By Orhan Gafarli,
The fifth high-level strategic cooperation council between Ukraine and Turkey took place on March 9-10. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko payed a visit to Ankara and held separate bilateral meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu as a part of the council. (Istanbul Daily News March 9) The timing of the visit is of strategic character because of the continuation of Turkish-Russian conflict and annexation of Crimea. Turkish-Russian conflict and annexation of Crimea disrupted the harmony established in sphere of influence of Russia and Turkey in Black Sea Basin following the end of Cold War. After the Cold War, Turkey always preferred to settle issues of security in the Black Sea and sphere of influence by having dialogue with Russia. BLACKSEAFOR (for detailed information, MFA Of Turkey) was created on initiative of Ankara to solve problems cooperatively in Black Sea area and transformed into a successful platform. This was a dialogue platform for the Black Sea littoral states and also the most important formation providing transformation from relations based on disputes, formed in Cold War, into relations based on cooperation. (Bulent Karadeniz, 2007)
The competition between Russia and Turkey on Black Sea is a long held historical fact. The strategy being central target during the area of I. Petro and later Catherine the Great’s Greek Plan turned the relations with Turks into a struggle area. Although there was an opportunity to turn this struggle into collaboration after 1990, Moscow applied interventionist policies to protect status quo established in USSR. After Cold War 08.08 2008 Russia Georgian War was the first test security for Black Sea region. Balancing policy approach of Turkey between NATO and Russia, in order not to accelerate insecurity in the region, prevented a big crisis. Turkey tried to delay the process which is called today as New Cold War by many specialists. The process that delayed for four years, broke out due to Syria issue and Ukrainian crisis. Annexation of Crimea in 2014 ended the dialogue formed in the region by BLACKSEAFOR platform. Ukrainian-Russian crisis turned Black Sea a warzone. Patrolling of NATO battleships in Black Sea was a start after the Cold War. Besides, if we add the crisis starting with the Turkey's downing of the Russian warplane violated airspace during bombing of the civilians in Syria in 2015, we can see how insecurity escalated in the region. Russia, escalating insecurity in Black Sea, has left no opportunity to Turkey other than balancing Moscow. Moscow, turning Turkey, which tries to balance competition between Russia and NATO in the region and acts as an intermediatory, into an opponent, has left no friends amongst Black Sea littoral states.
As we look at the picture I draw in this analysis, we can realize the importance of Poroshenko's visit. Ukraine is the most important Black Sea bordering country which is under %100 Russian threat. It is probably the key country in the region after Turkey and Russia. Today, annexation of Crimea and continuing struggle against separatists in the Eastern Ukraine mean an increase in factors that are disturbing even threatening in terms of regional policies of Turkey.
Prorshenko's visit on March 9 needs to be evaluated on three different dimensions. First one is about developing military and security cooperation in Black Sea Basin, second is about carrying strategic dimension of cooperation on security issues to economic dimension by signing free trade agreement and third dimension is about developing energy cooperation and providing Ukraine a role in Southern Gas Corridor.
It would be better to evaluate the relations on these three dimensions discussing with Mr. Sergey Korsunsky, Ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey and later express ideas about them specifically.
Although the annexation of Crimea is the first and foremost reason to develop strategic cooperation on military security which is the first and essential level of bilateral relations , another issue, that has not wide media coverage, is Russia's militarization of the region.
Together with armament of Crimea, for the first time after the Cold War, they are deploying nuclear weapons in the region. Missiles with nuclear warheads are threats mostly to Turkey. As armament in Black Sea region continues, it is impossible not to create threat perception for Black Sea littoral states.
Mr. Korsunsky stressed that “common threats in the region naturally make these countries closer to each other. The main reason is Russia which has been acting upon geopolitical policies created during Tsarist Russia.” Today it is important to have military cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey to eliminate those threats. “There is cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey related to reconstruction of two ports and dialogue and coordination on the security of Black Sea region.” Of course all these cooperation are not enough. To be able to balance the interventionist policies of Russia, there is a need for cooperation platforms like GUAM. However Mr. Korsunsky explained that it is better to create a platform of energy instead of that.
He gave the message that, together with military cooperation between Kiev and Ankara, negotiations are proceeding to create a platform to balance Russia within the context of NATO. Mobile military hospital given by Turkey would be helpful during anti-terror operations. (Author’s interview March 6)
There is a possibility for Turkey-Ukraine relations to be a very important model to stop Russia's expansionist policies in Black Sea.
It is important to establish GUAM and similar platforms together with BLACKSEAFOR. BLACSEAFOR which is more of a dialogue platform between Russia and Turkey needs to be revised in terms of approaches and existing projects. There is a possibility that BLACKSEAFOR can be transformed into a platform that balances Russia.