Last week, the Turkish public agenda has been moved by only a single topic.
The Russian military intervention in Ukraine was debated heavily in the Turkish public, both countries being neighbors and strategic partners of Turkey.
Many politicians, diplomats and party leaders have made statements regarding their political evaluation, the stance that Turkey should take, the results of this war for economy and social life and the issue regarding the Montreux Convention.
On early morning of 24th February 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military intervention in Ukraine, two days after recognizing diplomatically the two autonomous regions in eastern Ukraine. The recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk drew condemnations and announcements of tougher sanctions against Moscow.
Explosions in several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, and military vehicles crossing the border from Belarus into Ukraine were seen on February 22nd.
The policy of balance of the government
Two days later the nation’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who stated Russia’s attack on Ukraine violates international law and is “unacceptable”, chaired a Turkish security summit.
One day later, speaking to reporters the President said: “The European Union, as well as all the other Western conceptions, unfortunately, have not taken a serious and resolute stance at the moment in Ukraine.”
On Ukrainian President Zelensky’s remarks that they were left to fight “alone”, Erdogan said that the West’s advice and failure to show a determined stance “does not comply with friendship or solidarity.”
On February 26th, President Erdogan and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky held a phone talk to discuss the Russian intervention on Ukraine.
According to a statement on the same day by the Presidency of Turkey, Erdogan told Zelensky that Ankara was making efforts for a cease-fire to avoid any further loss of life.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Turkish and Azerbaijani presidents would help Kyiv start negotiations with Moscow.
On the previous Monday, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu had said that Turkey was implementing the Montreux Convention for the straits “to the fullest,” and would continue to do so.
“Until today, the Russians were asking whether we would implement Montreux if needed. We told them that we would strictly follow the convention,” he added.
If Turkey is not a belligerent in the war, it has the authority to prohibit the passage of the ships of belligerent countries through its straits, he said. If a warship is returning to its base in the Black Sea, its passage is allowed, he added.
On previous Tuesday, presidents of Turkey and Belarus spoke by phone on the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko discussed Monday’s negotiations between delegations from Ukraine and Russia in Belarus, the Turkish presidency said on Twitter.
Erdogan told Lukashenko that Turkey “will continue to make efforts to stop this war and establish peace.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that he is working with his Turkish counterpart to attempt to arrange a meeting between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine.
Lukashenko pointed to the Turkish President’s friendship with both Putin and Zelensky.
He also cited Erdogan’s efforts to bring the two leaders together for talks.
Status quo on Montreux Convention
Again on Tuesday, Turkey’s Defense Minister said that eroding the status quo of the Montreux Convention governing the Turkish Straits would benefit no one.
Speaking to reporters, National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said: “Over the years, the status quo of Montreux has been maintained very successfully. While the convention is beneficial to all coastal countries, it also regulates the entry and exit of ships of other countries to the Black Sea.”
Akar added that as Turkey has done so far, it will continue to implement the pact, mentioning in particular Articles 19, 20 and 21.
Again on previous Tuesday, Turkish President reiterated his call for a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine.
“Our call on both Russia and Ukraine is for them to cease their fire as soon as possible,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a joint press conference alongside his Kosovar counterpart Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu.
Erdogan called on both Moscow and Kyiv to “make a good contribution to world peace.”
The same day the Turkish Foreign Minister said that Turkey has no intention of joining in international sanctions against Russia over its war with Ukraine.
“As a principle, we did not participate in such sanctions in a general sense. We have no intention of joining in these sanctions, either,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Turkish TV news channels.
Speaking on the Montreux Convention, Cavusoglu said Ankara had sent official notifications about its position on the matter to the countries involved in the war.
He added that Russia had accepted when Turkey asked Russia to withdraw its request for warships not registered in its Black Sea fleet to pass through the Straits.
Cavusoglu mentioned in particular that Articles 19 of the convention would be implemented.
Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Aleksey Yerhov on the other hand, said on last Wednesday that his country appreciated Ankara’s attitude to comply with the Montreux Straits Convention.
Stressing that the Montreux Straits Convention is also closely related to them, Yerhov said: “I must also say that we appreciate Turkey’s attitude to the protection and compliance of the Montreux Convention, an important document of international law.”
“I believe that together we can reach a situation where all our interests, all our desires can be realized,” he said, pointing out that Russia is in constant contact with the Turkish authorities about the use of Montreux and the straits.
On the same day Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey has no plans to impose sanctions on Russia at this point as the country does not want its strong economic ties with Moscow to be damaged.
Kalin participated in British journalist Becky Anderson’s program on CNN International and made assessments of the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Kalin emphasized that Turkey wants to remain in dialogue with Russia as a more important factor, thus avoiding the sanctions decision.
Stating that officials from Western countries have also conveyed to Turkish authorities the importance of Turkey staying in touch with Russia, Kalin said: “Some of us need to stay in touch with Russia and encourage them to return to the negotiating table.”
On the question of whether Turkey’s positive approach to the issue of NATO enlargement also covers Ukraine’s possible NATO membership scenario, Kalin said they are not looking at this possibility positively at this stage.
“We are aware of how sensitive the issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership is. This is one of the main reasons why we want this illegal war to end, and we hope that Ukrainians will understand us as well,” he said.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin about the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and what to do to solve the conflict.
Turkey is ready to help resolve the situation by “peaceful means” as soon as possible, Erdogan told Putin.
“A cease-fire would not only resolve humanitarian concerns but also give an opportunity to find a political solution,” he stated.
Turkey is in contact with the Ukrainian side and other countries, he said, adding that it “will continue efforts for comprehensive negotiations.”
On Monday, Turkey welcomed the cease-fire announced by Russia for the evacuation of civilians in Ukraine.
In a Twitter post, Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, said his country would continue to work for ensuring a permanent cease-fire and a positive result from the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.
Again on Monday Turkey’s Foreign Minister announced a tripartite meeting with Ukraine and Russia to be held at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum later this week.
“We will hold this meeting in a tripartite format in Antalya on Thursday, March 10th,” said Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Expressing hope that the meeting “will be a turning point” and “an important step” towards peace and stability, the Turkish Foreign Minister said Ankara would “continue to make efforts for a lasting peace.”
Calls to leave NATO
There were some other statements from political party leaders in Turkey as well, regarding the crisis in Ukraine.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), on Thursday called for an “urgent” cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine.
“A very urgent cease-fire regime should be established between Russia and Ukraine,” Bahceli said.
“Russia should immediately halt the occupation and withdraw its military elements from Ukraine” he added.
Bahceli also called on NATO to “definitely” reconsider its eastward expansion strategy.
“NATO must abandon its quest to keep its strength and its member states together by generating virtual fears” Bahceli said.
While blaming the UN for not taking any action, Bahceli added that the only solution to Ukraine’s crisis is diplomacy and dialogue.
Bahceli also heavily criticized the NATO membership of Turkey by saying ” There are some ignorant and collaborationists who claim that ‘if Turkey was not a member of NATO, Turkey would be torn apart’. To say that ‘without NATO, Turkey would be torn apart’ is the delusion of those who serve for the United States. NATO did not exist in Turkey until 1952. On whose behalf did the treacherous coupists attempt to take over the country on the night of July 15th, 2016? Who is protecting and funding FETO and the traitor Gulen against us today? To say that Turkey would be divided without NATO is a blatant insult to the Turkish nation. I wonder: Where was NATO when Turkey’s national security, territorial integrity and population were directly attacked many times? And on the contrary why did the US provide weapons, assistance, training and logistical support to terrorists?”
Bahceli added, “Turkey will not be a frontline country. Turkey will not take on arms in honor of the West. Whatever our national interests require, and the political dynamics of Ankara emphasize, that will be our course and position. And this situation also should not damage our political, commercial and economic relations with Russia wither.”
No to sanctions against Russia
Vatan Party leader Dogu Perincek also made comments on the Turkish stance on the Russo-Ukrainian war: “It is a good thing Turkey did not join on the sanctions. But soon the Russians would turn their deals down. That is because they do not know if they are actually dealing with a sovereign country or with America’s envoy. The government tries to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. On whose behalf are we going to negotiate with Russia? It can only mean something if we mediate as a sovereign country that faces the same fates and threats to national security as Russia. Are we going to mediate as America’s envoy? They are trying to say “We are not cutting ties with Russia because we will be the envoy for America”. Who will they call for help when some problems and threats reach us? Can the Free Syrian Army save Turkey? Or can Ukraine? Is Zelensky going to come to your aid? Ukraine is basically ‘the Greece of the Black Sea’.”
The Vatan Party delivered a statement regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War and the heavy price increases in energy and agricultural products as its consequences. Since the beginning of the war prices of gasoline and diesel has increased nearly 40%, and the basic food products such as sunflower seed oil, which both Russia and Ukraine are the top two producers of, has nearly doubled. The statement read: “We buy agro-industrial products such as grain, sunflower oil, and important energy products such as hard coal from Russia and Ukraine. We have the opportunity to secure our imports in these areas under the most favorable conditions. We will provide it.”
“Sanctions against Russia and Iran are sanctions against Turkey. We do not recognize these sanctions. The USA pursues sanctions against 41 countries, thus imposing sanctions on itself. Turkey can satisfy its natural gas, oil, and diesel needs from Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Qatar, and Algeria, thus not giving in to the US dictates. We will turn these sanctions imposed on Russia and Iran into an opportunity to provide cheap diesel to our industrial and agricultural producers and cheap electricity to our people.”