Turkey’s Cautiously Active Foreign Policy Towards the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Abstract: As one of the key powers in the Black Sea region, Turkey’s response to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has the potential to direct the course of the conflict and by extension the future of Europe. Turkey’s calculus is influenced by a number of elements: its responsibilities as a regional power, its control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, and its economic and strategic engagements with Russia in multiple realms, including important partnerships in energy projects. This article argues that Turkey is following a cautiously active foreign policy in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Within the framework of the active part of its policy, Turkey has condemned Russia’s aggression, provided significant political and military support to Ukraine, and has pursued mediation between Russia and Ukraine. However, Turkey has also acted cautiously due to its deep strategic and economic relations with Russia. Therefore, Turkey has refused to join the sanctions against Russia and has sought to preserve its strategic and economic relations with Russia. With this stance Turkey has been able to contribute to mediation efforts without risking its ties with Russia. A possible change in Turkey’s stance could occur if Russia faces a decisive defeat in Ukraine or if Turkey and the West begin a more serious process of rapprochement.
On February 24, Putin declared the beginning of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine as he termed it.[i] The invasion began two days after Russia’s recognition of the two breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine and months after Russia began to amass troops on its border with Ukraine. Russian troops could capture a limited area in Ukraine’s Southeast, but has faced massive casualties.[ii] The humanitarian toll of the war in Ukraine is rising day by day. In reponse to the conflict, the West launched unprecedented sanctions that amount to economic war on Russia, and which have inflicted significant damage on the Russian economy.[iii] The sanctions spilled over to other areas where Russia and the West interact, with Russian athletes and national teams banned from competing in international tournaments, Russian festivals canceled, and even Russian cats banned from international competitions.[iv] In the course of a few weeks, Russia became an economic, strategic, and cultural pariah state.
Turkey is a key actor in the crisis due to its responsibilities as a regional power in the Black Sea region, its commercial and political relations with Russia and Ukraine, and important place in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. The regional tension has serious ramification for Turkey’s economy and security. Due to its deep ties with all parties, regional role, and desire to act as a mediator in the crisis, Turkey has followed a cautiously active foreign policy. Within the framework of its strategy, Turkey has condemned the aggression, called on the international community to undertake its duty against Russia’s aggression while also trying to resolve the conflict by using its special relations with the involved parties. So far, Turkey’s efforts have resulted in a meeting between two Foreign Ministers in Antalya on 10 March and a round of negotiations between the delegations from Ukraine and Russia in İstanbul on 29 March. As a result of the meeting in Istanbul, Russia agreet to scale down its military activities in the northern part of Ukraine. This expert brief explains the impact of the crisis on Turkey’s relations with Russia and Ukraine, discusses Turkey’s role in the conflict, and presents likely scenarios for Turkey’s future policy towards the conflict.