Erdoğan’s Turkey will not join West in punishing Russia

Turkey will not join the West in implementing punitive steps against Russia despite opposing its decision to formally recognise two breakaway states in Ukraine, Aykan Erdemir, senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said in an interview for Ahval's '12 Minutes' podcast series.

Erdemir, who is head of the FDD’s Turkey programme, said NATO member Turkey’s reaction to Russia’s actions, which have also included ordering troops into the region, was rhetorical and there were no hints of political or economic repercussions.

Erdoğan told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday that Turkey opposed any decision targeting Ukraine's territorial integrity, according to state media. He said Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway states was unacceptable and called on both sides to respect international law.

“This is in stark contrast to, for example, Germany, where the Nord Stream 2 pipeline certification process was halted, and this is also in stark contrast to the United Kingdom, where the government announced sanctions against five Russian banks and three Russian oligarchs,” Erdemir said.

Erdoğan is very likely to attempt to leverage the Ukraine crisis to increase Turkey’s status and thereby his own standing vis-à-vis both the United States and the European Union, Erdemir said.

He said Putin probably does not care much about Erdoğan’s words on Ukraine as they carry little other weight.

“If Erdoğan refrains from joining other NATO allies to announce concrete steps including sanctions, Putin will be quite happy,” Erdemir said.

Turkey has used its veto power within NATO a number of times to water down either statements or punitive actions against Russia, Erdemir said. During the annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, Turkey refrained from taking any punitive action despite a Turkic minority residing there.

Erdemir emphasised that Turkey is heavily dependent on grain imports, natural gas and tourists from Russia. Furthermore, Turkish agricultural exports and the construction business in Russia are significant revenue sources for Turkey’s struggling economy.

“So, given the financial meltdown back home, Erdoğan does not really have any room economically, politically or militarily to take a stance against Russia,” he said.

The Turkish lira slumped by 44 percent against the dollar last year. The currency’s weakness and surging global energy prices has pushed annual inflation to a two-decade high of 48.7 percent.

Erdemir characterised the situation facing Erdoğan as a Russian trap laid by himself.

Relations between Turkey and Russia have warmed significantly over the past five years. Putin and Erdoğan have held regular meetings on the phone and face-to-face and have managed to find common ground over competing interests in Syria, Libya and the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh at the expense of Turkey’s NATO allies.

Erdoğan has also bought S-400 air defence missiles from Moscow, an acquisition that has led to the United States excluding it from a programme to develop and purchase the F-35 advanced fighter jet.

Erdemir said Turkey’s sway over Russia in Ukraine is very limited even after it sold armed drones to its Black Sea neighbour and advanced various strategic initiatives in areas such as the economy and defence.

“Yes, there are a dozen or more Turkish drones and the ongoing negotiations for a closer Ukrainian Turkish defence cooperation in Ukraine, but ultimately, I think Turkey won't have much opportunity to gain leverage against the Kremlin,” Erdemir said.

“Overall, the global economic and financial fallout from the Ukraine crisis will hit Turkey really hard,” he said.

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