Zülfikar Doğan: Erdogan between Ukraine and Russia – A double-edged sword dance

Mehmet Barlas, the editorial writer of Sabah, the flagship of the ruling media, close to Erdogan, praised Erdogan’s dominance of the process in the Ukraine-Russia crisis, who went on a three-country African tour on February 20. He wouldn’t go on a day trip to Africa. This behavior of the President, who is in constant contact with Russian President Putin, is almost like proof that there will be no war in Ukraine.”

However, Erdogan was probably shocked when Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Donetsk and Luhansk (DHC-LHC) in eastern Ukraine on the night of February 21, and then ordered the Russian army to operate with a “peace force” mission.

The Russian leader, whom he calls ‘my friend’, with whom he talks on the phone almost once a month, apparently did not give any color to Erdogan.

So much so that the President canceled the third stop of the tour, Guinea-Bissau, and hurriedly returned to Turkey.

Erdogan said on his return that Ukraine and Russia are “indispensable” for Turkey economically, politically and commercially.

However, Turkey’s real trouble begins at this point. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the USA started CAATSA sanctions on Russia and the EU took a sanction decision, but Turkey both did not recognize the annexation and did not participate in the sanctions.

This time, it seems difficult for Turkey, which defends the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, to stay out of the sanctions against Russia, which is preparing to take Eastern Ukraine under its de facto sovereignty.

In the event of joining the sanctions, there is a high probability that Russia will face counter-sanctions. Having experienced a similar process in 2015 during the warplane crisis in Syria, Turkey faced very serious economic losses and heavy damage.

As you know, Erdogan had to write a letter of apology to Putin.

The US, EU and NATO listed threats of economic and military sanctions against Russia. Following the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, sanctions were announced to three Russian banks and members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, some oligarchs close to Putin, and Russian elites.

With his historical thesis extending to the founding process of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, Putin claims that there are ‘ownership and sovereignty’ rights in the DHC and LHC.

The Russian leader highlighted the signs and reasons for today’s move in an article published in Russian/Ukrainian on the Kremlin’s website a while ago.

Drawing attention to the Treaty of Union, which formed the basis of the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922, Putin points out that it is foreseen that the pre-accession borders will apply when the participating Republics leave the union.

He reminds us that in 1922, when Ukraine joined the USSR, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk became Russian territory, and Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1954 by the then Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev.

Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Khrushchev was born in Kalinovka, Ukraine.

Putin stated that the return of the countries that left the union to their pre-contract borders is ‘a requirement of the 1922 Union Convention and the law’; It emphasizes the principle of ‘whatever you bring when you leave, you take it and leave’.

The Russian leader argues that after Ukraine’s declaration of independence, the demands for Crimea, Donetsk-Luhansk are Russia’s historical and natural right, and no one can object to this.

US President Biden announced the first sanctions, saying ‘We have no intention of fighting Russia’.

EU leaders take a similar approach and are in favor of sanctions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that military buildup, fighter jets and warship reinforcements will be made to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. To support Ukraine, especially the USA, England, Netherlands, Spain and other NATO members promise to send their warships to the Black Sea.

From this point on, the possibility that Turkey, a NATO member and candidate for full membership in the EU, will face heavy pressures and difficulties in every aspect, both politically, militarily and economically, rises.

President Erdoğan and the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Mustafa Şentop, who said that the Montreux Straits Convention could be opened for discussion if necessary, had received reactions from Russia as well as opposition.

At that time, Russia declared at the highest level that Montreux was indispensable for peace and security in the Black Sea and could not be discussed. He declared that the rights and security of the countries bordering the Black Sea are under the guarantee of the Montreux Convention. Erdogan, on the other hand, argues that Montreux has not brought anything to Turkey so far, and that a serious monetary return will be obtained with Kanal Istanbul.

NATO’s move to send warships of non-Black Sea member countries to the Black Sea will put Turkey under pressure from all parties (US-NATO and Russia-Ukraine) due to the ‘neutrality’ rule on allowing ships to pass through the straits during wartime within the scope of Montreux.

The concentration of military and political pressures on Turkey as well as sanctions is a serious handicap. As Erdogan has emphasized, both countries are involved in Turkey’s economy, tourism, exports, energy policies, etc. of irrevocable importance.

The Turkish economy cannot afford the recent deterioration of bilateral trade relations, UAV-SİHA sales, billions of dollars in infrastructure, highway and airport tenders undertaken by contractors close to the government, visa-free travel agreements with identity cards, and the deterioration of relations with Ukraine, which has been on the rise in tourism.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists coming to Turkey in 2019 was close to 9 million. Although the EU and the UK kept Turkey on the travel ban list for a long time, 1.5 million Ukrainian and 4 million Russian tourists kept Turkey’s tourism alive. Russian Association of Tour Operators, ATOR, announced that 70 percent of early bookings in Russia this year are tours to Turkey.

In addition, more than 50 percent of Turkey’s imports of primarily bread wheat, sunflower oil, corn, barley, soy and many agricultural products are made from Ukraine and Russia. While the Ukraine-Turkey trade volume was 7 billion dollars in 2021, a trade volume of 10 billion dollars was targeted during Erdogan’s last visit to Kyiv.

Russia-Turkey trade is 29 billion dollars and the target is 100 billion dollars. In the event of a possible war, the expectation of Russian-Ukrainian tourists will be reversed, and the government’s $35 billion revenue target from tourism this year, its plans to suppress exchange rates and increase reserves, may collapse.

While Turkey may face serious economic losses with sanctions against Russia, Putin may increase the pressure on his “close friend” Erdogan to break the sanctions through Turkey.

Harsh statements against Russia may result in indirect sanctions from Russia, similar to the 2015 crisis, although not directly.

Erdogan is in a very troubled position between Ukraine-Russia-USA-EU and NATO. In case of possible support to Ukraine and the West, Russia may respond strongly in Idlib, Northern Syria and Libya.

At this point, it is highly likely that Turkey will be the biggest loser of the crisis. Dollar/TL rate increased from 13.50 to 13.90 and Euro/TL rose to 15.60. With the rise in global oil and natural gas prices, new hikes in fuel, natural gas and electricity are on the agenda.

This means that inflation is completely out of control, with chain hikes in all areas, exchange rate and cost increases.

While Putin’s moves in the Ukraine-Russia crisis forced Erdogan to interrupt his African safari, it confronted Turkey with a double-edged sword.


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