Despite the growing tension with NATO, the Russians maintain good relations with the Turks. Erdogan does not want a conflict in the Black Sea. The Turkish president could broker a solution for Crimea, which Putin wrested from the Ukrainians in 2014.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Kremlin continues to attack NATO, except for one of its members: Turkey. Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov said on July 27 that the recent passage of the British destroyer Defender near the Crimea coast (denied by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson) "will not be the last Atlantic Alliance provocation in the Black Sea."
Despite the ambiguities of Ankara's policy, Russian-Turkish relations have become much warmer since the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The Turkish government has not yet recognized the annexation of Crimea to Russia, but continues to sell arms to Ukraine, without this arousing Moscow's indignation.
On July 10, NATO's "Sea Breeze" exercises, in which Ukrainian naval forces also participated, ended in the Black Sea. Navigation and passage through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus is still regulated by the 1936 Montreux Convention, signed by Turkey, France, Greece, Romania, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union (in 1938 Mussolini's Italy had also joined).
Without this agreement, a huge western fleet would roam the Black Sea, opposing Russia's war ambitions. It is precisely Turkey's rigidity in protecting the terms of the convention that has also preserved Russia's interests, preventing the passage of NATO ships except to a minimal extent and for limited periods.
As Hassan Unal, professor at Istanbul's Maltepe University, said in an interview with Lenta.ru, "even if Russia is nowadays a country that Westerners do not like, Turkey has no interest in starting a war against it over Crimea or Ukraine, which is not part of NATO". Unal notes that "it is NATO that needs to do its own math better, without playing with fire, while [the Turkish government] remains prudently equidistant between the two disputants."
Turkey has supplied Ukraine with about twenty Bayraktar TB2 assault drones, and has promised to build the Ukrainian fleet an ultra-modern corvette, keeping itself on the edge of the two fronts with great acrobatic skill.
After all, Moscow and Ankara need each other too much, not only on the Black Sea, but also in Syria and the Caucasus, to let other nations and other situations come between them. As Unal argues, Turkey is an atypical member of NATO, not Luxembourg or Belgium, and always maintains an autonomous political line. "Even during the Cold War," the Turkish lecturer explains, "it had a privileged relationship with the Soviets.
Turkey's good relations with the Russian and Ukrainian disputants could, one day, give Ankara a chance to mediate between the two, furthering its own interests. Recognition of a somewhat autonomous Crimea is already suggested to Moscow by the Turks, along with simultaneous Russian recognition of the Turkish republic in Northern Cyprus. The move would prevent the unified island from one day becoming a member of NATO, which would greatly annoy the Russians.
It would be difficult for Ukraine to react to Russian-Turkish agreements, needing Turkey's support to join NATO in turn. Ankara has agreed to be part of the "Crimean Platform," a diplomatic initiative of Volodymyr Zelenskyj, which will be inaugurated on August 23, 2021. With it, the Ukrainian president aims to reunite Crimea with Ukraine by finding an agreement with the Russians; the understanding would also include the protection of the rights of Crimean Tatars.
The aim of the Ukrainians is to review together with the international community the "true history" of the peninsula, which in the past was also in possession of the Tatars, Greeks, Turks and even the Genoese. Zelenskyj challenges Putin to expose his version of history, with Turkish President Erdogan in the background to act as referee in the dispute.