Turkey forming strategic partnership with Ukraine
Last week, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu traveled to Ukraine, and met with their Ukrainian counterparts. In the meeting with Ukrainian PM Denys Shmyhal, Turkish Defence Minister Akar said that improvement of defence cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine will benefit both countries.
Furthermore, Turkish Defence Minister Akar and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu met with representatives of Meskhetian and Gagauz Turks in Ukraine.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu met with Ukraine‘s President Zelenskiy in Kiev.
Cavusoglu also received the “Angel of Good” award in Ukraine.
Cavusoglu: “Honored to address the Ukrainian Ambassadors Conference and to receive the “Angel of Good” award. Sincere thanks to my friend Dmytro Kuleba and to the people of Ukraine.”
Is Turkey trying to corner Russia?
As Turkey strengthens its defense partnership with Ukraine in recent months, it has become increasingly visible that Russia may be the target of this geopolitical move by Turkey, and Turkey could be trying to corner Russia, and therefore limit Russia’s external influence.
Russia being the target of this move is further supported by the fact that Ukraine’s territorial integrity was put at the forefront of the latest meeting. Turkey’s foreign minister on Dec. 18 said the dispute in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine should be solved within “territorial integrity.”
“The problem at the Donbas region should be solved within the territorial integrity and we are happy that the ceasefire continues, despite some small breaches,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on an official visit to Ukraine.
In addition to this, Turkey is willing to support the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula’s return to Ukraine, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday.
The statement comes amid an already uneasy relationship between Moscow and Ankara, which are traditionally partners but have recently been at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Syrian conflict and Libya’s civil war. In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey does not recognize the 2014 annexation of Crimea and will continue to support its territorial integrity as “part of Ukraine.”
The first Crimean Platform summit is expected to be held next May, with representatives from Turkey, France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. set to attend.
This comes after Turkey played a big role in Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in Karabakh, another country that borders Russia and Turkey has very close ties with. The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict offered Ankara an opportunity to expand its relationship with Russia into a new theatre where it had a stronger hand. The strengthening partnership with Ukraine could very well have the same aim.
The deepening of Turkey-Ukraine defense ties has alarmed Moscow and may be payback, Tastekin writes, “for Russian efforts to undermine Turkey’s agenda in the wars in Libya and Syria, where Ankara and Moscow support rival groups.”
Could Turkey gain Biden’s support?
As Russia appears to be the likely main target of this partnership, Turkey could also be looking to gain the US’s favour, specifically incoming president Joe Biden. The Obama administration, under which Biden was vice president, was heavily concerned and involved in the Crimean crisis, and strongly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity, a position which Turkey is now emphasizing, possibly to gain Biden’s favour.
In January 2020, Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” and said that he should “pay a price.” Erdogan said he is “no stranger to Biden,” adding that “we have known each other closely since the Obama era. He even had come all the way to my home and visited me at my home when I was ill,” while pointing out that he “doesn’t approve of US steps regarding the east of the Euphrates in Syria and Turkey’s weapons procurement.”
No doubt Erdogan is seeking opportunities to right US-Turkey ties and will want to get off on the right foot with Biden. And the friction with Russia and Iran has always been just below the surface.
The many issues that make up the baggage in US-Turkey relations are more likely to be unpacked in a Biden administration. Biden is himself a skilled diplomat, and the US and Turkey have compelling reasons to find common ground where it can be found, while giving up the notion of US-Turkish “alliance,” which as Philip Gordon points out is mostly nostalgia.
A strengthening defense partnership with Ukraine directed at the Russian threat could therefore be Turkey’s key to repairing relations with the US.