30.10.2019 Author:

Can Ukraine Create a Rift between Russia and Turkey


The role that Turkey keeps playing on the geopolitical stage hasn’t changed much in the last couple of centuries. Being most eastward located European state and most westward located Asian state, it remains an important bridge between the two parts of Eurasia, just like Russia. However, those powers that would aspire to reach the hegemonic status have always been adamant that Turkey must serve as a wall preventing Russia from getting access to the southern seas. It was the dissolution of the Turkish Empire that finally allowed Moscow to breach this wall at the beginning of the 20th century.

All through the Cold War years, Turkey remained a faithful defence partner with NATO, being an zealous capitalistic state that wouldn’t tolerate the “communist experiment in the North” due to a long list of purely political reasons. However, the degeneration and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union produced profound changes in the regional and global layout, with Ankara reevaluating the role of its ancient neighbor. The only thing that the fall of the USSR didn’t change was the Western ambition to keep the role of Turkey unchanged.

Yet, as the two countries treaded the winding path towards cooperation in Syria, the West has found itself in a situation when its age-old designs were ultimately undermined. In spite of a long list of contradictions between Moscow and Ankara, Tayyip Erdogan developed a habit of visiting Sochi to hold negotiations with his Russian counterpart – Vladimir Putin. This resulted in Ankara challenging London, Washington, Paris and Brussels by defying the unspoken agreement of NATO powers to never buy weapons from outsiders, by ordering a shipment of the much-tauted Russian air defence systems. However, what transpired in the aftermath of this step left the West in a state of alarm, as it became obvious that it was a part of Erdogan’s own political agenda of doing away with everything Western.

Unsurprisingly, this resulted in the US deciding to use all of its influence to prevent further rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. And among the places where its positions still remain uncontested one can find Ukraine, essentially a failed remotely controlled state that was brought down by the Western-sponsored anti-government coup d’etat. Nowadays, Kyiv is a spineless, servile player that will do anything that the hidden overseas masters desire.

In particular, Ukraine was advised to start seeking common interests with Turkey, while inflicting maximum damage to the now well-established ties between Ankara and Moscow. That’s where the matter of the Crimea comes into play that serves home to a massive diaspora of Crimean Tatars.

Some three years ago, in the aftermath of Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-25 aircraft in Syria, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko rushed to Ankara with an official visit in a bid to exploit the tensions that were flaring at the time between the two powers. However, this visit failed to yield any visible results, as Turkey’s refused to follow in the wake of Washington’s policies and tried to mitigate the damage done by this provocation. And Erdogan has clearly succeeded in this, as Turkey is being described as Moscow’s strategic partner, even though it hasn’t been formally recognized as such.

In early August, the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to drive a stake between Russia and Turkey by paying an official visit to Ankara. He made a big show out of his plea for “Turkish assistance” that, as he argued, would be indispensable for addressing the most pressing challenges that Ukraine faced. In an attempt to show that Ukraine is suffering from “Russia’s aggression” he added to his immediate entourage the Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksandr Danylyuk and the leader of the Crimean Tatar diaspora Mustafa Dzhemilev that resides in Kyiv. Prior to his departure to Turkey, the latter made a series of anti-Russian statements to prepare Turkish officials for the discussion that was about to take place. However, Ankara refused to be dragged into yet another provocation, that’s why the visit ended in a number of formal non-biding statements.

Different outlooks that Moscow and Ankara have on the issue of Crimean Tatars wouldn’t allow the two partners to iron out their differences completely for some time now. Turkey has always been posturing as the prime defender of this ethnic minority group, just like it has been acting with Turks that were the original inhabitants of the peninsula. On most any formal occasion, Turkish official figures would pledge their support to the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, an entity that was recognized by Moscow as an extremist organization.

However, in spite of the attempts that Ukraine made to prevent Turkish officials from ever visiting Russia’s Crimea, Erdogan has already accepted an invitation made by Vladimir Putin. The upcoming opening of a newly built mosque serves as a formal pretext for this trip, however, as it’s been revealed by dikGAZETE, this visit can mark Turkey’s formal recognition of the Crimea as part of the Russian territory. The publication argues that this step will provide a competitive advantage to Turkish investors, while giving a boost to the Russia-Turkey relations.

There’s other attempts that Ukraine has been making to create a rift between Russia and Turkey, like insignating demonstrations of those Crimean Tatars living in Turkey, as there’s over three million people that identify themselves as descendants of those Turks that inhabited the peninsula living in this country. By staging such events Kyiv is showing its overseas sponsors that it can damage Russia’s reputation in the Middle East just as well.

However, Ukrainians are getting really vocal when they’re trying to oppose the so-called TurkStream, as their own economic survival depends on their attempts to tamper Russia’s ability to bypass Ukraine in its natural gas exports. Still, Turkish official figures remain mindful of the economic interests of their own state, that’s why they refuse to discuss the very possibility of dismantling the TurkStream.

Yet another trick that Kiyv has recently played in its strive to undermine Russia’s position in Turkey was its attempt to get the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople drawn in the religious struggle against Russia, due to the fact that the Ukranian Orthodox Church gained independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. However, this time the response shown by Turkish official was harsh and unapologetic.

What matters most in all this is that in spite all of the efforts that Ukraine has made to undermined Turkey-Russia relations, acting on the orders of its overseas masters, the ties enjoyed by the two countries remain rock-solid. This notion was confirmed by Erdogan making his eighth visit to Sochi this year alone a week ago.

This analysis shows, that for all intents and purposes a player of that magnitude cannot damage the bilateral relationships of the two major powers, as there’s nothing that it can offer Ankara for the latter to even start reevaluating its position. To make the matters worse, in most any matter where Ukraine would love Turkey to support its position, Ankara and Russia share common interests.

Ron Henry is a freelance political observer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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