By Mehmet Kıvanç
The Ukrainian Crisis is heating up. As a NATO member, a Black Sea coastal country and with good relations to Ukraine and Russia, Turkey’s position in the crisis deems great importance.
As United World International, we have asked Turkish experts on their comments on the crisis and the position Turkey should take.
Retired Ambassador Uluç Özülker, retired Rear Admiral Dr. Deniz Kutluk, Maltepe University Professor for political sciences and international relations Hasan Ünal and veteran journalist with a long-stay in Russia, Cenk Başlamış have provided their judgments.
Özülker: The US-Russia conflict is not limited to Ukraine
Retired ambassador Özülker, who also has recently participated in a UWI webinar on Libya, is a Turkish veteran diplomat who served in the Foreign Ministry for 41 years. Özülker has been Turkey’s ambassador to Libya, Permanent Representative to the European Union, Permanent Representative to the OECD and finished his career as Ambassador to France.
Özülker says that the U.S. position reaches beyond the Ukraine.
“The conflict between the U.S. and Russia is not limited to Ukraine. For the U.S., the aim is to force Russia to kneel down. This also includes US attempts on Russia’s energy exports and income. The conflict has turned into an arm wrestling.”
“One needs to think the Ukraine together with the Black Sea region. The United States has established a military base in Alexandropouli, Greece. As Turkey controls the passage to the Black Sea, the U.S. wants to access the area from there. They have thus been exercising military maneuvers there and Eastern Europe since 2019. If Bulgaria and Romania’s EU membership and Ukraine and Georgia’s situation is added, we observe an overall interventionist policy of the U.S. towards the wider Black Sea region.”
The veteran diplomat observes “the U.S. is not willing to fight a war, thus saying that they would respond to Russia with a sanctions regime. Still, any serious clash may lead to an international war scenario.”
Özülker calls Turkey to stay neutral in the conflict: “There are contradictions between Turkey’s NATO membership and the good relations it has established with Moscow. But in this conflict, Turkey should not take sides. The trilateral relations between the U.S., Russia and Turkey face problems, still, who loses Turkey’s support will face a great handicap in the Middle East.”
Ret. Rear Admiral Dr. Kutluk: Turkey must slowdown NATO
Dr. Deniz Kutluk has served for 39 in the Turkish Naval Forces, retiring in 2008 as Rear Admiral. He has also represented Turkey for 6 years in NATO Headquarters’ political-military section.
Kutluk made the following statement to UWI:
“We are within a very fast evolving process. The incidents are referred to as Ukraine-Russia tensions, but they seem to be part of a US attempt to declare Russia and enemy, surround it and at the same time sabotage the Western-Russian relations developed in the last 25 years. As the U.S. have failed to divide Russia and China, they also might be considering to present the bill to the Europeans. Turkey needs to understand the process well and position itself according to its national interests.”
Kutluk criticizes harshly the US and British position, stating that Ukraine is “not a matter of NATO”:
“At the end of day, the security of the Black Sea is a matter of the coastal countries. London, Washington or Ottawa cannot really claim to be involved here. And if the Alliance, which is their issue, is not part of the conflict, they do not any have ground for involvement. The British Defense Minister’s article answering the Russian President is also very strange, especially when he talks in that article about what the Ukrainian people wants. It is a matter of the Ukrainian parliament to state what the Ukrainian people wants – not that of the British Defense Minister!”
The retired admiral proposed the following policy for Turkey:
“Turkey needs to be very careful in order not to find itself in the middle of a Black Sea Crisis. Turkey has separate good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, and some relations with Moscow are truly existential. We do not have to drift with the NATO just because we are a member of the alliance. Quite the opposite: Turkey can slowdown the NATO’s drift by using its own military and political veto rights. For that, we need to pursue an energetic pendulum diplomacy focusing on Brussels. Turkey also needs to resist attempts within the NATO that suddenly, within 6 months present Russia as an enemy, after 25 years of cooperation. From the Turkish position, we have not seen any developments that justify such an evaluation.”
Kutluk said inviting the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents to Turkey for trilateral talks “may a positive first step enabling further negotiations towards a diplomatic solution”.
Prof. Ünal: Towards a comprehensive Turkish-Russian agreement
Hasan Ünal, Professor for political science and international relations at Istanbul’s Maltepe University, observes “incompetence at the Biden Administration” and interprets Turkish proposals of mediation as “a declaration that the West cannot expect anything from Ankara”. Ünal stated to UWI the following:
“The crisis has become a mess due to the Biden Administration’s incompetence. Since they took over, they have been pushing Ukraine against Russia in military terms. They created the impression that the Ukraine could get Crimea back from Russia by using force. The British navy’s provocations in the Black Sea added to this as well as NATO air force flights over the region trying to frighten Russia. But truth is, the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia is in a superior position against NATO both in terms of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. Hence, Russia sends the message: ‘If you dare to advance militarily, just give it a try and you will see.’”
Ünal also points out that there is no consensus among NATO members: “Britain leads in terms of provoking crisis, but Germany wants an ease of tensions.” Moreover, Turkey’s position has changed fundamentally, says Ünal to UWI:
“The meeting between the Presidents Erdoğan and Putin on September 29, 2021 has caused in my opinion great changes. Now, the crisis management in Turkey has been transferred from the foreign ministry to the presidency, leading to much less open statements. Turkey observes well that the crisis is becoming a mess due to provocative statements from Western allies. And there is a bunch of issues of negotiation between Turkey and Russia, from the recognition of the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus to the Syrian context.”
The offer for mediation is actually a declaration of position, argues Ünal:
“Turkey actually makes its statements to show its position in the crisis and to show the change of policy since September 29. Turkey sends to the West and Ukraine the message: ‘Don’t expect nothing from us’. And to Russia: ‘We are strictly abiding to the agreement of September 29’. Therefore, Turkey presents the following position to Russia: ‘Let us make a comprehensive agreement that covers the issues of Crimea, Cyprus and Karabakh, and we will continue to act in accordance to the sprit of that agreement’”.
Cenk Başlamış: Turkey needs to focus on Ukraine and Russia
Cenk Başlamış is an experienced journalist who has spent almost 20 years reporting from Moscow to Turkish newspapers. He states that a change of perception occurred in Russia especially after the Yugoslavia war and calls Turkey to maintain ties with both Ukraine and Russia.
Başlamış says that NATO expansion is for Russia an “existential threat”: “With the dissolution of the USSS, there was an atmosphere in Russia that the Cold War was over and all the reasons for conflict with the West gone. They opened their arms to the West in a brotherly, almost naïve way. The approach has prevailed until the bombing of Yugoslavia, which Russia tried to stop actively. Facing the lack of influence on Western positions, the Russian perception started to change. NATO’s operation against Yugoslavia has been a turning point.”
“Since then, Russia has the concern of being surrounded by the West – actually a historic concern. Russia has always tried to create a buffer zone around his territory that keeps its enemies from reaching its territory. Ukraine becoming a NATO member is for Russians worse than a nightmare. Putin’s words, ‘If we had not taken Crimea, we would be facing NATO soldiers in Sevastopol’ reflects the Russian’s perception.”
Başlamış also observes differences within the Western alliance, though: “The European Union is affected negatively by the imposed sanctions. The Biden administration thus tries to repair the cracks within the Western alliance and to pull the Europeans on his side, in order to produce a as far as possible united front against Russia That’s what they are trying to do.”
Concerning Turkey, Başlamış proposes distance to NATO, focusing on Ankara’s relations with Ukraine and Russia. “Turkey should adopt such an approach that it can keep its relations alive with both Ukraine and Russia. Turkey’s UAV sales to Ukraine have caused criticism in Moscow. But as the bilateral relations are very important, Russia prefers to voice criticism on a low level. This is a difficult matter for both, Turkey and Russia.”
But, warns Başlamış, “as the United States tries to pull Russia into a trap in the Ukraine, Turkey’s current efforts may not be sufficient.”