Turkey’s Strategic Objectives in Ukraine Crisis

2022/06/26 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online – Opinion: War in Ukraine showed once again that Turkey is a touch, meanwhile, an uneasy, but necessary partner for the West. Mahmoud Faazeli, Analyst of international affairs

As the sovereign power of Bosporus Strait, the country controls any access to the Black Sea. After the outbreak of war, Erdogan, the Turkish President banned the passage of the naval fleet of warring parties in the Black Sea in accordance with the provisions of the Montreux Convention. He employed his personal contacts with Moscow and Kiev to engage himself as a mediator at the time. Even now, Ankara is playing an important role to lift the naval blockade of Russia.

The recent visit of Sergey Lavrov to Ankara showed that there is still a long way ahead to reach an agreement. Although, Moscow is, clearly, responsible for the siege of Ukraine ports and Lavrov blames Ukrainians for the non-export of their grains, despite there was no success, it is yet clear that reopening of ports, naval mine sweeping at shores, and escort of cargo ships in the Black Sea will be possible only with Turkey’s accompaniment.

The importance of the Black Sea and control over the region as the only sea where the U.S. has no influence, reveals Turkey’s role as a security actor that can guarantee the implementation of the “Montreux Convention”. Turkey is he only NATO member state that has both the Navy required to provide security of Ukraine ports and has the right to have a larger fleet in the Black Sea for longer periods; because according to Montreux Convention, non – neighboring countries like the U.S. are only allowed to dispatch their smaller fleets temporarily to the region; therefore, due to its geographical situation, Turkey is a key partner for NATO.

NATO countries are stretching their hands to Erdogan again, as it happened during Syrian conflicts and asylum seekers’ crisis. The president of Turkey has no reservation to seize this special opportunity in favor of his interests. It can particularly be seen on the issue of Sweden and Finland’s demand to join NATO; in order to take concession from his European partners, Erdogan has been hindering this to happen during the past few weeks.

Erdogan is obviously optimist to seize his present situation to receive the green light from Moscow and Washington and to launch a new attack against Syrian Kurds after the similar operations of 2016, 2017, and 2019. If the naval siege is lifted, the Russians will pay a high price. They will agree with the Turkish invasion of Syria only if Ankara caters to their whims in other cases.

When Scandinavians join NATO, Erdogan will definitely receive concessions from his NATO partners. But, it is expected that he will lose his position as a mediator in the Ukraine case. In recent years, whenever Erdogan felt that beginning a clash even with his closest trade partners will be coupled with an advantage for him, he did not hesitate to clash, and has used his cards to make concessions.

Relocation of Russian companies from Europe to Istanbul was the most important agenda between Turkey and Russia within the past two months. According to available information, 43 Russian companies including Gazprom and other Russian oligarchs will relocate their main offices from Europe to Istanbul. It is expected that the whole process will start in July 2022.

The Ukraine crisis has impressed the economic interests of Turkey. Whereas some of the most essential goods required by Turkey are supplied by Russia and Ukraine, the crisis has left some effects on the inflation rate of Turkey and led to spiraling inflation because of the shortage of some goods that used to be imported from either Ukraine or Russia. Strong economic and political relations of Erdogan with Moscow and Kiev during the recent years placed Turkey in a difficult situation for reacting to the Russian occupation of Ukraine. Tourism is one of the important issues for Turkey. Tourists from Russia and Ukraine make an important part of Turkey’s tourism industry, which is now reduced because of the crisis. And this is the second important blow to the tourism sector of Turkey within the past recent years.

Turkey considers its ties with Ukraine as strategic and recognizes it as a likely supply source of technology and know-how for its growing defensive industry. As one of the NATO member states, Turkey has appeared to be one of the main sponsors of Ukraine within the past recent years. It has sold tens of TB-2 drones to the country. For the first time, Ukraine used drones last year in “Donbas” region. The export of Turkish-manufactured SIHA drones to Ukraine is of great importance for Turkey.

“Grain Corridor” was one of the main topics of the recent meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey in Ankara. In order to set up a safe corridor to transfer Ukraine grains to world markets through the Black Sea, Turkey and Russia made a further stride closer to each other. More than 20 million tons of grains that are to be supplied to world markets are now blocked in Ukraine. Before the outbreak of war, Ukraine used to export as much as 50% of its exports from “Odessa Port” the largest port on the black Sea. Turkey claims that it is doing technical studies and negotiating to sort out the grain crisis. The studies include mine clearing by Ukrainians, escort of ships by Russians after they leave the port until they arrive at concentration area through specific corridors, clearing the probable mines, and then provision of security for navigation of ships by Turkey.

It is expected that Erdogan will soon talk to Presidents of Russia and Ukraine about setting up the corridor related to naval passage to transfer grains. However, Ukraine will reject whatever agreement made between Russia and Turkey on grain export in which its interests had not been considered. The U.S. and its allies accuse Russia of blocking Ukraine ports in the Black Sea and preventing the export of its foodstuffs and grains to world markets which is categorically rejected by Russia.

As the second largest Army of NATO followed by the U.S., Turkey intends to seize the situation in favor of its strategic objectives. It means that Turks have not only turned to become one of the most active supporting fronts of Ukraine but also to bold their highlighted role as the guardian of NATO southern gates. In the course of the crisis, Turkey seeks the promotion of its regional and international prestige, it intends to strengthen its role in this field, and to use Ukraine crisis to serve its interests, and thus bring Russia and Ukraine closer together. Because of the biased stances taken by European countries in the course of the crisis, they do not enjoy having the mediation role, but due to its foreign policy, Turkey has the capacity to do so. In the present situation, Turkey will continue to proceed with a “positive balance” in the crisis.

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