Last week, Turkish, and after them so-me Russian media wrote about the threat of a clash between the military of Turkey and Russia. Such a development of events is allegedly possible if the tension in the southeast of Ukraine goes into a hot phase. Since Turkey is a NATO country, this scenario is theoretically permissible. However, the real situation is much more complicated. Ankara and Moscow have long built exclusive relations and learned to negotiate on many controversial issues. Moreover, Turkey seeks to mediate in the growing crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the West. We are looking at what Ankara can offer to resolve the crisis and to what extent Moscow and Kiev are interested in Turkish participation.
As Haberturk journalist Cetiner Cetin wrote last week, the risk of a clash between Russia and Turkey is primarily related to the fact that NATO has put its Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) on high alert. This is a special unit that emerged in 2014 to contain Russia amid the Ukrainian crisis.
According to media reports, the VJTF is capable of deploying tens of thousands of fighters in the conflict region within five days. The unit is alternately commanded by different NATO countries. So, in 2019, it was led by Germany, and in 2020 – by Poland. In 2021, Turkey is in charge of command – the second largest army in NATO after the United States. This aroused the fears of the Haberturk journalist that the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine could affect Russian-Turkish relations.
“There is a very risky situation here, which greatly worries Ankara <…> The command center of the VJTF is currently under the jurisdiction of Turkey,” the observer writes. However, in 2022, that is, in a matter of days, the command of the VJTF will pass to France.
The role of the mediator
Despite the fact that Turkey is a NATO country, Ankara calls on both Russia and the alliance to find ways to overcome differences. As Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said recently, most NATO members are disposed to dialogue with Russia.
“We hope that the tension will be overcome through dialogue. We want to continue to develop our relations with Russia,” he said at a press conference in Ankara.
The diplomat added that Turkey stands for “reducing tension in the region” and is ready to play the role of a mediator between Russia and NATO if such work is needed.
This is not the first time Turkey has spoken about its readiness to become a mediator. And not only between Russia and the West, but also between Russia and Ukraine. Over the past month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has twice stated that Ankara is not only ready, but would like to participate in establishing a dialogue between Moscow and Kiev. He said the same thing in the spring, calling for an end to the escalation in Donbass as soon as possible.
According to the statements of the Turkish side, it is ready to organize direct contact between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky. In addition, it was reported that President Erdogan even transferred to Moscow a list of Zelensky of 450 Ukrainian citizens who are allegedly held in Donbass and Russia. The Kremlin left this information without comment.
In Moscow, the statements of the Turkish side about mediation in the Ukrainian crisis were treated with caution. Both the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry reminded that Russia is not a party to the conflict, and therefore “there can be no talk of any mediating role of Turkey between Russia and Ukraine <…>.” At the same time, the issue was discussed at the highest level, in a telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan on December 3.
For many years Russia has been declaring that a solution to the Ukrainian crisis is possible only through Kiev’s implementation of the Minsk agreements. Diplomats and top officials of the Russian Federation have spoken about this more than once. The Kremlin actually answered the same to Ankara. That is, if Turkey finds arguments to convince Kiev to comply with the Minsk agreements, Moscow will support and appreciate these efforts.
“We are undoubtedly grateful to the Turkish side and in particular to the President of Turkey for the desire to promote the internal Ukrainian settlement, said the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova. to fulfill the Minsk agreements in direct dialogue with representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk, “she summed up.
At the same time, for Russia, the whole essence of the Ukrainian problem comes down not to the fact that Moscow cannot find a common language with Kiev, but to the fact that the Kiev authorities are directly dependent on Washington, which seeks to expand NATO at the expense of Ukrainian territory. Moscow is outraged by the supply of more advanced weapons to Ukraine. According to the Kremlin, such “pumping” directly threatens Russia, since it contributes not only to the escalation of the conflict in Donbass, but also accelerates Ukraine’s entry into NATO. Both are clearly violating the “red lines” of Moscow, and therefore Vladimir Putin prefers to talk about the fate of Ukraine not with Zelensky or even Erdogan, but directly with Joe Biden.
Turkish-Ukrainian military friendship
Without much enthusiasm, Moscow is also watc-hing the military cooperati-on between Kiev and Ank-ara, which has been actively developing in recent years. This is especially true for the sale of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones.
At the end of October, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) first used these drones in battle. Without entering the airspace of the DPR, the device fired ammunition from a distance of 8 km, hitting the artillery position of the militia. The incident was a gross violation of the Minsk agreements, as well as measures to strengthen the silence regime, which were agreed in July 2020. The use of drones was condemned even by the OSCE.
However, it seems that Kiev is only preparing to increase the use of drones. In September 2021, Ukraine and Turkey signed an agreement for the supply of 48 more Bayraktar. The parties are also negotiating to open a plant in Ukraine, where a full cycle of production of these drones can be established.
The countries are also discussing the joint production of corvettes and military transport aircraft An-178. In 2020, they signed an agreement on the joint production of gas turbine engines, including for military aviation.
Because of this, the Ru-ssian side cannot assess the role of Turkey in the Ukrai-nian crisis as an unambiguously positive factor. Moreover, Ankara periodically reminds of the non-recognition of the “annexation of Crimea”, supports the membership of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, encourages the alliance’s dangerous military exercises in the Black Sea.
Turkey’s desire to become a mediator between Russia and the West (including Ukraine) can be easily explained. Ankara admits that the military rhetoric between the parties has escalated to a dangerous level, and therefore would like to achieve a reduction in tension. First of all, for the sake of maintaining their ties with both Ukraine and Russia, as well as for the sake of peace in the entire region. A direct clash between the parties to the conflict will force Ankara to take sides. Obviously, this will primarily affect relations with Russia, which have continued to improve in recent years. Against the background of the deepening financial and economic crisis, it is especially unprofitable for Turkey to lose such a large and important partner.
This means that the best solution for Turkey is to maintain the status quo. Thus, despite its largely pro-Western positions, Ankara opposes sanctions against Russia and “does not believe that sanctions can solve problems.”
“We do not approve and do not support any conflict between these two countries (Russia and Ukraine – TASS note) and are trying to fulfill the task set before us to reduce tensions,” said the representative of the Turkish leader Ibrahim Kalyn. “Many Western countries do not have constructive direct relations with Russia, but Turkey has this special position,” he said.
Also, the Turkish authorities periodically remind that, first of all, they are friends not against someone, but for the benefit of themselves.
“There should not be an opinion that Turkey is sending UAVs to Ukraine because of the tension [with Russia],” said Ismail Demir, head of the country’s defense industry department. The department called the deal “the implementation of old agreements,” which have nothing to do with the aggravation of the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said the same, noting that the drones used by Kiev cannot be called Turkish at all after the agreement on the sale.
At the same time, Turkey points out that they are not going to ignore their principles and curtail relations with Ukraine “simply because we have extensive ties with Russia.” Ankara has repeatedly noted its commitment to strategic partnership with Kiev and the expansion of mutual cooperation with it. Thus, Turkey’s calls for mediation and a peaceful settlement are aimed at first of all ensuring its own interests, while continuing to direct its diplomatic efforts towards finding balances, which, of course, is an extremely difficult diplomatic and political task.