The tight links between Turkey and Ukraine are understudied and even undervalued in academic circles. This close relationship, in which one country is a NATO member, while the other is not, can serve as an excellent example of how NATO should safeguard its non-member partners. It is apparent that Russia has every reason to be deeply concerned by Turkey’s backing for Ukraine particularly in terms of military means. The Kremlin was enraged when a pro-Russian rebel position in Donbas was struck by a Turkish-built drone in 2021. Soon after, the Kremlin issued a warning that Turkey’s continued supply of weapons to Ukraine threatens to destabilize the region. Additionally, according the Kremlin, in a phone call, Vladimir Putin expressed its concern and told his Turkish counterpart that this is “the destructive behavior” and “the provocative activity”, meanwhile the foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “Turkey was feeding militarist tendencies.”
If we take a quick look at Russia-Turkey relations, we can see that they are complicated and multifaceted; on one hand, they frequently collaborate on a variety of critical topics. Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, Turkey and Russia formed the closer relations. It is not hidden that Turkish leaders accused the US of assisting the coup attempt by harboring and supporting its purported mastermind, Fethullah Gulen, which soured relations between Turkey and the US. During Erdogan’s difficult days, Russian President Vladimir Putin called him on the night of the coup attempt and offered him aid. Relations between Turkey and the US deteriorated further when Turkey purchased Russian-made S-400 missile systems in 2019; as a result of this move, the US sanctioned Turkey’s defense industry.
On the other hand, some scholars refer to Turkey-Russia relations as “competitive cooperation,” because, despite numerous collaborations and joint efforts, they are the historical rivals in the Black Sea region, for this reason, they appear to lack trust and even compete with one another. To give a specific example, Russia and Turkey support opposing sides in the South Caucasus, Libya, and Syria. Ukraine can also be viewed as a topic of contention between Russia and Turkey.
Turkey, as a regional power and one of the key countries in the security architecture of the Black Sea region, should not accept any further increase in Russian power, because it will harm Turkey’s interests and significantly reduce its role in the region. As a result, Turkey should not remain passive and should take action to counter Russian aggressive politics. As a consequence, Ukraine and Turkey overlap interests: Turkey wants to deter Russia, while Ukraine needs to be as resilient as possible in the face of a new wave of Russian attack. First and foremost, it should be underlined that Turkey manufactures technology that Ukraine does not, such as drones, which are useful in Kyiv’s struggle against the Russian-backed separatists. The little Turkish drones are extremely valuable for Ukraine. Turkey, on the other hand, is attempting to improve its military capabilities by building its own fighter jets, but it lacks the necessary technology: the engine. For this reason, Turkey is interested in Ukrainian engine maker Motor Sich and design firm Ivchenko-Progress. It is worth mentioning that Motor Sich already agreed to supply Turkish defense company Baykar with 30 turboprop engines for its drones in 2021.It is self-evident that this military cooperation benefits both countries’ military and economic strengths.
In 2019, Ukraine began purchasing 6 Turkish drones and expressed the readiness to buy 48 more. In 2019, the Ukrainian government agreed to purchase more Bayraktar drones from Turkey, and a short time later, Ukraine’s defense minister and the leader of the Baykar company inked an agreement to build a training center in Ukraine. Right now, it is difficult to say how many Turkish drones were sold to Ukraine in general.
“The drones have a pretty huge psychological and political impact on Ukrainian public opinion,” said Iliya Kuva of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, “because Turkey is seen as the country that provides weapons that are modern and good enough to maintain a military balance with Russian forces in the east.”
Furthermore, Turkey and Ukraine also intend to expand military cooperation and begin joint manufacturing of AN-178 military transport planes and ships.
Erdogan’s visit in Kyiv
President Erdogan of Turkey visited to Ukraine on February 3, 2022 and said that the West failed to solve the conflict and for this reason, he offered Volodymyr Zelenskiy to mediate the Russia-Ukraine conflict through a peace summit. President Erdogan stated that he would go to any length to bring this conflict to a peaceful conclusion. Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to the president of Turkey openly commented on this visit, saying that Turkey will do whatever it takes to “deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine.” “I would like to thank President Erdogan for his initiative to serve as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia on the way to a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” the president Zelensky said and additionally, he also added that he will do anything possible to bring peace to Ukraine and Ukrainian people. Unfortunately, there is no additional information regarding the possibility of Turkish mediation, nor is there an official Russian response to this initiative, but according to Turkish diplomatic sources, Russia was pleased with this initiative.
During the visit, both sides announced that Turkey intends to build a drone factory in Kyiv because the conditions are favorable for Turkish manufacturers. This announcement demonstrates once more the close ties that exist between Ukraine and Turkey, and it is yet another reason for Russia to be concerned. Moreover, as the Black Sea Region neighbors, Turkey and Ukraine signed a free trade agreement, which according to Kyiv, will enhance bilateral annual trade from 7 billion to 10 billion in 5 years.
Turkey’s president Erdogan expressed its solidarity and commented that Turkey, as the NATO member state, will do what is necessary if Russia decides to invade Ukraine. Furthermore, the Turkish president stated:”Our visit comes at a sensitive time. I want to state that we continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea.”