Cooperation between Turkey in Ukraine is vital for security in the Black Sea region, Kyiv’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday, as ties between the two allies grow stronger in every field including economy, defense, trade and tourism.
“Ukraine and Turkey are developing a clear vision for the future security of the Black Sea region,” Kuleba wrote in an article for Atlantic Council, an American think tank.
“It is time for NATO to begin viewing this Ukrainian-Turkish partnership as a valuable supplementary force that can help provide security and stability in the region,” he stressed.
Only joint action by NATO including ally Turkey “will make it possible to prevent the Black Sea from falling under Russian dominance and becoming subject to Moscow’s destabilizing activities.”
Speaking on relations with Ankara, Kuleba said that partnership was strengthened by the 2+2 quadriga format of political and security consultations involving the two countries’ ministers of foreign affairs and defense.
“Priority cooperation initiatives currently include large infrastructure projects and the joint production of Turkish Bayraktar drones, while plans are also evolving to unite efforts in the production of Ukrainian Antonov aircraft,” he added.
Most recently, Ukraine's defense ministry late Tuesday published a video of what it said was its first use of the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar drone in the conflict, targeting artillery.
Ukraine recently employed a Turkish-made unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), the Bayraktar TB2, to destroy a howitzer used by pro-Russian separatists in Donbass.
The introduction of the drone is a potential game-changer in the yearslong conflict, considering that Turkish drones were used by Azerbaijan last year to overpower Armenia's army in Nagorno-Karabakh – another frozen post-Soviet conflict.
The Kremlin said Wednesday that its fears about Turkey's decision to sell strike drones to Ukraine were being realized and that the Turkish drones risked destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the Kremlin’s concerns, saying Russia was investigating reports that Ukraine used the Turkish drone.
"This should give pause to those who give airtime to Ukraine's stubborn demands that it should be admitted to NATO right away," he said.
Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in February 2014, with President Vladimir Putin formally dividing the region into two separate federal subjects of the Russian Federation the following month.
Turkey, a NATO member, has criticized Moscow's annexation of Crimea and voiced support for Ukraine's territorial integrity. The United States and United Nations General Assembly view the annexation as illegal as well.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Donbass has seen more than 13,000 people killed since 2014, according to the U.N.
The region is one of several sources of friction between Russia and Ukraine.
On the other side, Latvia praised Turkey’s support for Ukraine on Thursday.
The European Union should take an example from Turkey for its support toward Ukraine, Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said.
“(The) European Union should take (an) example from Turkey as far as its assistance to Ukraine to fight invaders, and provide support to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to construct a modern border due to hybrid attacks. At this moment, Poland and (the) Baltic States are doing the EU's job and paying for it,” he wrote on Twitter.
Latvia had signaled in June it could be the second EU and NATO member state to acquire Turkish UAVs that have scored high-profile successes in the field, following the purchase by Poland.
“Recent years have seen the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Turkey reach the highest level in the three decades since Ukraine restored its independence in 1991,” Kuleba said, indicating that both countries will celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations in 2022.
He said that new agreements are being prepared ahead of next year’s Strategic Council.
“Both sides see the February 2022 meeting as an opportunity to finally sign a long-awaited Turkish-Ukrainian free trade agreement following years of negotiations,” he noted.
To a large extent, the countries have managed to keep the volume of bilateral trade at $4.7 billion (TL 32.68 billion) in the face of the pandemic.
In the first quarter of 2021, bilateral trade volume increased by 18% and was realized at around $1.5 billion.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Zelenskyy recently agreed to finalize the negotiations for the free trade agreement to increase trade volume between the countries to $10 billion.
Last year, despite the pandemic, around a million Ukrainians visited Turkey, whereas almost 150,000 Turkish tourists visited Ukraine.
Another important factor contributing to positive ties between the countries is the presence of strong Crimean Tatar communities in both Ukraine and Turkey, Ukraine’s top diplomat noted.
“We commend President Erdogan for his personal involvement in freeing a number of Ukrainian political prisoners, Crimean Tatars, from Russian captivity.”
Ankara is one of Kyiv’s most important partners in the recently initiated Crimea Platform, he pointed out.
Ukraine established the Crimean Platform in October 2020 as part of its strategy on the de-occupation of Crimea.
Turkey was among the first countries to voice support for the Crimean Platform to be held on Aug. 23.
Crimean Tatars are a Muslim community indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula. Most Crimean Tatars opposed Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Russian authorities have since cracked down on the community, banning their assembly and television channel as well as detaining and jailing dozens of activists.
Saying that Kyiv and Ankara are friends in need, he reminded that Ukraine also supported Turkey during the wildfires that raged through the country in the summer.
“Kyiv dispatched two large firefighting Antonov aircraft and a number of specialized helicopters to Turkey. Ukrainian firefighters worked night and day to extinguish fires and keep them away from tourist areas,” he said.