The War in Ukraine and Turkey’s Relations with NATO Allies

April 27, 2022

On Monday, April 25, following their visit to Kyiv, Secretaries Blinken and Austin spoke to the traveling press. They were asked the following question:

“… do you see a scenario where international support enables Ukraine to avoid losing this war to Russia, but isn’t able to fully expel Russian forces or reclaim its victory, and how would you think about such a scenario?”

Secretary Blinken said:

“In terms of wars won and lost, again, I come back to the proposition that in terms of Russia’s war aims, Russia has already failed… Where the contours of the war goes from here, how much death and destruction continues, obviously that’s of deep concern.  We want to do everything we can to help the Ukrainians bring this to an end on the possible terms as quickly as possible.  Much of the work that we’re doing is enabling them to strengthen their hand both on the battlefield right now, but also, eventually, at a negotiation if there is one.”

Later, Secretary Austin, in response to another question made the following remarks which attracted wide media attention:

“We want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory.  We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” (emphasis added)

Yesterday, Secretary Austin attended a US-organized gathering of senior defense officials of more than 40 countries to discuss Ukrainian defense needs for the fight against Russia. Among the non-NATO members were Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Qatar, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Tunisia, Sweden, Finland, and Ukraine. The “Ukraine Contact Group” is to meet monthly to strengthen Ukraine’s military for the long haul.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Austin said, “Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here.” It seems that the meeting aimed at showing the world that the Western opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not confined to NATO countries. It reminds one of the “Friends of Syria Group”.

However, General Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a stark picture of the next phase of the war.

“Time is not on Ukraine’s side,” Milley said in closed-door comments to the group of reporters traveling with him. “The next two, three, four weeks will shape the overall outcome of this fight,” he added.[i]

The German government has now confirmed reports that it will authorize the delivery of “Gepard” anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, marking a turning point in the cautious policy followed so far by Berlin in its military support to Kyiv.

Finally yesterday, UN Secretary-General Guterres met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin in Moscow. According to the UN, in remarks to the press, the Secretary-General, referring to the Resolution of March 2, 2022, passed by the General Assembly, said that Russia´s invasion is a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the Charter of the United Nations. Moreover, expressing concern about the repeated reports of violations of international humanitarian law and possible war crimes, he called for an independent investigation. He also said that President Putin agreed, in principle, to the involvement of the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Trying to stop a military conflict is always a daunting task. When those at war happen to be two permanent members of the UN Security Council, this must be mission impossible. Thus, the war between Russia and Ukraine supported by the US and NATO continues with no end in sight.

As for Turkey, in a recent Foreign Affairs article titled, “What If Russia Wins? A Kremlin-Controlled Ukraine Would Transform Europe”, Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage had said:

“The shock of a big military move by Russia will likewise raise questions in Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey has been enjoying the venerable Cold War game of playing off the superpowers. Yet Turkey has a substantial relationship with Ukraine. As a NATO member, it will not benefit from the militarization of the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. Russian actions that destabilize the wider region could push Turkey back toward the United States, which could in turn drive a wedge between Ankara and Moscow. This would be good for NATO, and it would also open up greater possibilities for a U.S.-Turkish partnership in the Middle East. Rather than a nuisance, Turkey could turn into the ally it is supposed to be.” [ii]

On Monday, a Turkish court sentenced civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in prison without parole. Seven other defendants were sentenced to 18 years in prison. Ankara had ignored a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2019 which called for Kavala’s release. The Gezi Park protests, the root cause of the accusations against the defendants, had marked the beginning of the downturn in Ankara’s relations with the Obama administration.

The same day, a statement by the US State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Kavala’s conviction said, “We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala, in keeping with European Court of Human Rights rulings, as well as to free all others arbitrarily incarcerated.  We remain gravely concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism, and criminal insult cases.” [iii]

To make a comparison, I looked at Ned Price’s March 22, 2022, press statement, “Aleksey Navalny Unjustly Convicted Again”. [iv] The first paragraph of this statement read:

“We condemn Russian authorities’ politically-motivated conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny on additional spurious charges to nine more years in a high security prison. This outlandish prison term is a continuation of the Kremlin’s years-long assault on Navalny and on his movement for government transparency and accountability. Of course, Navalny’s true crime in the eyes of the Kremlin is his work as an anti-corruption activist and opposition politician, for which he and his associates have been branded “extremists” by Russian authorities.”

Considering that the US and Russia are fighting an undeclared war in Ukraine, the slightly harsher language used in the Navalny case like the use of the word “condemn” was only to be expected. However, the essence of the message given in the two statements is the same.

Washington may say that this reflects a consistent US policy regarding the carrying out of justice no matter what, no matter where. It may also be that Washington increasingly sees Ankara and Moscow through the same prism of authoritarian rule. Whatever is the case, this must be a disappointment for those in Ankara who keep counting on the invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity for Turkey to upgrade its relations with Western allies.

—————————————————————————————————————

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/26/austin-putin-ukraine-support-military-russia/

[ii] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2022-02-18/what-if-russia-wins

[iii] https://www.state.gov/turkeys-conviction-of-osman-kavala/

[iv] https://www.state.gov/aleksey-navalny-unjustly-convicted-again/

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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