Russia - Ukraine War and Turkish Foreign Policy

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After Russia started the war in Ukraine, Türkiye found itself in a delicate position between the two antagonists. But this challenge may very well serve as an opportunity to emancipate itself into an independent pole of power, a full-fledged regional leader....

After Russia started the war in Ukraine, Türkiye found itself in a delicate position between the two antagonists. But this challenge may very well serve as an opportunity to emancipate itself into an independent pole of power, a full-fledged regional leader.

The current dynamics of the international political system in Europe provoked by the conflict in Ukraine demands every country to take its position towards all of the main points set up by both Russia and Ukraine with very little space to remain neutral. From the point of view of the European mainstream, as a member of NATO and a state still formally aspiring to join the European Union, Türkiye was supposed to become part of the Western coalition that formed its shape somewhere between spring and winter of 2022[1] with the principal aim to contain Russia and not let Ukraine lose its independence and regain territorial integrity. As this conflict developed, becoming the number one factor in European political agenda, no country could stay aside and all of EU and NATO member states, sooner or later, enthusiastically[2] or reluctantly[3], joined the common view that Russia shall not win this war (another question is whether Ukraine shall win it and what would the supposed geopolitical parameters of its victory look like) and engaged in supporting Ukraine[4].

But Ankara didn’t uncritically follow the West neither in its rhetoric nor in the practical activity to encourage Ukrainian war effort, taking a maximally possible neutral position expressed in its refusal to actively support sanctions against Russia on the official level[5] and conducting mediation activity that requires frequent and active dialogues with Moscow[6]. Türkiye keeps sticked to its formal liabilities (for example in refusing to engage in the conflict as neither its territory nor the one of its NATO allies was attacked) and the international law (by supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine in its full internationally recognized borders including Donbass and Crimea) but at the same time avoids antagonizing Russia.

Ankara also eludes diplomatic exacerbation by trying to avoid interpreting this conflict in ideological terms (the ones that are the most difficult to find the common denominator and thus serve to fuel the antagonism and not to eclipse it) and by paying more attention to its pragmatic aspects, the ones that may be solved relatively easily. And this attitude bring its fruits: it was soon after the war started noticed, acknowledged and appreciated by both sides as well as by the international community as a whole.

Despite the moral activation in the West as well as the patriotic boost in Russia, Turkish position was acknowledged without unnecessary emotional judgement on both sides: Western commentators and politicians avoid condemning Ankara for its stance towards the conflict (although they usually have much to say about other issues concerning Türkiye) and, at the same time, unlike in the past, Türkiye is not the negative hero of the Russian propaganda. The uncontroversial reaction from both sides, including that of the official Kiev reveals the understanding of the fact, that every conflict needs a peace broker and the existence of an intermediary that is in a position to keep contacting both sides increases chances to reach an acceptable ceasefire if not the overall peace deal. And while awaiting the final settlement, Ankara engages into provisional solutions of the critically important issues created by the ongoing conflict, such as the grain exportation deal and the exchange of the prisoners of war.

But the neutral position of Türkiye towards the conflict has much wider reasons and consequences than just positioning itself as an intermediary ready and apt to solve the immediate problems created by the conflict itself[7]. It is a part of a Turkish grand strategy designed to define country’s role between Europe and Russia in the strategic perspective, long after the end of this war[8]. Ankara takes advantage of the opportunity created by the conflict to present, introduce and get accepted its renewed status of an independent element of a new international order in Eurasia.



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