Domestic issues of Eastern European countries do not get much attention in the rest of the world unless they are dramatic or violent events. However, in the wake of its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine in general and the name of a place where some political protests began to take place in the capital Kiev must have attracted some attention from Turkish people. The name of the square used to be Square of the October Revolution until 1991, but it was changed to Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), which later became known as simply "Maidan." This word with its Turkic origin "meydan" is a common word and currently used to depict city or town squares all over Turkey like the famous Taksim Meydanı (Square) in Istanbul. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's recent official visit and participation in the fifth session of the Ukraine-Turkey High-Level Strategic Council last week highlighted Turkish interest in Ukraine once again.
In fact, Turkey has been watching the developments taking place in Ukraine carefully as Russia annexed the autonomous region of Crimea in 2014. Turkish people believe that they have historical bonds with the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatars, and neither the public not President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was content with Russia's illegal annexation of the region. Erdoğan clearly expressed this disgruntlement at the joint press conference with Poroshenko. Erdoğan's criticism directly targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia's annexation of Crimea and recent intervention in Syria in terms of breaching international laws. Erdoğan insists that in this modern age one simply could go and interfere with another country's domestic issues simply because they are invited. Here the problem is not Russia's invitation of Ukraine and Syria but the direct action and implementation of Putin's grand plans for a Eurasian union. In order to realize this plan Russia would not allow Ukraine to join NATO or the European Union. Likewise, the Russian presence in the Middle East could be understood as a dream of expanding client states in the region. These interventions, at enormous costs to the welfare of the country, clearly show that Russia is no longer a powerful actor since being powerful means the capacity to exert power without physical presence by deploying troops to places where you have ambitions. This not-so-powerful Russia under the presidency of Putin has been posing threats to its neighboring countries and should be stopped with the cooperation of regional countries. Otherwise Putin is going to take his country and others into an abyss with his rogue state attitudes.
Therefore, establishing cooperation between neighboring countries is vital for regional stability and security. Broader participation in bilateral and multilateral projects, especially in the energy sector, would help stabilize economic development of the partnering countries. Ukraine, with a population of 50 million, is a significant marketing opportunity for Turkey and it has already been invited to take part in the privatization of many state investments.
Realism must be a key priority in international relations, that is, when circumstances change a state should be able reassess its current engagements according to emerging conditions. If Russia threatens Turkey with an economic boycott or cutting off energy supplies, then Turkey should be able to explore new opportunities. For example, Turkey could use Ukrainian underground gas storage facilities and cheap tourist tours for Ukrainians in Turkey like it did for Russian tourists for a long time. Erdoğan's promise of $10 million in humanitarian aid would definitely bring the two countries closer in other spheres as well. Parliament's recognition of the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars as an act of genocide would definitely improve relations and deepen the strategic alliance. Turkey should support Ukrainian efforts to gain self-respect and prove that Ukraine is no longer a borderland, as the name of the country means, or a client or even satellite state of Russia, which could militarily dominate as it pleases itself. As a state, Turkey has respected the territorial integrity of its neighbors since its foundation a century ago and, similarly, Turkey would continue to be on the side of the people within these sovereign states when they are exposed to brutal attacks from their rulers. Russia should stop playing like a naughty child on the streets of the Soviet Union in the last century since the post-red lines Zeitgeist is the soft power of the state.
*Professor of anthropology in the Department of Radio, Television and Cinema at Marmara University
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