Strong Ukraine-Turkey Partnership Holds Key to Black Sea Security

As NATO reflects on its strategy in the Black Sea region and seeks to ensure stability and security in an increasingly turbulent environment, Ukraine and Turkey offer a model worth emulating by strengthening actively their strategic partnership by deepening political, military and technical cooperation. .

This partnership includes an intense and fruitful political dialogue between Turkish and Ukrainian leaders reinforced by the 2 + 2 Quadriga format of political and security consultations involving the Foreign and Defense Ministers of the two countries. Priority cooperation initiatives currently include large infrastructure projects and the joint production of Turkish Bayraktar drones, while plans are also evolving to unite efforts in the production of Ukrainian Antonov aircraft.

Ukraine and Turkey both have powerful armies. Turkey is NATO’s second-largest army, while Ukraine is one of the alliance’s main allies in the region with a record of combating Russian hybrid aggression for more than seven years. Both the Turkish and Ukrainian military have a wide range of active units with extensive combat experience. Unlike any current NATO member state, Ukraine also has a unique experience of direct combat engagement with modern Russian forces.

Ukraine and Turkey are on the same wavelength regarding the Russian occupation of Crimea, the two nations have pledged to apply policies of non-recognition. Ankara is one of Kiev’s most important partners in the recently launched Crimean Platform, a new international format launched in August 2021 that aims to counter security, economic, environmental, cultural and human rights threats emanating from the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, and to put an end to that occupation.

It is clear that the Russian militarization of occupied Crimea has significantly compromised the security situation throughout the Black Sea region. It is not just a Ukrainian problem. On the contrary, it creates major security challenges with regional and global implications.

According to current estimates, Russia has tripled its military presence in Crimea since 2014. Moscow has flooded the occupied peninsula with military equipment, including highly sophisticated weapon systems that pose a threat to countries in the Black Sea region. and as far as central Europe. The Kremlin is also using Crimea as a beachhead for its expanding military activities in the Middle East and Africa.

Russia is exploiting the occupation of Crimea to interfere with international maritime trade while threatening the cornerstones of maritime law, including freedom of navigation. Ukraine is currently working to hold Russia accountable in international courts for violating these principles.

Meanwhile, there is credible evidence that Russia is also engaged in violating Crimea’s nuclear-weapon-free state status by renovating the long-hidden Soviet-era nuclear facilities of Feodosia-13 and deploying nuclear aircraft carriers in the peninsula. If confirmed, that would make the ongoing militarization of Crimea a truly global threat.

Taking all these security factors into account, the Ukrainian authorities believe that there is a strong argument in favor of enhanced maritime cooperation between NATO and Ukraine in the Black Sea. These concerns also help explain why Turkey is willing to strengthen its naval position in the region and is currently engaged in strengthening security cooperation with Ukraine.

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Ukraine and Turkey are already working closely to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea region. This partnership makes strategic sense for both parties. As two great nations dominating the northern and southern shores of the Black Sea, Ukraine and Turkey are natural regional partners in the field of security.

Ukraine and Turkey have a long and rich history of bilateral relations stretching back several centuries. During the Cossack era, Ukrainians often made military and diplomatic alliances with the Ottoman Empire, while frequently finding themselves on opposing sides.

In recent years, the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Turkey has reached the highest level in the three decades since Ukraine regained its independence in 1991. This strengthening of ties owes much to the excellent personal relations between Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Another important cornerstone of the deepening of the current partnership is the presence of strong Crimean Tatar communities in Ukraine and Turkey. We commend President Erdogan for his personal involvement in the release of a number of Ukrainian political prisoners, the Crimean Tatars, from Russian captivity.

Ukraine and Turkey are truly friends in need. When Turkey battled devastating forest fires in the summer of 2021, Ukraine immediately decided to offer its help. Kiev sent two large Antonov firefighting planes and a number of specialized helicopters to Turkey. Ukrainian firefighters worked day and night to put out the fires and keep them away from tourist areas.

Our Turkish friends were very impressed with the capabilities of the Ukrainian Antonov firefighting planes. During the last meeting with my Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Lviv in October 2021, he expressed Turkey’s interest in Antonov planes. Ukraine welcomes this interest and is ready to explore the possibilities of joint production of Antonov aircraft and international export.

With the escalating climate crisis, the threat of wildfires in Turkey and dozens of other countries around the world appears to be here to stay, along with increased demand for firefighting aviation. . This makes the proposed cooperation in the aviation sector between Turkey and Ukraine strategically attractive. We plan to take this matter further at our next Quadriga meeting of Foreign and Defense Ministers, which will take place in December 2021 in Ankara.

Next year Ukraine and Turkey will celebrate 30 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. To mark this occasion, we plan to hold the next session of the Strategic Council between Ukraine and Turkey under the co-chairmanship of the two presidents.

A number of agreements and documents are being prepared for next year’s Strategy Council. Both sides see the February 2022 meeting as an opportunity to finally sign a long-awaited Turkish-Ukrainian free trade agreement after years of negotiations.

Once in force, this free trade agreement will significantly strengthen the already strong trade ties between the two Black Sea countries and facilitate the establishment of new trade ties. In view of the steady growth in bilateral trade, we also plan to hold a joint intergovernmental trade and economic commission in the near future.

Needless to say, Turkey and Ukraine have much more in common than booming trade, growing military and technical cooperation, and a shared commitment to end the Russian occupation of Crimea.

As my recent interviews with Mevlut Cavusoglu demonstrated, there is plenty of room to facilitate people-to-people contacts and deepen cultural and academic ties. In this spirit, we have agreed to establish a joint commission for historical research under the auspices of the Turkish and Ukrainian foreign ministries.

Influences from the South have always played a major role in shaping Ukrainian foreign policy, and still do today. In the summer of 2021, President Zelenskyy initiated the adoption of a National Foreign Policy Strategy, the first such strategic document in 30 years since Ukraine regained its independence.

This recently adopted document clearly defines Turkey as one of Ukraine’s most important strategic partners. It identifies a number of key axes in the relationship, such as free trade, military and technological partnership and cooperation on major infrastructure projects.

Priority areas for deepening the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Turkey include strengthening security cooperation in the Black Sea region (with potentially increased NATO involvement), continued engagement of Turkey in the development of the Crimean platform, and new joint efforts to protect the rights of the Crimean Tatars.

Ukraine and Turkey are developing a clear vision for the future security of the Black Sea region. It is time for NATO to start viewing this Ukrainian-Turkish partnership as a valuable additional force that can help ensure security and stability in the region.

Only the joint efforts of NATO allies, including Turkey, as well as the associated trio countries Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, will prevent the Black Sea from falling under Russian domination and becoming the object of activities. destabilizing Moscow.

The sooner we send a clear signal to the Kremlin about our resolve and unity, the better. No one needs a conflict in the Black Sea. Indeed, the only power ready to provoke new confrontations in the region is Russia. In the current security environment, projecting force is the best way to deter Moscow and avoid further escalation.

An increased NATO presence in the Black Sea neighborhood will significantly reduce tensions and stabilize the region, not the other way around. Ukraine has dealt with the Russians for a long time and understands their reasoning very well. Russian leaders only step up when they sense weakness. There is nothing more attractive from the Russian point of view than the indecisiveness of their opponents.

At the same time, Russia respects force and does not risk escalation when confident in the other side’s resolve. This is exactly why Ukraine is calling for a greater NATO presence in the Black Sea region and for greater cooperation between NATO and non-NATO allies. The Turkish-Ukrainian strategic partnership is a good example of the fact that such cooperation is not only feasible, but also very effective and mutually beneficial.

Dmytro Kuleba is the Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Further reading

The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation by promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia to ballast.

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Image: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu pictured during the October 2021 talks in Lviv. (Photo: courtesy)

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