Turkey preserves its neutrality to mediate the Ukrainian crisis

As the tension between Russia and Ukraine over the Donbass region becomes increasingly worrying, Turkey has offered to mediate as a regional actor in close contact with the two countries. While concrete steps have yet to be taken in this direction due to Moscow’s cold approach, analysts point to Ankara’s potential to play a critical role in appeasing possible future crises by maintaining an impartial stance and pragmatist.

Being one of the few NATO members to have good political, economic and military relations with Russia, Turkey has maintained its neutrality and pragmatic approach since tensions escalated earlier this year, while maintaining its position which supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and opposes illegal annexation. from Crimea, underlined Mehmet Çağatay Güler, research assistant at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).

According to Güler, Moscow sees what is happening in eastern Ukraine as Kiev’s internal affair, while he sees developments in Crimea as its own internal affair. In connection with this position, Russia said there was nothing to arbitrate in eastern Ukraine since Russia was not part of it, Güler said.

Salih Yılmaz, scholar at Ankara University Yıldırım Beyazıt and president of the Ankara Institute of Russian Studies, highlighted the two main strategies of Russia in the current tensions in Ukraine. The first is to prevent NATO’s expansion within its borders by sitting at the negotiating table with the United States on the Donbass. Another Russian strategy is to ensure the operation of the NordStream-2 line through the Ukraine crisis and to secure long-term gas contracts with European countries, according to Yılmaz.

“The United States, on the other hand, is aiming to sell its own gas to Europe in response to this strategy. As such, Moscow and Washington envision mutual gains,” he said.

While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed in October the role of Turkey’s mediator for the crisis, he then clarified that with the consent of both parties, Turkey can offer facilitation, mediation or support under no circumstances. any format. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said that Turkey was in contact with Russia and Ukraine, noting that Ankara had advised both sides to remain calm and defuse the situation.

In a first response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected Ankara’s offer during an interview with reporters in Moscow, saying: “The point is that Russia is not a party to the conflict. in the Donbass. It will be impossible to find solutions to the problem at such a summit. In contrast, Ukraine welcomed Ankara’s statements. “We will welcome all efforts that can help us to end this war, to return the territories of Ukraine which are currently under Russian control,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a press briefing .

Turkey’s role as mediator

As Turkey knows that a crisis in Ukraine will affect the entire Black Sea region, it makes mutual suggestions and offers mediation for the two countries to make peace, Yılmaz noted, adding: “However, Russia does not has no intention of accepting Turkey’s mediation as it controls the Donbass crisis. It is believed that such acceptance will result in more losses than gains for Russia. The only interlocutor for Russia is to secure the gains that we mentioned while negotiating with the United States.

On the other hand, Turkey’s mediation offer includes significant gains for Ukraine, Yılmaz said. “The inclusion of Turkey, a member of NATO and one of the largest Black Sea countries, in the crisis is an achievement for Ukraine. From a Russian perspective, Russia does not see the need for a Donbass mediator, as Donbass is already unofficially controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Russia also believes that Turkey’s mediation can militarily drag Turkey into Ukrainian geography.

According to Yılmaz, if Russia fails to negotiate with the United States and the crisis turns into a hot conflict, then it can accept mediation from Turkey or another country to secure its gains. “This mediation will come into play in a possible hot conflict with Russia’s annexation of new territories outside the current Donbass borders and Ukraine’s demand for a ceasefire. Otherwise, in the current situation, the Russia does not want another country to be involved in the event. “

Güler also noted that Russia is troubled by Ukraine’s purchase of Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey and frequently expresses its dissatisfaction.

“Turkey will not leave Ukraine completely alone because of its relations with Russia, and it is not taking an open stand against Russia due to the deepening of its relations with Ukraine. So far, Turkey appears to be an impartial country with the potential for mediation and should continue to take a position on this axis taking into account its national interests “, he added.

The crisis between Russia and Ukraine makes Turkey important for both countries, Yılmaz said, explaining: “The two countries expect Turkey to take an initiative in their favor regarding ships entering the Black Sea. From Ukraine’s point of view, the recent cooperation between the two countries in the military industry is important. Russia, on the other hand, offers to donate, sell or co-produce certain technologies that Turkey needs, because it regards the long-term cooperation in military industry between Turkey and Ukraine as harmful to itself. From this point of view, Russia and Ukraine are trying to win the friendship of Turkey. Russia, Turkey should at least be able to remain neutral, even if it does not side with Russia.

The rivalry between Russia and Ukraine and the former’s relations with NATO have reached “dangerous” levels, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said recently, adding: “We will not ignore our principles and our relations. close with Ukraine simply because we have extensive relations with Russia.

NATO perspective

Another important issue is the possible involvement of NATO against Russia in the crisis. Güler said tensions in eastern Ukraine could escalate into a heated armed conflict given that there has been an ongoing military movement and deployment on the ground. On the other hand, it is not possible for NATO forces to be directly involved in an armed conflict since Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

“The statements and messages given by the leaders of the NATO member countries as well as the statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg clearly show that NATO will not participate directly in any conflict and will choose the path of economic sanctions. This is not to say that NATO member states will not provide any support to Ukraine, on the contrary, arms and economic support are expected to continue. “

“As Ukraine knows, it wants to become a member of NATO as soon as possible. The reason Russia opposes Ukraine’s membership in NATO is due to the obligation of all NATO member countries to participate in possible membership, “also said Yılmaz.

According to Güler, this situation is directly viewed as a threat to national security by Russia and raises expectations of counter-sanctions. “There’s kind of a dilemma, the cost and the danger of not helping on the one hand, and the cost and the danger of helping, on the other hand,” he said.

Kiev has fought a pro-Moscow insurgency in two eastern regions bordering Russia since 2014, shortly after the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The United States and its allies have warned for weeks that Russia may plan an invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine, but satellite images showing up to 100,000 troops gathered at the border have put Western nations on high alert.

Ukraine, which wants to join the NATO military alliance, accuses Moscow of supporting the separatists in the conflict in its east since 2014. Russia considers itself threatened by a NATO advance and wants to prevent the former republics neighboring Soviets, Ukraine and Georgia, to join NATO. Alliance. Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Donbass has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014, according to the United Nations. The region is one of the many sources of friction between Russia and Ukraine.

Most recently, Ankara urged Moscow and the Western Defense Alliance to voice their differences in the direct negotiations proposed by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

“If Russia has any specific expectations or problems from Turkey regarding the reduction of tensions between Russia and NATO, Turkey will assess this positively because our objective is clear,” Ankara said.

Turkey, a NATO member, maintains good relations with Moscow, even though it opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya. He forged energy and defense cooperation with Russia while opposing Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Ukraine.

Since there is no possibility of a war involving NATO troops, Turkey will not need to take a position in this way, also said Güler and added: “It is essential that Turkey maintains its current position and manages this process without harming its relationships. with the two countries. It is important to stay away from steps that will alter regional balances while protecting strategic relations and commercial interests with Ukraine.

Christi C. Elwood