Türkiye's balanced foreign policy and the Russia-Ukraine war - SÜLEYMAN SEYFI ÖĞÜN

Türkiye's balanced foreign policy and the Russia-Ukraine war

Türkiye has been following a balanced policy since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine. This should not be considered as impartiality. As a NATO member, the Republic of Türkiye acted together with its allies on paper and in discourse. It described Russia as an occupying power. It underlined that it stands with Ukraine. It provided UAVs and UCAVs to the Ukrainian army. It also refrained from becoming involved in efforts to demonize and isolate Russia. It did not cooperate in the sanctions. It did not close off its air space. It continued its relations with Russia in a certain line at all levels. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stood out as the sole NATO state leader who was able to speak with both Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin simultaneously. We reaped the fruits of this on the field as well. Despite the lack of an outcome, Türkiye organized the only meeting between the two fighting states’ committees composed of their top-level officials. This meeting was hosted in Istanbul. Furthermore, based on the ability to continue these relations bilaterally, Türkiye achieved a great task in the opening of the grain corridor, and most likely saving Africa from dying of famine. Türkiye expressed at every opportunity that it is ready to mediate for the end of the war. What were the results of this specific performance by Türkiye? 


We can say that we firstly received great regard in terms of discourse. EU and U.S. officials, including UN groups, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, stated their gratitude for Türkiye’s performance. In the Lviv meeting, Zelensky extended his gratitude as well. Putin expressed in Sochi his appreciation to Erdogan. How wonderful, right? However, when we think a little, we can see that the picture is not as clear, and that it contains many spots. 


Considering it in terms of the EU, it can be said that they are pleased about the grain corridor. They were concerned that the likely famine in Africa could have triggered a great migration towards Europe. Overcoming the crisis must have relaxed the EU. Meanwhile, we saw that EU groups were extremely disturbed by Türkiye’s continuing relations with Russia, and especially the latest hours-long meeting in Sochi. They immediately revealed how a process that relieved them tactically disturbed them strategically. Of course, this was nothing other than the disturbance felt by the U.S. and U.K. alliance – that have the EU under pressure – rising to the surface. The U.K., playing the good police towards Türkiye, wants to keep the convergence between Azerbaijan and Türkiye under its own control, and use it against both Russia and the EU simultaneously. We can follow that they are particularly annoyed by the convergence between the EU and Azerbaijan. Note that I consider the attack on the Azerbaijan Embassy in London by members of an ambiguous organization as a threat related to this. 


Russia very well understands and accepts Türkiye’s position. Though the Montreux Convention is partially against Russia’s interests, it eventually relaxes in the Black Sea. The fact that Türkiye refrains from the sanctions, keeps its air space open, and continues trade relations are developments that please Russia. The two meetings between Putin and Erdogan in Tehran and Sochi are extremely critical. Russia wants to be a buffer between Iran and Türkiye, and cooperate in Syria. It intends to open a passage between Türkiye and the regime in Syria. It is clear that it has recently been pushing the Syrian regime towards this as well. The Bashar Assad matter seems to be judged very wrongly in the discussions in Türkiye. The issue is it to relax both sides respectively, and reduce the West bloc’s impact in the region. Türkiye can gather the opposition groups in Idlib as a bloc and convince them in certain regards, and in response, the Syrian regime can develop policies against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), ensure the return of Syrians living in Türkiye. This is a very difficult situation with many variables. We will see whether they can make peace. 


Nothing has changed on the West bloc. The 3+1 system set against Türkiye in the East Mediterranean is carried out with determination through the U.S., Israel, Greece, and Southern Cyprus. Egypt-Türkiye relations, though strained, are ongoing. Sweden and Finland want to join NATO, but they are not following the memorandum. U.S. Congress is making vitriolic statements about the F-16s. The Anglo-American bloc is determined to push Türkiye in a corner. At a time when media started to publish that Türkiye will be purchasing a new lot of S400s, U.S. Treasury groups started to caution Türkiye about adhering to the anti-Russia sanctions. French media, on the other hand, is writing that efforts need to be made to remove Erdogan in the 2023 elections. Meanwhile, tourism season is drawing to a close. Greece is preparing for fall with utter irrationality and malice. 


In brief, it seems it will no longer be possible to continue the balance policy Türkiye has been following to date with success as smoothly as previously. 



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