Turkey’s Approach on Ukraine War, Relations with Russia

2022/05/08 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Interview: An expert on Turkey affairs said that Turkey-Russia relations had become relatively strategic in recent years, despite criticism from NATO member states, adding: Despite the expansion of Turkey-Russia relations, in the context of the Ukraine war and application of all-out pressure on Moscow, Ankara does not play entirely on NATO field and does not act carelessly in relation to Russia.

Speaking in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Rasoul Alipour, referred to Turkey’s extensive and deep relations with Russia and Ukraine, saying: Continued military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine can affect Turkey’s economy, security and relations with Russia and the West. Therefore, under such circumstances, Ankara tried to be cautious in taking positions and pursue a balanced policy.

Threats to Turkey’s interests in Ukraine-Russia war

Stating that the war between Russia and Ukraine was against Turkey’s demands and interests, he referred to Erdogan’s telephone conversation with Putin and stressed the importance of Istanbul talks for peace between Moscow and Kiev and added: Turkey is now trying to pursue active diplomacy, to prevent prolongation of the war and to minimize its negative consequences as much as possible, and we are witnessing their various negotiations in this regard, including with the Secretary General of the United Nations.

The expert on Turkey affairs said that Turkey’s trade volume with Ukraine in 2021 amounted to 7.4 billion dollars and trade relations with Russia were 34.7 billion dollars. Of course, the bulk of imports from Russia were related to energy imports, and the volume of imports of agricultural products in 2021, reached 4.3 billion dollars and 1.8 billion dollars was for wheat imports. Turkey was gradually increasing its relations with Ukraine, and Ukraine was second only to Russia in terms of wheat exports to Turkey.

Alipour, while explaining the statistics released by the Turkish Ministry of Commerce regarding Turkey’s trade relations with Russia and Ukraine, continued: According to those statistics, 64.6% of Turkish wheat imports came from Russia and 13.4% through Ukraine. Turkey imports 65.5 percent of its sunflower oil from Russia and 4.2 percent from Ukraine. In addition, if we look at the Turkish market in recent weeks, we notice turmoil in some imported products, such as sunflower oil. People flocked to the stores and prices multiplied due to concerns about imports of products from Russia.

He said that Turkey imports most of its energy from Russia and in 2020, Turkey supplied 33.6% of its total gas imports from Russia, adding: Even in the crisis of the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey in 2015, Russian gas exports to Turkey were not cut off or reduced. On the other hand, although the war may not disrupt gas exports to Turkey, it can certainly increase the price of gas, which may have a negative trade balance for Turkey.

The analyst of Turkey affairs described the country’s tourism industry as one of the sectors affected by the Ukraine war, adding: The majority of tourists in Turkey are Russians, and tourists from Germany and Ukraine are in second and third place. In fact, 23% of all foreign tourists are from Russia and Ukraine. Turkey was very hopeful that by approaching the post-Coronavirus era, it would be able to make up for the past few years in the tourism industry this year, and had opened a special account in this regard; but Turkey’s tourism industry is projected to lose about 15 billion dollars as a result of the Ukraine war.

Alipour described statistics of Turkey’s expanding military relations with Russia and Ukraine, including the purchase of S-400 missile system from Russia and the sale of Bayraktar drones to Ukraine and said: Turkey has invested 29.3 billion dollars in 2021 in 67 countries and 384 construction projects in the field of building and construction in 2021, with Russia leading the way with 11.2 billion dollars and 38% of all Turkish foreign construction projects are carried out in Russia. Ukraine is also in fourth place with a volume of 1.6 billion dollars. The Russia-Ukraine war has severely affected this sector and has been considered as a catastrophe for this sector of Turkish industry.

Positive consequences of Ukraine war for Turkey

The expert on Turkey affairs however said: Despite such circumstances, some experts in Turkey believe that escalation of confrontation between Russia and the West will ultimately benefit Turkey, and although the crisis has had consequences for Turkey, it has increased Turkey’s geopolitical and geostrategic importance.

He explained: Proponents of this view believe that when tensions ease, the Eastern and Western blocs tend to pursue policies that are against Turkey’s interests; in the Syrian crisis, for example, the United States and Russia both acted against Turkey’s interests and did not cooperate on Turkey’s concerns. Thus, although the Ukraine war has had negative consequences for Turkey, it also has potentials that the country should strive to make the most of such opportunities.

Alipour added: For example, this war leads to the tendency of European countries to use alternative energy resources, which could increase attention to the southern gas corridor, which starts from Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan and reaches Europe via Turkey, and increases Turkey’s geopolitical importance as a member of NATO and the growth of transit revenues.

Turkey’s cautious attitude towards Russia

The analyst of Turkey affairs said that Turkey-Russia relations have become relatively strategic in recent years, despite criticism from NATO member states, and they have invested heavily in a number of gas, military, nuclear and trade projects, adding: Turkey is a member of NATO but has tried to be very cautious with Russia and believes that the war in Ukraine took place in pursuit of NATO policies. Prior to the Ukraine crisis, Turkey had concluded that although it was a member of NATO, the military alliance had been tested in various contexts, including Syria, and had never fired a bullet for Turkey, even on several occasions it has been hit by NATO.

Recalling Turkey’s accusations against the United States as an important member of NATO for supporting the coup against Erdogan, he said: Turkey does not play entirely on NATO field and therefore always uses the East card for regulating its relations with the West. Despite widespread pressure and sanctions against Russia, the country has not acted carelessly against Russia and Ukraine, and has chosen diplomacy as the solution.

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