Despite his country’s recently warming ties with Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned Moscow’s decision to recognize the two Ukrainian enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Speaking to reporters, President Erdogan described as “unacceptable” Russia’s recognition of the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, calling on all parties to abide by international law.
Turkey has strongly backed Ukraine, even selling Kyiv its latest military drones despite protests from Moscow. Last October, a Kremlin spokesman warned that Turkey’s ongoing arms sales to Ukraine threaten to destabilize the region.
Russia’s increasingly aggressive policy in the shared Black Sea region is causing Ankara concern, says international relations professor Mustafa Aydin of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“Until a few years (ago), Turkey had the most powerful navy in the Black Sea after the Cold War, but now Russia has surpassed,” Aydin said. “Especially the militarization of the zone by Russia, not only Crimea, but across the Black Sea region from Armenia to the north Caucasus, to the Ukrainian border; it puts not only Turkey but all the NATO countries in a defensive position.”
Erdogan has in recent years developed close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, extending from cooperating in Syria to trade and investment. Asli Aydintasbas, a senior Fellow of the European Council, says that relationship has put Moscow in a strong position with Ankara.
“Russia holds way too many cards. They hold the card of refugees in Syria. One sortie from a Russian fighter jet could get people in Syria to panic and run to the border,” Aydintasbas said. “They hold the natural gas card: Turkey in the middle of winter, does need Russian gas. And Russians have been investing in Turkey’s key infrastructure. They are building Turkey’s first nuclear reactor.”
Analysts point out that Turkey’s dependency on Russian energy exports and cooperation in Syria mean Erdogan will have to tread carefully with Moscow. In addition, Russia sends Turkey its largest number of vacationers, boosting itss key tourism sector, which provides vital foreign currency to the country’s beleaguered economy.
Analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners warns that with the Turkish economy struggling to recover from a currency collapse last year, Turkey is especially vulnerable to any retaliation from Russia.
“If the (Turkish) currency weakens once more obviously, it will immediately pass through to inflation,” Yesilada said. “Then inflation would shoot up to hyperinflation levels which is unstable inflation which may reach three digits.”
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin – in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt last weekend – criticized sanctions on Russia, saying they were useless. Turkey strongly opposed earlier economic measures against Russia.
As Ankara works to balance relations with both its Western allies and the Kremlin, analysts say this juggling act could face its greatest test in decades if the crisis over Ukraine deepens.