More than three weeks have passed since the start of the Russian offensive against Ukraine. In this process, the Russian military forces, the Ukrainian military forces and the civilian population were seriously damaged. Of course, the damage to the civilians, the exclusive elements of the war, brought the crisis to a stronger voice among the international community. However, it would be appropriate to say that the international community’s drifting in an anti-Russian wave caused the crisis to escalate rather than resolve it. In such a situation, Turkey, with its rational and impartial stance, assumes a key position in the crisis.
Turkey’s Attitude: Multilateral Active Diplomacy
Turkey, from the first moment of the war, announced that the military operation against Ukraine was unacceptable, that the war would cause damage to international law and security, and that it supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine and invited Russia to stop the operation. However, this situation did not push Turkey to abandon its multilateral diplomacy efforts. By continuing its talks with both Russia and Ukraine, Turkey presents an example of diplomacy that is unique and in a way the world needs most right now.
Turkey’s frequent re-vocation of its mediation initiative, which it has repeated since the very beginning of the operation, will undoubtedly find a response on the ground at the end of the day. Because, apart from Turkey, there is no actor that can provide an environment of peace and diplomacy and that inspires confidence for both countries. The meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Antalya last week is an example of the atmosphere of trust that Turkey is trying to create for peace, although it has not yet produced any concrete results. Subsequently, President Erdogan’s frequent meetings with the leaders of the two countries and subsequently inviting the two leaders to meet in Turkey for a ceasefire and peace is a continuation of this goodwill process.
Turkey’s stance in the Russia-Ukraine war should be read together with the diplomatic initiatives it has carried out in recent months. Ankara, which will establish diplomatic relations with the countries with which it has problems in the Gulf, on the other hand, with Israel, and possibly with Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the upcoming period, also declares its position in the region with its stance during the Ukraine crisis: an active and effective Turkey. In this direction, Turkey’s main goal will be a regional peace built on the principle of neutrality and international law.
Turkey’s stance on the Ukraine crisis is misread, especially by the United States. It was thought that Turkey, which declared that Russia’s operation was unacceptable, said yes to the vote to condemn Russia in the UN General Assembly, and closed the Istanbul and Dardanelles Straits in accordance with the Montreux Convention, would be seriously concerned about Russia’s moves in Ukraine. Thus, at the end of the day, it was expected that Turkey would move in the NATO axis and the US orbit, and it was predicted that it would be dragged into an anti-Russian position by being caught in the current western wave. In fact, the US request from Turkey to deploy its S-400s in Ukraine, which was reported the other day, is an offer made in this direction (although unofficially). However, Turkey’s independent and impartial diplomatic stance is a clear indication of the increase in Turkey’s political and diplomatic capacity, rather than a break with NATO. As a strong NATO member and neighbor of the warring parties, Turkey tries to maintain the balance between Russia and Ukraine (and therefore Russia and NATO/USA) in favor of peace and stability. At the NATO Leaders’ Summit to be held this week, it is highly expected that the US and Turkish leaders will meet to exchange views on Turkey’s role in the crisis.
Putin’s Intention: First the Field, Then the Table
Putin, who does not seem to approach Turkey’s mediation at the moment, primarily wants to achieve success in the field. After the Soviet Union period, Russia made such a military build-up on a country’s border for the first time. This shows that Russia’s intention is a decisive victory on the field. However, Russia apparently could not carry out the Ukraine operation successfully, faced a serious opposition from Ukraine and could not get the desired results on the field yet. Russia’s desire to sit at the table by using its military superiority harshly, as we have seen in other examples -Georgia, Syria etc.- has not been realized in Ukraine yet. In my opinion, without this situation, Russia will not easily sit on the table. Russia’s already existing economic problems, especially in Syria, and the fact that its aggressive moves in the last 15 years – especially after the military reforms – have reduced the diplomatic influence and credibility, left it with only one branch to cling to: military power. Putin, who wants to play his only trump card correctly and sit on the table in a position where he can take – at least some of – his demands on Ukraine, does not seem to have thrown the diplomatic option aside at the moment. However, the “unacceptable” demands he made to Ukraine are an indication that he is not considering the diplomatic option, at least for now.
Possibilities for Russia
The invasion of Ukraine caused Russia to be subjected to serious sanctions by the USA and EU countries. The trade of Russian companies with the west was stopped, Russian banks were excluded from the SWIFT system, and even international brands closed their stores in Russia. Russia is facing a serious economic crisis and a shortage of basic necessities such as food and medical supplies. In such a situation, two options appear before the Kremlin.
First, Russia can take a step back in the face of sanctions and consider the diplomatic option. In this case, it can get rid of the pressure on the Russian public, which has already been struggling with economic problems for the last ten years. Because Putin’s popularity in the Russian public is gradually decreasing. However, in any case, Russia’s considering of the diplomatic path is postponed until after the military superiority it will gain in the field, as I have mentioned above. Even if Russia chooses the diplomatic path, it will prefer to take the military path as far as it goes by forcing its limits.
The other option is to bring Ukraine to its knees by maintaining the current situation. Here, all kinds of military and psychological pressure elements are used, civilian targets are hit and the resistance point of the other side is weakened. Putin seems to be on this option for now. However, if this situation fails to bring Ukraine to its knees, Russia’s other card may be to put pressure on Europe. For this, Russia has two trump cards: energy and immigrants. Russia is a country that can meet the energy needs of European heavy industry. This position makes her hand feel strong all the time. On the other hand, immigrants from Ukraine to the west will put Europe in a difficult situation, although its seriousness has not yet been discussed. Russia knows that Ukraine will send a serious migration to the west if it continues its current attacks with similar severity, and this can be used as a trump card against Europe.
Gain In Every Situation For Turkey
Russia’s ongoing attacks and further escalation of the crisis creates a situation that highlights Turkey’s geopolitical importance. Turkey is already a neighbor with Russia over the Black Sea and is in a critical position will be more important in the case of an escalating war. For this reason, the importance of Turkey’s geopolitics, which declined after the Cold War, is on the rise again. On the other hand, Russia’s playing the energy card against the west will strengthen the option of transferring Iran and Azerbaijan gas to the west via Turkey, and TANAP (Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project) will strengthen Turkey’s hand in its relations with the west in this sense.
On the other hand, if Russia considers the diplomatic option, it seems certain that Turkey will play a role in this table. President Erdogan’s talks with the leaders of 35 countries in the name of peace in a month and his frequent efforts to bring Putin and Zelenski together will provide Turkey with a serious prestige both in the region and internationally if the talks start. On the other part, due to its diplomatic stance in the process, it will be able to maintain its relations with both countries unharmed if peace is built. As a matter of fact, both Russia and Ukraine are the countries which Turkey cooperates on issues of strategic importance for him.
The Problem That The USA Does Not Give Up: S-400s in Turkey
During his visit to Turkey this month, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is reported to have offered to send S-400s, which Turkey bought from Russia and has strained relations with the United States, to Ukraine in order to protect Ukrainian airspace. Rather than considering this situation as a concrete step taken by the USA for Ukraine, it is necessary to evaluate it as a strategic diplomatic discourse in terms of US-Turkey relations.
American sources say that in an environment where Turkey is afraid of Russia’s Ukraine operation, the US has brought the S-400 issue to the agenda again, and thus wants to solve this “problem”. To put it more clearly, in the statement made by the experts in question, Turkey, feeling under pressure, is expected to resolve the s-400 issue as desired by the United States. The real issue, however, is whether Turkey really feels pressured by Russia’s moves in Ukraine.
Although Turkey is fundamentally against the war, it is obvious that it is not a party to the war of the two neighboring countries over the Black Sea. Turkey has multilateral relations with Russia in energy, defense and some other economic fields. On the other hand, it has relations with Ukraine in both agricultural products and, more importantly, in the defense industry, which has brought Turkey to the fore in the international arena in recent years. Considering these relations, Turkey has emphasized its role as a “mediator” rather than being a party to the war since the first signs of the war appeared. As a matter of fact, the rhetoric and moves of President Erdogan and the Turkish Foreign Ministry clearly reveal this.
The Russian S-400s are something Ankara has “paid the price” for it and sees as a matter of national security subject. Turkey was offended and removed from the US’ F-35 program in return for these defense systems, and the planes that Turkey even paid for were confiscated by the USA. Moreover, Turkey is still trying to get back the $1.4 billion it paid for these planes (by modernization of F-16s, etc.).
The US, of course, knows that Turkey will not send the S-400s to Ukraine. As I mentioned, Turkey bought the S-400s from Russia “at a price” and despite its strategic partner the USA, and deployed them to the country. For this reason, it would be more accurate to read this proposal made by the US Deputy Secretary of State on the basis of intentions rather than contingencies and concrete situations. Accordingly, this proposal of the USA can be read in two ways.
First of all, this proposal made by the USA is a move that could make Turkey a clear side in the war and decisively confront Russia and Turkey. In other words, it can be said that this offer is a rather dishonest way of telling Turkey to “choose your side”. Turkey’s mediation role reveals both the point reached by Turkey’s diplomatic capacity and Turkey’s willingness to play an important role in the name of peace and stability. Moreover, Turkey’s role and its diplomatic relations with both countries, despite the war, are of critical importance for Europe, Ukraine and the United States. Turkey has made it clear that it aims to achieve peace and stability through an independent and rational diplomatic process rather than choosing a side in the crisis.
Secondly, this proposal may have only been aimed at pushing Turkey to reconsider the s-400 issue, as it was not made through official means and US officials left questions on the subject unanswered. The USA wanted to emphasize that it still has not given up on this issue, that it is open to offers or that there are still things Turkey can do about it. Because it is clearly known by the USA that Turkey will reject this offer. Again, this can be read as a “not very sincere” sign of goodwill, an intention to reevaluate the relations.
There is only one move Turkey should make to the US’s S-400 offer: to remain silent. The fact that the S-400 offer does not come through official channels brings the possibility that Turkey may leave this offer unanswered and act as if it never happened. It would be more appropriate to remove this issue from the agenda with a diplomatic maneuver, since it will exactly make sense to make a positive or negative comment on this proposal. Turkey’s preference for S-400s over F-35s has already been clearly demonstrated in recent years. In the new process in the region, especially these days when Turkey announced that it has started the production of unmanned warplanes and the legendary success of Turkish UAV’s are appreciated, it is clear that Turkey will not give up the critical defense advantage of the S-400s in exchange for being included in the F-35 program again.
This article was published in Arabic on the ArabicPost website on 23.03.2022.