Turkey moves between Moscow and Kiev due to economic interests

As the host of the talks between Moscow and Kiev, Turkey intends to play a major role in ending the war in Ukraine. Ankara has a balance between the two sides that has its roots in the deep ties of Turkey’s troubled economy with the two countries involved in the conflict.

Turkey is at the heart of the diplomatic chessboard between Ukraine and Russia. After peace talks held in Istanbul from March 28-30, a senior Turkish official said on Friday (April 8) that Kyiv and Moscow still “agree” to resume talks despite the discovery of Russian violations on the ground recently, particularly in the town of Butch.

“[Les deux pays] They agreed to hold talks in Turkey, but they are still far from agreeing on a common text,” this high-ranking official, who wished to remain anonymous, told reporters. Indeed, on Thursday, April 7, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed during A visit to Brussels “Russia and Ukraine seem ready to meet again in Istanbul.”

This choice of Turkey as a negotiating ground owes nothing to chance. Ankara saved both sides even before the conflict began. On February 23 – on the eve of the Russian invasion – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly articulated this contradiction by declaring that he “cannot give up” neither Ukraine nor Russia.

According to this approach, Turkish diplomacy called the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 “unacceptable” and a “serious violation of international law”. Four days later, Ankara agreed to Kyiv’s request to recognize the conflict as a war. According to the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey subsequently closed access to most warships to the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.

At the same time, Ankara opposed Western sanctions against Moscow: Mevlut Cavusoglu privately declared that the Russian oligarchy “of course” remained welcome in Turkey and the freedom to do business there, in accordance with international law. This is where many yachts owned by Russian billionaires like Roman Abramovich have found refuge.

Thus, Turkey occupies a unique position, “pro-Ukrainian” but “not frankly anti-Russian,” as summed up with France 24 Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund.

Moscow, Ankara’s main economic partner

The “economic crisis” that Turkey has been experiencing in recent years is “what matters most to it in its calculations.” [actuels],” also explains Howard Eisenstadt, a Turkey specialist at St. Lawrence University in New York State and at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, contacted by France 24.

The Turkish lira lost 47% of its value in 2021, and prices rose more than 54% at the same time. This record inflation over the past 20 years has been a new turning point for Turkey, which has been shaken since 2018 by the monetary crisis.

Turkey does not want to “ alienate” Moscow, as Howard Eisenstadt points out, because it will find itself “too weak.” [sur le plan économique] In the event of the loss of wheat, gas and Russian oil.”

Russia is a major trading partner for Ankara, supplying it with 45% of its natural gas consumption and 70% of its wheat – an especially important import given the high prices of bread, a major source of discontent in Turkey. Finally, Russians are also important to the Turkish tourism sector: 4.7 million visitors (or 19% of the total in 2021) went there last year.

“Competitive cooperation” between Turkey and Russia

Ankara and Moscow also share a common past marked by many rivalries. between sixteenAnd and XXAnd In the last century, Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire clashed more than a dozen times. At the beginning of the Cold War (1952), Kemalist Turkey – anti-communist and pro-Western – joined NATO and hosted US nuclear missiles on its soil, which irritated the Soviets until their withdrawal after the Cuban missile. Crisis (1962).

The last diplomatic crisis between the two countries dates back to 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane near the Syrian border. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official apologies quickly put an end to the sanctions imposed by Moscow in response, leading to a rapid improvement in relations between the two countries.

This last model in Russian-Turkish relations can be described as “competitive cooperation” in the sense that the support that Ankara and Moscow provide to competing powers abroad “does not prevent them from cooperating in the areas of energy and trade,” says Ozgur Unlu Hisarcıkli. . Thus, the two countries supported opposing camps in several conflicts, whether in Syria, Libya or Nagorno-Karabakh.

In 2016, the failed coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdogan paved the way for deepening relations between Ankara and Moscow. The Turkish government felt that it did not get enough support from the West after this coup attempt, and Vladimir Putin “succeeded in raising more suspicion in the minds. [du président turc]”, analyzes Riley Barry, a Turkey specialist at Harvard University, contacted by France 24.

“The Russian president achieved the desired effect of driving a wedge between NATO allies when Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 missile system, a major red line that must not be crossed for a NATO member,” the researcher continues. To add that Ankara has positioned itself by seeing Moscow “as a potentially significant protection force in the event that relations with Western countries do not suit its interests.”

With the war in Ukraine, this increasing proximity of Ankara to Moscow could make Turkey “very weak if it used the same language.” [que l’Occident] to condemn Russia,” according to Riley Barry. A threat that would also be very close: “The United States and other countries that do not share a sea with Russia and are not only separated by another country [la Géorgie]”.

‘Long-term economic interests’ in Ukraine

Besides this proximity to Moscow, Turkey also has economic ties with Ukraine. Kyiv accounts for 15% of Ankara’s wheat imports, making it its second largest supplier after Russia. Ukraine is also Turkey’s third largest source of tourism: about two million people came to it for vacation in 2021.

Moreover, Turkey’s burgeoning defense sector established important relations with Ukraine prior to the current conflict. Among the numerous partnerships with Ankara, Kyiv established on its territory in 2021 a factory for the joint production of the Bayraktar TB2 combat unmanned aircraft – designed by Baykar, whose chief technology officer was the son-in-law of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This Turkish military industry is famous for its effectiveness in war zones, both for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and now for Ukraine against Russia. kyiv has also signed contracts to manufacture engines that will serve both new models of the TB2 drone and a future Turkish military helicopter.

Long-term economic interests [de la Turquie en Ukraine signifient qu’elle] He doesn’t see any potential benefit to Russia taking over [du pays]Howard Eisenstat explains. This explains why Ankara wanted to “support Ukraine with a low voice,” he continues, while wanting to avoid alienating Russia.

So far, Ankara’s balanced law allows it to maintain correct relations with both parties. Turkey hosted the peace talks last week, but it is also expected to host Russian and Ukrainian negotiators soon to resume those talks.

“Both countries are ready to play with Ankara,” concludes Howard Eisenstadt. “Moscow does not complain about Bayraktar’s drones, Kyiv does not complain about the lack of Turkish sanctions. They both praise Turkey because they want Ankara to be on their side as much as possible.”

Article translated from English by Jean-Luc Meunier. The original version can be read here.

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