| 4 March 2024, Monday |

Turkey, balancing Russia ties, says drones to Ukraine are sales not aid

Turkey’s drone supplies to Ukraine are not military help, but rather private sales, according to a deputy Turkish foreign minister cited on Thursday, emphasizing Ankara’s efforts to avoid irritating Moscow in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO member Turkey, which shares a maritime border with Russia and Ukraine and has strong relations with both, has condemned the invasion but avoided the harsher rhetoric of other alliance members and opposes the deployment of sanctions.

Turkey cooperates closely with Russia in energy, trade and defense. It has also sold Bayraktar TB-2 drones to Kyiv and signed a deal to co-produce more during a visit there last month by President Tayyip Erdogan, angering Moscow.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s defense minister said it received a fresh shipment of the armed drones, which have proven effective in recent years against Russian forces and their allies in conflicts in Syria and Libya.

In an interview with pro-government newspaper Sabah, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran said Kyiv had purchased the drones from Baykar, a private Turkish defense company, stressing this did not represent an agreement between the nations.

“Ukraine wanted to buy this product from our firm, and they made a strong deal among themselves,” Kiran said, according to Sabah.

“This is not help from Turkey. These are products Ukraine bought from a Turkish company. Of course, we are proud of these products,” he added.

The comments come as Western nations ramp up sanctions on Russia and military aid for Ukraine as it fights to fend off a slew of Russian attacks.

Since Russia launched its invasion a week ago, the Ukrainian Embassy in Ankara has posted several videos of what they say are Turkish-made drones hitting Russian targets. Sabah called this manipulation meant to cause Turkey-Russia friction.

Russia had previously raised concerns with Turkey over Ukraine’s use of the drones in the country’s east, but Ankara says it is not responsible for what buyers do. Cheaper than U.S. and Chinese rivals, Turkish drones have attracted buyers from Europe, Africa and Asia.

Turkey – also heavily reliant on Russian tourists – this week closed its straits linking the Mediterranean and Black Seas to all military traffic under a 1936 pact, allowing it to limit passage of some Russian warships.

Highlighting its tough balance, Turkey abstained from a vote to suspend Moscow’s membership in the Council of Europe. Yet on Monday at the U.N. General Assembly it slammed Russia’s invasion and called for countries to defend Ukrainian people.

  • Reuters