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NATO member Turkey, opposed to sanctions, in bind over Ukraine

Turkey calls Russia's recognition of Ukraine's separatists an unacceptable violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity
Published 22 Feb, 2022 06:28pm
Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan. Reuters file photo
Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan. Reuters file photo

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA: When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to recognise two breakaway regions in east Ukraine as independent, NATO member and Black Sea neighbour Turkey swiftly criticised the move, but stopped short of announcing any punitive measures.

Turkey is in a unique bind: it has good ties with both Ukraine and Russia, but also opposes sanctions in principle, just as the West is poised to slap them on Moscow as long promised. Read full story

The crisis leaves President Tayyip Erdogan balancing those diplomatic relations along with his duties within NATO, while also protecting Turkey's beleaguered economy from back-to-back shocks after a currency crisis in December.

Any step too far against Moscow, and Ankara risks upsetting important Russian energy supplies, trade and tourism, analysts say.

"It is the prospect of a prolonged bloodless conflict or substantive sanctions on Russia's energy exports that could hurt Turkey deeply (and threaten) economic stability," said Atilla Yesilada, Istanbul-based analyst at GlobalSource Partners.

Striking the balance Turkey employed for decades, Erdogan often highlights his friendship with Putin but has warned Russia against an invasion and offered to mediate the crisis. He has also criticised the West's handling of things as a hindrance to peace. Read full story

On Tuesday, Turkey called Russia's recognition of Ukraine's separatists an unacceptable violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity. Ergodan - who visited Kyiv this month - rejected it and called on parties to respect international laws, likely his sharpest language towards Moscow since a crisis over Turkey's downing of a Russian jet near Turkey's Syrian border in 2015. Read full storyRead full story

Erdogan and Putin have since warmed and Turkey bought Russian missile defences in 2019, which prompted U.S. anger and sanctions. Since then, Ankara has opposed sanctions against any country.

"Sanctions against Russia are useless. You only postpone the problems," Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Die Welt at the weekend, adding "new rules and principles" were needed for both Russia and the West to "feel safe".

"Russia feels threatened by NATO," he added.

While cooperating with Russia in energy and trade, Turkey has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine and inked a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow.

Complicating diplomacy, Turkey opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya even as it forges cooperation on the ground there. It also opposes Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in Georgia as independent. Read full story

Vulnerable Lira

Russia supplied some 46% of Turkey's gas last year, and Ankara is looking to strike shorter-duration gas deals with Moscow to relieve import costs. Inflation has soared to near 50%, hurting Erdogan's poll standing, after the lira crash. Read full story

The currency TRYTOM=D3 slipped to its lowest since mid-January on concerns over economic fallout including for Turkey's tourism sector, for which Russians are the top arrivals.

Without elaborating, Erdogan has said Turkey will do what is necessary as a NATO member in the event of a Russian invasion.

The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkey control over the straits within its borders, and during peacetime guarantees access for civilian vessels to and from the Black Sea. It also limits access of naval warships, helping to protect the Black Sea from militarisation.

Can Kasapoglu, director of security and defence studies programme at EDAM, said Turkey had made clear it backs Ukraine. But a Russian troop buildup in the Black Sea should "really worry" it, especially the risk of a change of leadership in Ukraine, he said.

"In this case, defence technology cooperation with Turkey may be suspended, as Russia is uncomfortable with a NATO nation's defence technological and industrial base developing ties with the post-Soviet space," he said.

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