On April 10, President Volodymyr Zelensky made his option to Istanbul to participate within the ninth assembly of the Turkish-Ukrainian Excessive-Stage Strategic Cooperation Council. The first objective of his go to was to solicit help from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in opposition to Russia, a extra urgent precedence than commerce and funding.
In latest weeks, Ukraine has been feeling the warmth. For the reason that finish of March, Moscow has been amassing troops on the Ukrainian-Russian border. In response to Kyiv, there are at the moment about 40,000 Russian troops within the space, not removed from the frontlines within the Donbass, and the identical quantity in Crimea which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Whereas Zelensky’s first port of name is america, he has good purpose to rely on Turkey, too. Ankara refuses to recognise Crimea’s annexation and presents rhetorical help to Ukraine. In a joint declaration, Erdogan and Zelensky pledged to proceed “coordinating steps geared toward [..] the de-occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and town of Sevastopol, in addition to territories in Donetsk and Luhansk areas”. The wording matches their final joint assertion from October 2020, when the 2 leaders met in Turkey.
Erdogan additionally re-committed to the so-called Crimean Platform launched by Kyiv and backed by the Biden administration, which goals to place strain on Russia. Turkey intends to make use of the international coverage initiative to channel financial help to Crimean Tatars in areas bordering the peninsula.
There may be substance to the Ukraine-Turkey relationship, not simply grand rhetoric. In 2019, Kyiv bought 12 Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Aerial Automobiles (UAVs), the very weapon system that gave Turkish allies benefit on the battlefields of Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Common Ruslan Khomchak, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, has confirmed plans to accumulate 5 extra.
The 2 nations have lengthy been discussing joint defence manufacturing, with Turkey benefitting from Ukrainian industries that had been reduce off from the Russian market and Ukraine acquiring entry to drone expertise.
The Turkish authorities is moreover leveraging its hyperlinks to Ukraine with the intention to have interaction the US. Whereas the reset Erdogan is probing with the West is bearing fruits relating to the EU, Biden’s staff has so far been ignoring Ankara’s overtures. Washington just isn’t taking at face worth arguments that Turkey is the one energy prepared and prepared to curb Moscow’s expansionism, whether or not in Libya, Syria, or the Southern Caucasus. Erdogan’s double act with Putin has left a lasting detrimental impression throughout the Atlantic.
Now the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine provide Turkey a possibility to reinvigorate its ties with America and the remainder of NATO after a lull. On the eve of the Erdogan-Zelensky summit, the Turkish authorities introduced two US destroyers, USS Donald Cook dinner and USS Roosevelt have been headed to the Black Sea.
The Pentagon was a lot much less gung-ho, noting that such deployments are a part of NATO’s common rotation association. Finally, the US cancelled the ships’ dispatch. Biden’s staff opted for imposing a brand new spherical of sanctions on Russia, linked to interference in American politics fairly than Ukraine, as a substitute of ramping up American army presence within the area.
Turkey is subsequently unlikely to take of venture risking a head-on collision with Russia over Ukraine. On the joint press convention with Zelensky, Erdogan referred to as for de-escalation within the Black Sea. There isn’t any indication that Turkey is ready to up the ante, sending direct army help to the frontlines, because it did in Nagorno-Karabakh or in Libya final yr.
It’s in no place to tip the stability of energy in Kyiv’s favour and, as well as, may need to face harsh penalties. On April 12, the Russian authorities introduced it was halting common and constitution flights to Turkey till June 1 due to COVID-19 worries. This determination, paying homage to the strain marketing campaign Moscow carried out in the course of the “jet disaster” of 2015-16, may need been pushed by real pandemic-related issues, however it additionally despatched a transparent message.
As Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker on the Federal Council (the legislature’s higher chamber), commented on Fb, avoiding visits to Turkey “could be a really highly effective response of [Russian] society to the statements of a nationwide chief who invitations Russians to trip relying on their love for the nice and cozy sea and never for his or her homeland”.
Most vital of all, Ukraine itself doesn’t appear to be in escalatory mode. For all of the finger-pointing coming from the Russian facet, Zelensky just isn’t beating the battle drum and amassing troops within the east. Doing so could be clearly counterproductive, as it might give credence to Moscow’s narrative of Kyiv staging provocations or, worse, present a pretext for an assault. Relatively, the Ukrainian president is attempting to construct diplomatic help.
US State Secretary Antony Blinken was in Brussels final week for a spherical of consultations inside NATO the place Ukraine was on the agenda. There, he met Kyiv’s International Minister Dmytro Kuleba, too. The Alliance would venture unity however probably not overreact to Russian sabre-rattling.
Turkey’s back-and-forth with Ukraine tells us one thing vital about its technique vis-à-vis Russia. For all its swagger, Ankara makes positive competitors with Moscow doesn’t get out of hand. Erdogan could also be a lot much less risk-averse than the previous guardians of Turkish international coverage, however he’s conscious that showdown with the Russians over the Donbass or Crimea carries a lot of prices and few, if any, good points.
With odds stacked in opposition to it, Turkey’s most suitable choice is “soft-balancing”: concurrently cooperating with Russia within the post-Soviet house, hiding behind NATO’s deterrence defend, and constructing safety ties with Azerbaijan, Georgia or Ukraine. As in 2014, Ankara will search to keep away from battle with out shedding face.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.