Türkiye for Russia: An ally within the hostile military alliance

Türkiye for Russia: An ally within the hostile military alliance

Özgür Altınbaş, foreign news editor of Turkish Aydınlık newspaper, conducted a comprehensive interview with Dr Yauheni Preiherman in Minsk about the Ukraine-Russia war and Turkish-Russian relations.

Yauheni Preiherman is the founder and director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations based in Minsk (1). Founded in early 2015, the Council is a think tank which focuses on international affairs and regional security in Eastern Europe.

The interview was translated from Turkish into English by UWI.

Minsk Dialogue Council

Could you some give information about Minsk Dialogue Council and its purpose?

Sure. It’s a think tank which focuses on regional security in Eastern Europe and also helps to explain Belarusian foreign policy and original security thinking.

We started our work back in 2015 and the idea was to help the official diplomacy to promote peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and also to develop a vision for regional security.

And then we started holding really massive events in Minsk, one of the biggest conferences on broadly saying European security, Russia-West relations where all parties were present. But of course since 2020 and especially 2022, it’s been difficult to hold such events.

So, we now focus more on research, analysis and works not open to public.

The story of the Minsk agreements

What do you think about the Minsk agreements between Russia and the European countries?

We were of course not part of the official negotiations that led to the conclusion of the agreements. But we spent a lot of time and efforts in this expert diplomacy.

Before and after the agreements, we held numerous conferences where those agreements were at the center of attention, where we tried to discuss ways forward.

The Trilateral Contact Group also had meetings in Minsk. We also try to help with some ideas there.

Was it effective?

Well, unfortunately it’s dead right now. There occurred no progress on the Minsk agreements in the end, so the war became a reality.

Is there is a way back to those agreements. We can’t turn back to the same point, but I still believe there is no alternative to diplomacy on resolving the situation in Ukraine. Battlefield is definitely not an alternative. So, at some point, there will be a return to diplomacy and there will be need for some new agreements. But they will be very different because it’s no longer just about Donbass, it’s going to be, I would argue, about European security in a broader sense.

End of the Minsk agreements and the war

Do you think the Minsk agreements could have generated a solution back then?

The Minsk agreement was definitely much better than the war. There was a lot of criticism towards the Minsk agreements from the first moment to the last. But the fact is that, as long as those agreements were on the table, there was no major war.

There were skirmishes and exchanges of fire, some people were unfortunately dying, but you can’t compare the magnitude of the tragedy right now to what was the case back then. So I do believe under any circumstances it was much better to continue talking than to have the situation which we have right now.

I’m not playing the blame game. But unfortunately, it looks to me that, everyone lost from the fact that the Minsk agreements could not be implemented either in in the form they were concluded here in early 2015 or in some other forms.

Let’s talk about right now the current situation in Ukraine. The situation needs to change.

Divisions within Europe towards Ukraine

When the war started in 2022 the Western countries and the Western people chose their sides, aligning themselves with Ukraine totally against Russia. But right now, there is a conflict between people and European governments because governments are saying “we don’t have much money to give Ukraine”. We’re still seeing growing divisions. If they continue to deepen, without European or Western leaders addressing them, they can evolve into a proper conflict.

To give you an example, there were major protests of farmers in Poland, France and Brussels. At the same time, von der Leyen and the European Council were meeting there. What were they discussing in the meeting? How to provide more help to Ukraine. This is a very vivid example where you have a growing division between the interests of daily lives of people and politicians. I think it is inevitable that before too long this will lead to really serious problems.

We are already seeing Germany, where everyone is now crying, “Oh, populists are on the rise” Alternative for Germany etc. Everyone is afraid it, right? But this is only natural because unless mainstream government and mainstream political parties address those urgent needs of the people, there will of course be someone else stepping in and offering a solution. This is a problem in the making. But again, I think it is not still a proper conflict and politicians still have time to address it.

Government changes in Europe?

Can we see in the future government changes in Europe?

Probably we will. But there is one important caveat to all this. If a major escalation happens either in Ukraine or somewhere other than Ukraine – because, you see, the whole situation is very unstable and it is easy to foresee such scenarios – then we might see some very dangerous developments between NATO and Russia.

If that happens, of course it will be easier for the Hawks in the West to double down on the narrative that “we all need to focus on fighting the Russians”. If that doesn’t happen, and I hope it won’t, then of course we’ll definitely see a whole series of government changes across Europe. And that will slowly lead to a situation where less governments will invest into the fighting in Ukraine and more and more governments will actively be looking for diplomatic solutions and importantly, will not be afraid of talking about that publicly.

Off the record vs. open to public

To provide you a bit of a background, I’m also part of a few expert level tracks which work in a hidden format without going public to the press. Some high-level people participate there as well. What the Western side, the French, the Americans, some Germans, say off the record during those closed meeting are things they will never dare to say publicly today.

What I’m trying to say, if we have a series of government changes, and the mood changes a little bit in the West and Europe, then more and more of those people will be speaking out their minds publicly. That will be important, basically making everyone understand that there is no solution on the battlefield. After the counter offensive of Ukraine started in June, the European countries already saw there’s no military solution in Ukraine.

Why insisting on military actions?

If did they already see that Ukraine cannot beat Russia, then why are they insisting on some military plans?

Well, I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

The first one is that they publicly say “We still need to support because if we don’t, Ukraine will collapse, and then, it will have no cards at the negotiating table”. That’s the public sort of argument they are making. But more importantly, I think there are two other factors.

So many top politicians in the West have invested a lot of time and political capital into supporting Ukraine. If they now say ‘we stop doing that’, they’re afraid of being attacked by their political opponents because that would amount to recognizing they were wrong, they wasted money, time and human lives.

And secondly, that’s the classics we have throughout history: When wars begin, then there is something called military industrial complex which gains a lot and through military industrial complex a lot of economic actors gain as well.

Last week several European foreign ministers spent a lot of time in the US with trying to convince the American public that it’s in their interest to continue supporting Ukraine. And the argument they are making is that it’s a great investment for you economically because you make sure your military industrial complex is broadening and brings in a lot of benefit, and also in terms of geopolitics, because you are trying to restrain the Russian power.

Do you expect any change after US elections?

The only big danger is an unexpected escalation which will change the course of events. If this doesn’t happen, I think the American support will be diminishing in any way, either it’s Trump or Biden or anyone else.

Because it is obvious that for the Americans the key opponent is China. Pushing Russia and China together is clearly against the American interest. Plus, the Americans are no longer as powerful as they were 2 decades ago.

Possible transformation of NATO

Everyone knows that Russia is not only fighting against the Ukrainian army, but also against NATO. What did the war show us about NATO and its future?

Of course, NATO will have to go through some transformations. I think it would have been the case even without the war because the way NATO operated in the last three decades was in a unipolar world. NATO was discussing ways of transforming NATO from a defense military alliance into something more political. They started getting involved in things which were not typical for NATO originally.

Another big question for NATO is whether the Americans are going to push NATO allies to take sides in its confrontation with China. This is going to be much bigger than what we are observing right now towards Russia. Within NATO we see examples like Türkiye which stands powerful and ready to use its power in favor its own interests.

Türkiye’s situational neutrality

How do the Belarusian government see the Türkiye’s position in this war?

I think there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Belarusian and Türkiye’s positions. What Türkiye is doing right now is situational neutrality. So, I think there is a lot of sympathy between the two countries in this regard, a lot of mutual understanding.

And in a way, I would say that a lot of people here in the government, but also in a broader community, hope that Türkiye will succeed in its efforts. Because we now, as never before, need countries which are promoting peace agenda. That is why there are so many interests in common between Belarus, Türkiye or Hungary, even though we are in different military alliances.

Different military alliances, common interests

I spend quite a lot of time in Russia, and I talk to a lot of people there who are leading experts but also who advise decision makers, and there is hardly any other country in NATO, even beyond NATO, that is perceived as Türkiye is. Not because everything is fine in terms of bilateral relations and understanding, but because, what Russians keep saying, Türkiye is one of those few countries you can talk to knowing that it pursues its own national interest rather than just any instructions from someone else. You might disagree with their actions in the end, but you can have a proper discussion and.

But on the other also Türkiye is giving Ukraine weapons like drones. Do you think it a big problem between Russia and Türkiye?

When you listen to President Putin, you see they still see Türkiye as a reliable partner. They are not happy about Türkiye giving weapons to Ukraine, but at the same time Türkiye is doing things which are favorable to Russia. Putin and the Russian government see that they have a lot to gain from this relationship with Türkiye even though there are some difficulties sometimes, No one in Russia expects Türkiye to just do whatever the Russians want.

And also, I think there must be some personal chemistry, as we say, between Putin and Erdoğan.

[1] https://minskdialogue.by/en

United World International

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June 2024