Explained: Turkey’s stakes in the war

The foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia are due to meet on Thursday for talks on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum in Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the talks would be held in a “trilateral format”, i.e. with Turkey present in the room as a mediator.

Turkey has sought to mediate between Russia and Ukraine since tensions rose. “Following the initiatives of President @RTErdogan and our intensive diplomatic efforts, Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine have decided to meet with my participation on the sidelines of @AntalyaDF,” Cavusoglu tweeted.

Ukraine has not yet confirmed its participation. Regardless of the holding of the meeting and its outcome, Turkey‘s interest in the crisis, including playing the role of mediator, is significant.


Turkey, gateway between Europe and Asia, is a multi-faceted country. It is a member of NATO and was at one time seen as a natural candidate for EU membership. But it is also increasingly a conservative religious state, whose authoritarian leader wants to roll back Islamism. Russia is a friend of Turkey but also a centuries-old geopolitical rival, dating back to the Russo-Ottoman wars. For Turkey, the annexation of Crimea by Moscow is a nagging concern; President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would never recognize this “illegal” action.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv last month. (AP)

Russia’s closeness to the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish rebel group, since the days of the Soviet Union is a major irritant for Turkey. In Syria, Russia and Turkey fought on opposite sides, Russia to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s presidency, and Turkey alongside the groups fighting him. A parallel spectacle was the Russian-Turkish battle for supremacy in the region, as it unfolded in the small territory of Idlib in northwestern Syria, on the border with Turkey.

Although Turkey was part of a Western coalition against the Assad regime, it always viewed the Syrian Democratic Force as an extension of the PKK, dominated as it was by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

But Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin overcame a particularly bad phase in Moscow-Ankara relations after Turkish forces shot down a Russian fighter jet. Russia is now one of Turkey’s main trading partners. The Turkish economy is highly dependent on imports from Russia. In 2019, their two-way trade was around $16.4 billion, and the largest item imported from Russia was refined petroleum. There is now a gas pipeline under the Black Sea between Russia and Turkey. In 2020, Turkey purchased the S 400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defense system from Russia and was sanctioned by the United States under its CAATSA law. Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Ayukku, southern Turkey.

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Turkey is also a close commercial and strategic partner of Ukraine. Their bilateral trade in 2019 was around $2.15 billion, with Turkey being a major exporter to Ukraine. The biggest export in 2019 was refined petroleum. Turkey is also supplying Ukraine with a drone carrying deadly missiles, which Ukraine has used against Russian tanks during the current conflict.

In February, as things reached a boiling point between Ukraine and Russia, Erdogan visited Kiev and signed a free trade agreement and an agreement to co-manufacture the long-range armed drone. Bayrakthar in Ukraine. Russia is angry with Turkey for arming Ukraine. Earlier, the West was angry with Turkey for supplying the drones to the Azerbaijani army during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and several international companies that supplied parts and drone technology to Turkey announced a boycott .

It seems that Turkey has indigenized the necessary parts for the drone. The company that manufactures the drones is owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law, Selcuk Bayrakthar.

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Turkey in the conflict

Turkey called the Russian invasion of Ukraine unacceptable and a blow to regional peace. She rejected Russia’s recognition of the “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk. He used the word “war” five days after the invasion and was one of 80 sponsors of the General Assembly resolution titled “Russian Aggression in Ukraine”.

Turkey also invoked the clauses of the Montreux Convention of 1936, a convention which gave Turkey responsibility for the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles, to prohibit the passage of warships through the Bosphorus Strait.

But Turkey has also said that under the terms of the convention it cannot prevent warships from countries bordering the Black Sea – Russia being one of them – from returning to their home ports. Furthermore, Erdogan said that Turkey cannot abandon its relations with Ukraine or Russia.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey cannot block all Russian warships accessing the Black Sea due to a clause in the pact exempting those returning to their registered base. “There should be no abuse of this exemption. Ships that declare to return to their bases and cross the strait should not be involved in the war,” he said.

In its mediation efforts, Turkey seeks to assume the role of regional leader. It may also help Erdogan shed his bad boy image in the West, where he is ranked alongside authoritarian world leaders. Turkey has not signed on to sanctions against Russia, but after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week, Cavusoglu said Turkey and the United States would remain in “close coordination” to find a solution. diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine.

It also seeks to protect its considerable economic interests in the region, the stability of the Black Sea and the Turkish Straits, its defense relations with both countries and its oil and gas supplies from Russia.

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