In the midst of tense developments on the Russian-Ukrainian border, there continues to be intensified diplomatic activity in the region. Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Ukraine and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s visit to Russia, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a visit to Ukraine on Feb. 3. Next week, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Turkey.
Without a doubt, during Erdoğan’s visit to Kyiv, Turkey’s standing offer to mediate in the row between Russia and Ukraine was at the top of the agenda. Back in November, in response to a question from journalists, Erdoğan stated that Turkey would gladly act as a mediator. The Turkish leader’s proposal hasn’t received a negative response from either side since then. Just before Erdoğan’s recent Ukraine visit, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov stated that they would be open to holding peace talks in Turkey.
There are two main issues concerning Turkey in the Ukraine-Russia standoff. Feeling besieged by NATO countries, the Kremlin is openly against Ukraine becoming a NATO member. In the press statement made after Orban's visit, Putin said: "Imagine that Ukraine becomes a NATO member and launches those military operations, should we fight NATO then? Has anyone thought about it?" Keep in mind that the famous Article 5 binds all NATO member states. The article, however, is also binding in the event of a full-fledged ground movement or a crisis spreading from non-NATO member Ukraine to NATO member neighbors such as Poland and Romania. In such a scenario, Turkey as a NATO member would have to comply with the joint security decisions.
Currently, no one expects a large-scale ground offensive that could lead to an invasion. That means the tension may result in a guerrilla conflict along the border in the Donbass conflict zone, or Russia taking a small piece of land on the border as U.S. President Biden had pointed out. If that happens, it is quite possible that Turkey might not take part in a U.S.-led alliance that will have to defend Ukraine.
As a matter of fact, Croatia announced it would not send soldiers because Ukraine is not a NATO member. Within the scope of Article 5, border conflicts and member states’ border security are not included. In other words, members are left to their own fate. A case in point is Turkey being left alone to protect its own security against the conflicts arising from the Syrian border. To top it off, several formations at this border, which pose extremely dangerous threats against Turkey’s national interest and sovereignty, are openly backed by the U.S.
Another issue that concerns Turkey is the straits. If a hot conflict and tension erupted in the Black Sea, the U.S. and the U.K. may put pressure on Turkey to take a stand against Russia. In such a situation, Turkey would apply the Montreux Convention as it has done so far. Frankly speaking, in this context, meditation is a difficult task for Turkey to oversee as, on the one hand, there is the West (its natural ally in many cooperation fields), while, on the other hand, there is Russia (a partner with which it has been cooperating on several projects at the global and regional levels in recent years). That’s why Erdoğan once again called for the end of tension at the recent press conference held with his Ukrainian counterpart President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital.
Prior to his departure to Ukraine, the Turkish president stated in a press conference at the airport that Turkey will continue to express its support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the strategic partner and neighbor Ukraine. “As a Black Sea country, we support peace in the region and invite all parties to remain moderate and engage in dialogue. It is obvious that the conflict should be resolved by peaceful methods and on the basis of international law,” Erdoğan said.
Speaking to Bloomberg ahead of his visit to Ukraine, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said, “We are members of NATO and one of the most active members of decision-making mechanisms for international security issues.”
Altun underlined that: “Turkey will do its part both in the formation and implementation of a common policy. Of course, we will not forget other international agreements that we are a party to. We show the same sensitivity to the articles and requirements of the Montreux Convention and will continue to do so.”
Now all eyes are on whether Putin will kick off an attack after the Beijing Winter Olympics in China. Undoubtedly, Ukraine's interlocutor in this crisis is Russia, and the latter's interlocutor is the U.S. Like the Cold War years, the two powers, namely Russia and the U.S., have now come face to face on another land.
For this reason, some international relations experts do not find the definition of the Cold War correct. Because, even though the Cold War was a state of not fighting each other, there were wars and very costly results in many parts of the world, such as in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Today, the ongoing power conflict in Syria and Ukraine is being handled in almost the same context. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dubbed the Ukraine-Russia crisis as the deepest crisis between the Atlantic line and Russia since the Cold War era. We will see in the coming days whether the crisis will lead to a “domino theory” prophecy or whether it will remain as a guerrilla war on the Ukrainian border.