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Current Status of Russia-Turkey Relations

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan headed for Ukraine on February 3rd on the occasion of the 8th meeting of the Turkey-Ukraine High-Level Strategic Council. Erdogan made some harsh statements, which gained currency in the world, against Russia about the developments in Idlib before he set out to Kyiv in the airport.

Erdogan, who mentioned the killing of 8 Turkish soldiers and the advance of nearly 1 million refugees to the Turkish border as a result of the attack of the Damascus regime, targeted Russia and stated “Everybody should be aware of their obligations within the framework of Astana and Sochi agreements and let us proceed with our cooperation within this framework. The regime forces are authorized in Idlib, not Russia. Russia should not confront Turkey.”

Erdogan’s statements both before his journey in the airport and in Kyiv together with Ukrainian President Zelensky were perceived by Russia in different timeframes. Questions raised once again if Erdogan is willing to embrace the Western bloc for the sake of the things that will be done in Syria. Because the government of AKP (Justice and Development Party) urged the European Union and the United States to step in for Idlib.

“Gave the NATO bloc a heads up?”

It is a fact that Erdogan’s visit to Kyiv had many purposes. A lot of different issues were put on the table including the extradition of some of the Turkish citizens located in Ukraine who are very important for Ankara and some other commercial and military agreements.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky was pleased with some of the investments originating from Turkey aside from the financial promises made for the development of the Ukrainian army. Zelensky voiced his gratitude by stating “We discussed thoroughly bilateral trade, investments on different markets, and cooperation on different subjects. We have a very ambitious objective and we would like to increase our annual bilateral trade capacity up to 10 billion dollars”.

Crimea was annexed by Russia after a referendum held in 2014. After this development, armed conflicts started in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine where the Russians and pro-Russia faction dominated the population. Ankara’s subsidize of 36 million dollars to Ukrainian Armed Forces for them to supply their needs to purchase Turkish military equipment and dual-purpose products was perceived as a lunge against Moscow.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk stated that mutual military cooperation between the two countries is planned to be expanded in five different directions. This statement also revealed the points such as the production of sensitive anti-tank weapons, the production and maintenance of helicopters, the supply of aircraft engines, fight against unmanned aerial vehicles, airport transportation, and cooperation in the field of simulator systems. Zagorodnyuk said, “Our close cooperation with Turkish partners will help us increase the security levels in our southern border in the Black Sea. This will also mean the air defence possibilities to be improved within the scope of joint participation in the NATO programs” and this statement brought the following questions up: “Is Erdogan favouring the NATO bloc again?” or “Was this a clear message to the NATO bloc?”.

Moscow Uneasy

Moscow demonstrated its uneasiness through many media outlets together with some news and documents while these developments, which we can call Ankara’s steps, were happening. Russian Federal News Agency Riafan (FHA) wrote in a news analysis titled “We are revealing the details of the terror path from Turkey to Libya” that they revealed the methods of Turkey for sending Turkish mercenaries and military trainers in Syria to Libya. In the same news report, FHA alleges that Ankara sends armaments to Libya and they are purchased with funds provided by Qatar. The radicals in Syria were transferred to Libya by SADAT, a security company owned by Adnan Tanriverdi who had resigned from being a military consultant to President Erdogan a while ago, and they will be paid 2 thousand dollars a month are among the allegations. SADAT wants to create a militarized unit. It is also said in the report that the Erdogan government wants to transfer 5 thousand militia from Syria to Libyan soil and to create a jihadist radical terrorist group.

Erdogan’s Kyiv Expedition

Interaffairs journal, the official media outlet of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, penned the matter with an article titled “Erdogan’s Kyiv Expedition”. The article, which was written by Andrey Isaev, points out the absence of military and intelligence officers, which Erdogan never excludes from his delegations, did not prevent both parties from discussing military-technical cooperation in detail this time. The article focuses on the following statements of Erdogan: “We carried out the eighth meeting of High-Level Strategic Council with our strategic partner, neighbour, and friend Ukraine. We appreciate the reform process conducted by Ukraine. As Turkey, we would like to state one more time that we do not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. We hope for a peaceful resolution for the Crimea problem.” The report provided comments that Ankara had made similar statements before and it is obvious that its stance has not changed now either.

The article also explains that Ankara will grant Kyiv 36 million dollars for the purchase of military and dual-purpose products and that both countries signed for 50 Turkish-Ukrainian projects on military-technical cooperation. Such versatile relationships built between Ankara and Kyiv and the new statements were perceived as allusions to Russia as a consequence of the latest developments in Idlib.

It is also commented that is very difficult to realize the mentioned projects due to the bad economies of both countries and 36 million dollars to Kyiv would not be able to save the Ukrainian military. It is stated, “However, we are very well aware. Erdogan’s main goal is completely different. He wants to strengthen ties with Kyiv, wants to have extra strategies for the negotiations with Moscow and take on the mediation role between Moscow and Kyiv…”

Turkey Must Keep a Promise

While AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Russia deviated from the agreement signed in Astana and Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “Turkey promised that they would separate the terrorists of Al-Nusra from Tahrir al-Sham. But they did not keep their promise.” He added, “We have agreements that clearly explain how the order should be in the regions which will be used to ease the tensions in Idlib. However, these terrorists still reign in the region in Idlib. Therefore, this responsibility must be fulfilled.”

Another responsibility that must be fulfilled according to Lavrov is the establishment of demilitarised lines inside the region where they seek to ease tensions. Lavrov said, “This was another agreement, but it has not been fulfilled yet. Following Putin’s and Erdogan’s instructions, our soldiers are trying to solve these certain problems on land.” 

“Zelensky to Sell Innocent People Out for 50 Million Dollars?”

It was interpreted that Zelensky once again proved in the meeting with Erdogan that he was following the steps of former President Poroshenko. Because Erdogan, in exchange for these commitments, asked Zelensky to terminate the activities of the members of the Gulen Movement living in Ukraine and even requested extradition for some of these members. In response, the Ukrainian President stated that he instructed the intelligence units to work on this issue.

A similar incident had happened during Petro Poroshenko’s presidency. There had been raids against the members of the Gulen Movement upon Ankara’s request back in 2018. These incidents had been criticized by the Ukrainian media and attributed to the “personal arrangements between Poroshenko and Erdogan”.

The same sources had written that the extradition of the members of the Gulen Movement was the actual agreement granted to the AKP government since it had supported the negotiations carried out by the Church of Ukraine with Istanbul Fener Greek Patriarch. After examining the issue thoroughly, the Ukrainian news portal “strana.ua” asks the following question to the readers: “Will Zelensky sell the innocent people out for 50 million dollars?”

Struggle to have a leg up on Moscow during negotiations

In conclusion, the Russian experts, who examine Erdogan’s visit, associate it with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Kyiv and Minsk. “These visits were carried out to the places where Russia views as sensitive. In fact, their aim is to interfere with the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in a different format. And Turkey struggles to have a more advantageous place in the negotiations with Moscow.”

It is a matter of debate whether the regional decisions taken by Erdogan and Zelensky behind closed doors will have any results or not. According to the economic data controlled by Erdogan, it is extremely difficult to realize the investment promises made to Ukraine and the mediation mission assumed after stating “We always supported the territorial integrity o Ukraine”. Because the capital outflow in Turkey for the past three years is as intense as the recent avalanche in Van or the refugees headed for Turkey from Idlib.

The leadership of AKP, who claims that the S-400 missile systems will be protecting the country against the threats coming from the West, speaks against Russia today. They ask for an intervention from the West in Idlib as a supportive action. It is a matter of time whether these calls from Kyiv will have a response or not. 

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Arif Asalıoğlu is General Director of the International Institute of the Development of Science Cooperation in Moscow; expert in the field of Russian-Turkish relations; columnist of Informational agency REGNUM; Founder of Russian and Turkish Intellectuals Meeting.

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