| 29 May 2024, Wednesday |

NATO member Turkey, opposed to sanctions, in bind over Ukraine

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to recognize two separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as independent, NATO member and Black Sea neighbor Turkey reacted quickly, but stopped short of declaring any punitive actions.

Turkey is in an unusual position: it has strong relations with both Ukraine and Russia, but it also opposes sanctions in principle, even as the West prepares to impose them on Moscow as long predicted.

The situation has left President Tayyip Erdogan juggling diplomatic relations, NATO commitments, and shielding Turkey’s battered economy from back-to-back shocks following a currency crisis in December.

Any step too far against Moscow, and Ankara risks upsetting important Russian energy supplies, trade and tourism, analysts say.

“It is the prospect of a prolonged bloodless conflict or substantive sanctions on Russia’s energy exports that could hurt Turkey deeply (and threaten) economic stability,” said Atilla Yesilada, Istanbul-based analyst at GlobalSource Partners.

Striking the balance Turkey employed for decades, Erdogan often highlights his friendship with Putin but has warned Russia against an invasion and offered to mediate the crisis. He has also criticized the West’s handling of things as a hindrance to peace.

On Tuesday, Turkey called Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s separatists an unacceptable violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Ergodan – who visited Kyiv this month – rejected it and called on parties to respect international laws, likely his sharpest language towards Moscow since a crisis over Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet near Turkey’s Syrian border in 2015.

Erdogan and Putin have since warmed and Turkey bought Russian missile defenses in 2019, which prompted U.S. anger and sanctions. Since then, Ankara has opposed sanctions against any country.

“Sanctions against Russia are useless. You only postpone the problems,” Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Die Welt at the weekend, adding “new rules and principles” were needed for both Russia and the West to “feel safe”.

“Russia feels threatened by NATO,” he added.

While cooperating with Russia in energy and trade, Turkey has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine and inked a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow.

Complicating diplomacy, Turkey opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya even as it forges cooperation on the ground there. It also opposes Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in Georgia as independent.


Russia supplied some 46% of Turkey’s gas last year, and Ankara is looking to strike shorter-duration gas deals with Moscow to relieve import costs. Inflation has soared to near 50%, hurting Erdogan’s poll standing, after the lira crash.

The currency slipped to its lowest since mid-January on concerns over economic fallout including for Turkey’s tourism sector, for which Russians are the top arrivals.

Without elaborating, Erdogan has said Turkey will do what is necessary as a NATO member in the event of a Russian invasion.

The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkey control over the straits within its borders, and during peacetime guarantees access for civilian vessels to and from the Black Sea. It also limits access of naval warships, helping to protect the Black Sea from militarization.

Can Kasapoglu, director of security and defense studies programme at EDAM, said Turkey had made clear it backs Ukraine. But a Russian troop buildup in the Black Sea should “really worry” it, especially the risk of a change of leadership in Ukraine, he said.

“In this case, defense technology cooperation with Turkey may be suspended, as Russia is uncomfortable with a NATO nation’s defense technological and industrial base developing ties with the post-Soviet space,” he said.

  • Reuters