On a High Wire
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Turkish leaders have said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal. They have delivered drones and ammunition to Ukraine that have been key to helping Ukrainian forces repel Russia’s invasion. The drones have been used in “pop-up attacks on the invaders with a lethal effectiveness that has surprised Western military experts,” wrote the Associated Press. Turkey has also closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits to Russian warships, though Foreign Policy magazine noted that legal questions about that policy remain.
But Turkish society is split on who is to blame for the war in Ukraine.
As Middle East Eye explained, Turkish television features pundits who believe the US and NATO created the conditions that left Russia little choice but to invade – even though Turkey is a NATO member. One admiral said the invasion was “a step to end the imperialist Atlanticist” age. Another military leader said that NATO welcomes the conflict, knowing it would weaken Russia for generations.
Yet Turkey has also become the go-to country for mediating the conflict, according to the Guardian.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now trying to balance those two approaches as the war drags on. It’s not an easy job.
On one hand, Erdogan hopes that his close ties with Putin might help him negotiate an end to the fighting, boosting his standing on the world stage and cementing his place in NATO, wrote the Washington Post. On the other hand, that closeness comes with a price.
In a bid to retain ties with Putin and help his country’s struggling economy – Turkish inflation is at a 20-year high – Erdogan has declined to join the US and the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. In fact, Turkey has welcomed the cash of Russian oligarchs seeking to avoid sanctions, the Economist noted. That has hurt Erdogan’s reputation in Berlin, Paris, London and Washington.
Turkey has faced this conundrum for years. The heir of the former Ottoman Empire, the country has long bounced between East and West.
As Politico reported, a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber over the Syrian-Turkish border in 2015. Yet Turkey also angered its NATO allies when it purchased a Russian anti-aircraft system in 2017. More recently, Turkey backed Azerbaijan in a conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Moscow supported Armenia. At the same time, Turkey continues to import 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia.
The world should hope Turkey can play the role of peacemaker that Erdogan appears to yearn for, even when that means angering its allies.