.
Turkey has created a powerful base for the production of various UAVs. All these companies have close ties with the government, and the leadership of Baykar, the creator of Bayraktar, is part of Erdogan’s inner circle. Turkish UAVs are performing missions in Syria, Iraq, Libya, sold to Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Poland, contracts are being prepared with a number of African countries (and this is a large market).
At the same time, it seems that she deliberately goes into conflict in this area if one of the partners does not like Ankara’s business plan. With all this, in addition to aircraft, the republic has also created a line of competitive high-precision missiles, and most importantly, a full-fledged infrastructure and ecosystem for unmanned aerial vehicles – Turkey’s commercial proposals can be very attractive.
Such aggressive marketing of the Turks has become a thorn in the eyes of some states and, as I see it, including Russia. Moscow is very annoyed by this activity of the Turkish authorities – to such an extent that Bayraktar appeared even in a promo video of the Russian Checkmate fighter jet at a recent air show in the UAE. There, a Turkish drone appears when a voiceover speaks of the “enemy pawns” that the new aircraft will be able to destroy.
Russia also has drones – combat and reconnaissance, but so far most of them still need to invest money and time. In the foreseeable future, it will be difficult for Russia to interrupt the proposals of the Turks in unmanned aircraft. Plus, Moscow still seeks, if it does transfer technology, then to friendly countries, that is, the geography of supplies is limited. Whether countries friendly to Russia will be allowed to switch to Turkish weapons is another question. Although, for example, Kyrgyz specialists are already learning how to handle drones in Turkey.
PR at the expense of the UAV, President Tayyip Erdogan can easily convert into political bonuses. This is what he does, playing in parallel on the concerns and strategic fears of his partners. Ultimately, the Bayraktars, increasing Turkey’s international weight as an arms dealer, help it realize the potential of its soft power, humanitarian programs in the Transcaucasus and other Turkic countries, which are traditionally more Moscow-oriented.
Now, ideologically and politically, these states have somewhat weakened their affinity with Russia. Relations between the Russian Federation and the former Soviet republics have largely narrowed to trade. The social side of cooperation, it seems, is not formulated specifically enough. In this regard, Central Asia is logically looking for alternatives and finds them in the face of the West, the United States and China. Against the background of such a forced multi-vector nature of the region, Turkey successfully entered Karabakh, successfully penetrates the Caspian through Turkmenistan and intensifies the Turkic policy in general.
It is noteworthy that recently Erdogan was presented with a map of the Turkic world, which includes a significant part of Russia. This happened after the summit of the Turkic Council, renamed the Organization of Turkic States, that is, a more ambitious structure in terms of status. At the same time, Erdogan plans to expand it further at the expense of the Balkans, China and Russia, which cannot but be invited there. Nevertheless, Ankara declared a vector for the creation of a new economic and political pole. Not as powerful as Western or Russian, but united, at least culturally, historically and, what is important, nationalistically. Moscow and Beijing should now monitor the situation more closely, because the only goal of the renewed council of the Turks is to reduce their influence in the region.
Russia reacted to this in the official field almost neutral and even with humor. Behind the scenes, it is obvious that Moscow cannot like such a declaration of plans for Great Turan from Erdogan. Consider the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Russia can draw and color its map of influence.
Erdogan realizes that Russian policy is quite inertial and he has time before Moscow’s reactions and measures to counter the strengthening of Turkey’s position in the region. Therefore, “Bayraktars” fly to Ukraine, Ankara offers Moscow assistance in dialogue with Kiev, actively promotes the transport infrastructure in Karabakh as another component of the New Silk Road from China through Turkey. I think when the Caucasus and Central Asia, with the word “partner”, will automatically present the flag of Turkey in their heads, it will become impossible to force Turkey to leave the region with neither sanctions nor threats.
Humanity and distance
At the same time, Turkey is acting in the region quite carefully, trying to completely distance itself from the discourse about the preparation of “orange revolutions” or any undermining of the sovereignty and interests of partners.
In the countries of Central Asia, opendozens of Turkish schools, lyceums and colleges, including Muslim, imam-khatib. Along with trade, economic and construction programs, humanitarian programs are also being implemented, which, among other things, create jobs that the population needs so much. It is important to understand here that Ankara never forgets about the humanitarian component when it forms its foreign policy strategies. For this, effective separate structures and departments in the ministries have been created. The Turkish House building in New York can be cited as a vivid symbol of this commitment to the complexity of foreign policy approaches. This is a 170-meter high skyscraper in Manhattan, which houses various diplomatic services of Turkey and its main cultural center – a relay of the country’s global interests in the heart of a world power that has an opinion on any issue on the planet.
It is fair to say that the United States in the countries of Central Asia is also implementing humanitarian programs, increasing the percentage of English-speaking residents of the region. Washington works in these states through the USAID program in close collaboration with local ministries. Turkey fills the Turkic-Muslim niche there, both in a format similar to the American one, and by directly creating autonomous educational and non-profit enterprises.
In general, in the situation with the Turkic community, Erdogan uses an important trend of the modern world order. Globalization as an idea of the world regime has discredited itself in recent years; therefore, it seems more important to develop precisely compact regional associations with common cultural and economic interests. Turkey’s rushes towards the EU, the West, their organizations have not brought tangible benefits and are unlikely to bring it in the foreseeable future. The Europroject is practically frozen. It became obvious that no global community of aspirations could be higher than the personal ambitions of a leader or the interests of a compact group of countries similar in terms of mentality. Erdogan feels strong at the expense of the Bayraktars and their role in regional conflicts. And this helps a lot to promote the humanitarian component and get closer to the region.
It is obvious to the Turks that China is actively gaining a foothold in Central Asia. It is economically difficult to fight him, but it is realistic to compete with him through the humanitarian and political angle. They also understand that, despite the gaps in foreign policy, Russia’s positions in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus are still very strong. There are regional organizations in which Moscow makes decisions, there is economic potential. Therefore, of course, Turkey will not be able to completely take the region away from the Russian Federation, but it is capable of expanding in areas where Moscow does not exist.
In this context, Ankara expects to still enter the coronavirus vaccine market when the Turkish drug Turkovac receives WHO approval. Erdogan has said more than once that this vaccine will be practically free for those in need, without licenses and restrictions. And since vaccinations are now the new world currency, it will further strengthen Turkey’s position in the region.
“Military geopolitics in the Turkic world”
Should Russia be afraid of the growth of Turkish influence in Central Asia, the appearance in the region of “Bayraktar” and more and more Turkish branches and offices? Undoubtedly. It is comforting that the Turks are now not inclined to sharp turns and sharp confrontations with the Russian Feder-ation. The option to discuss at least will always be.
In relations with Turkey, it is worth remembering one important characteristic of its foreign policy – Ankara often acts first and then looks at the result. Due to its habit of being flexible, Turkey does not need to work out a strategy in detail for years to come, so that it can then be implemented with difficulty according to the approved plans. Syria was in many ways a gamble for Erdogan, but now the north of the country is Turkish. In the first hours of the conflict, Karabakh saw Turkish flags. It was risky, but the card worked. It can be expected that after a while the Turks, in partnership with Qatar, will return to Afghanistan, where it is not far from the Tajik and Uzbek borders, and the trade and economic potential is great.
Among Turkish analysts, the concept of “military geopolitics in the Turkic world” is becoming more and more relevant in relation to this renewed expansionist concept of Turkey. Ankara began dreaming of exporting arms to Central Asian countries many years ago. The activation of this direction gives the country political influence and all other bonuses, which Ankara perfectly understood and understands. Until recently, the problem was that the Turks had nothing to offer. Central Asia has flown Russian planes and fired Russian shells, but this trend is changing.
Turkey, which 20 years ago did not have modern military aviation, tanks, missile weapons and the tradition of their creation, was able to quickly navigate and start producing weapons that are in demand today. She was not pulled back by standards and years of engineering habits. In fact, from scratch and, of course, applying many successful foreign solutions, it has created and is creating multiple launch rocket systems, armored vehicles, ships, radar systems, manned aircraft and even missile defense systems similar to the Russian S-400 air defense systems. But the main success was the creation of precisely drones, the factories for the production of which are also exported to other countries.
In November, NATO even recognized the General Directorate of Civil Aviation of Turkey as an equal aviation regulator of the country in the alliance system, along with the national regulators of a number of other member countries of the organization. This means that the certification procedures, quality checks, permits carried out in the republic, as well as documents related to air transport and the field of civil aviation, will be recognized within NATO without the need for additional procedures. This means that civil aircraft from Turkey will be able to more freely enter Europe, for example, the Balkans in need of it. At the next stage, Ankara intends to develop this decision to promote its military drones inside NATO. And here it is quite possible to expect that friends in the alliance will help the Turks to better test its UAV in the post-Soviet space and will stimulate clients financially or by persuasion.
War never changes, and positions of power are often still more effective than defensive ones. In this conjuncture, Turkey did what the Colt company did in its time: it created inexpensive, high-quality and effective weapons and sells them aggressively. The Colt revolver has become a recognized cultural and historical fact. Apparently, Turkey is now trying to achieve the same with the Bayraktar.