In Istanbul as elsewhere, fear has been mixed with amazement for a week, while Russian forces are gaining ground in Ukraine. Eyes quickly turned to Ankara, because in this war Turkey is advancing on a ridge line.
→ READ. War in Ukraine, 14th day: update on the situation
On Monday February 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that he considered “unacceptable” the Russian attack. A member of NATO, Turkey has aligned itself with the positions of the Atlantic Alliance. It is also close to Kiev, to which it sells combat drones, the Bayraktar TB2, to Moscow’s chagrin.
“The third country that will suffer the most from the consequences of the war”
But while she condemned the Russian invasion, she abstained in the February 25 vote to suspend Russia from the Council of Europe. “We don’t want to cut the dialogue”, had then justified the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavusoğlu.
The ban on the passage of three Russian warships in the Bosphorus, which he announced on Tuesday March 1, is less a response to Ukrainian demands than a strict application of the Montreux Convention which has governed the Turkish straits since 1936.
“Turkey is the third country that will suffer the most from the consequences of this war”estimate for The cross Cihat Yaycı, former Navy Chief of Staff. Aware of the heavy potential fallout for his country, the Turkish president is increasing attempts to mediate between the two belligerents. Monday, March 7, he would have proposed to Vladimir Putin, during a telephone interview, “to pave the way to peace together”.
Turkey will also host the Diplomatic Forum in Antalya, in the south of the country, from March 11 to 13, to which the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are expected. Ankara wants to see it as a new opportunity for dialogue.
44% of Russian gas imports
Tensions with its Western allies, and the United States in particular, have prompted Turkey to realign its foreign policy eastward in recent years. Ankara has thus moved closer to Moscow. The purchase of Russian anti-aircraft defense missiles, the S-400, in 2017, is one of the most emblematic subjects of the showdown that characterizes its position within NATO.
→ ANALYSIS. Russia and Turkey, between rivalry and rapprochement
In the energy field, Turkey depends up to 44% on Russian gas imports. It is also to Russia that it entrusted the construction of its first nuclear power plant in Mersin, in the south of the country.
Turkey is very dependent on its northern neighbor from an economic point of view. The second largest trading partner after the European Union, Russia sells it wheat, sunflower oil and buys vegetables from it.
The tourist manna in danger
Finally, the tourism sector is partly structured around Russian and Ukrainian demand. In 2021, the Russian passport was at the top of the most represented nationalities among foreign tourists (19%) in the country: a financial windfall of which Turkey risks being deprived even though it is going through a serious economic crisis.
“Turkey may have to take much harsher precautions and decisions depending on the direction of the conflict in the coming days.warns Arda Mevlütoğlu, a specialist in defense issues. This will then have consequences on the position it will take in the new post-war geopolitical context. »