April 16, 2014

The Crimean Problem and the «Red Line» for Turkey

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Maryna Vorotnyuk

Dr. Maryna Vorotnyuk is a senior research fellow of Odessa Branch of the National Institute for Strategic Studies under the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine.

From 2006 to 2013 worked as a research fellow of the Center for International Studies of Odessa Mechnikov National University.

Primary sphere of research is related to security in the Black Sea region and Turkish foreign policies.

She holds PhD in international relations from Odessa Mechnikov National University. Her PhD dissertation was devoted to the application of the critical security theories to the foreign policy of Turkey.


In the light of the events in the Crimea, in particular, of the referendum held in the peninsula in the presence of the Russian armed forces, one of the main tasks of the Ukrainian diplomacy has become suppression of separatist tendencies in Ukraine, preservation of its territorial integrity and ensuring the key international players' support to us.

Among the states, the position of which is extremely important in resolving the Crimean problem, Turkey occupies a prominent place

Among the states, the position of which is extremely important in resolving the Crimean problem, Turkey occupies a prominent place.

Turkey's interest in Ukraine is caused by several good reasons, and not the last one is the fate of the once deported and now living in the Crimean peninsula Crimean Tatars, in the settlement of whom after their return Ankara willingly helped, including financially.

Relations between Ukraine and Turkey today are characterized as «strategic». Strengthening the strategic partnership is the main declared goal of the Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation. Besides, the Turkish state is a key player in the security sphere in the Black Sea region, actually controlling regimes of passage through Bosporus and Dardanelles by warships (according to the Montreux Convention), an influential member of NATO, and also a strategic partner of the Russian Federation, with which the latter de facto has to coordinate its actions in the region.

Ankara's reaction to the events in the Crimea

Despite the threats caused by the change of the status quo in the region, when the Crimea «became part» of Russia and another «frozen conflict», Turkey extremely cautiously has supported Ukraine.

Turkish media: According to the 230-year old law, Turkey has the right to the Crimea
Turkish media: According to the 230-year old law, Turkey has the right to the Crimea. This is evidenced by the contract between the Ottoman and Russian Empires. According to the document signed by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, April 19, 1783, the Crimean peninsula goes from the Ottoman Empire to Russia

Фото http://podrobnosti.ua/

Formally speaking for the integrity of Ukraine, in compliance with international law, for overcoming separatist tendencies in the Crimea through dialogue and consensus, for protection of the rights of the Crimean Tatars, Turkey avoids mentioning Russia's intervention as the main cause «of the Crimean problem», refrains from openly condemning Russia's actions. But for Ukraine this is very important as it helps to prevent escalation of tensions in the peninsula and possible provision by Turkey of economic assistance to the Crimean Tatars. These issues have been discussed lately through diplomatic channels.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was one of the first to visit Kiev after the beginning of the crisis of foreign officials.

Ukraine was also visited by the Turkish delegation with the Deputy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Turkey, A.K.Aydyn. They called to solve problems peacefully, respecting the norms of international law, and to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

In Turkey Turkish officials met the Ambassador of Ukraine, representatives of the Crimean Tatar organizations in Turkey, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people M.Dzhemilev.

The Turkish government says it will protect the rights of the Crimean Tatar minority in the Crimea
The Turkish government says it will protect the rights of the Crimean Tatar minority in the Crimea. “Turkey has never left and will never leave the Crimean Tatars”, - said Prime Minister R. Erdogan after his telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin

Фото http://www.svoboda.org/

Crimean Tatars actually boycotted the referendum in the Crimea on March 16. Turkey is solidary on the assessment of the referendum as illegitimate. In the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey of March 6, the decision to hold a referendum in the Crimea is characterized as wrong, as a «dangerous and wrong step that could lead to negative results both in the region and outside it, and could cause in the Crimea serious clashes between different groups».

March 7 Turkish President A.Gul pointed out that the beginning of a new «cold war» is not in the interests of any of the states. According to him, «both countries — Ukraine and Russia — are Turkey's neighbors in the Black Sea… Turkey is making every possible effort to resolve [the Crimean] problem».

According to Davutoglu, the «Crimean problem» has to be solved by Ukraine. However, in the same statement, he said, «We will not allow the growing tensions in the Crimea to become a cause of the crisis in our relations with Russia». Some forces are trying to worsen Russian-Turkish relations, taking advantage of the Crimean problem».

Such search for enemies among Western partners is becoming a traditional Turkish diplomacy and indicates an alarming trend, when Turkey is coordinating its activities with Russia.

Nevertheless, Russia and Turkey will not be able to avoid collisions due to the difference in their positions on the Crimea and Ankara's existing obligations towards Western partners. Thus, in the corresponding note of protest Russia accused Turkey of failing to fulfill the Montreux Convention of 1936, when Ankara let to the Black Sea through the Bosporus and Dardanelles the U.S. Navy frigate «USS Taylor», which, according to the Russians, violated the time limit of its stay in the Black Sea (over 21 days).

 Frigate USS “Taylor” (FGG- 50) is leaving the port of Samsun
 Frigate USS “Taylor” (FGG- 50) is leaving the port of Samsun. March 7, 2014 the frigate “Taylor” left the Turkish port of Samsun and is being towed by the company Donjon Towing's tug-boat to the naval base in Souda Bay, Greece, for repairs after running aground, which happened on February 12 at the port of Samsun
Фото http://www.korabli.eu/

Note: U.S. Navy missile frigate «Taylor» (FFG-50). Displacement of the ship is 4100 tons, length — 138 m, width 14 m, draft 6.7 m. The ship can reach speeds of over 29 knots (54 km /h). Homeport — Mayport, Florida.

The frigate was built in 1983 and named in honor of Captain Jesse J. Taylor, a Naval aviator who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism. The motto of the ship is «Proud defender.» Volunteers alone serve on the ship.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded by stating that the allegations were untrue, and Turkey had never violated the Convention (the Press Service's statement of April 3).

What for do you need Turkey? Come to the Crimea!
What for do you need Turkey? Come to the Crimea!

Фото http://demotivation.me/

Besides, the Russian Foreign Ministry appealed to the Russian citizens with the call to refuse to visit those countries in which works the law of readmission agreements with the United States because of «a possibility of being detained or arrested at the request of U.S. law enforcement agencies and special services» after the introduction of the U.S. anti-Russian sanctions. Turkey is among the countries on this long list, as it signed such an agreement with the United States in 1979.

The Russian-Turkish tandem: is there a place for Ukraine?

The Turkish position is quite clear: «We do not want to allow the isolation of Russia»

The Turkish position is quite clear: «We do not want to allow the isolation of Russia». The Turkish side is not interested in the active interference of the American and European partners into solving of the crisis through a «punishment» of Russia due to sanctions, strengthening NATO's military presence in the Black Sea, etc. We can assume that Turkey, with its own negative experience with the EU, believes that the EU should be responsible for the beginning of the revolutionary events of the Maidan in Ukraine and further destabilization in the region.

Turkey no longer aspires to join the European Union
Turkey no longer aspires to join the European Union. Talks about taking the country into the European family have been on and off since 2005, but since then almost no progress has been achieved. Recent polls show that Turks are afraid of joining the region swept with the debt crisis

Фото http://vybor.ua/

Turkey does not want to violate the strategic partnership with Russia and to strengthen the presence of other players in the region, including the EU. The Russian-Turkish tandem is a key element of Turkey's current security strategy, despite Turkey's traditional aspiration to join the EU and its status of a member of NATO since 1952. In 2008, during the Russian-Georgian war, already took place the precedent when Turkey, formally recognizing the territorial integrity of Georgia, took a neutral position with pro-Russian bias.

Besides, lately Ankara's interest has focused on regional processes in the Middle East (in the light of Arab revolutions) and much less — in the Black Sea region. Currently, Turkey's foreign policy is aimed primarily at solving the Syrian problem.

Turkey's position on the Crimean problem also depends on the development of the political situation in this country. Turkey is going through a difficult phase of political transformations that will determine the future path of its development. Mass protests, which began in Istanbul in late May 2013 against the authoritarian government of R. Erdogan and the harsh reaction of the authorities to them, disproportionate use of force by the police, sharpened the situation in the country and polarized the society.

Besides, the Turkish authorities have always considered revolutionary changes in neighboring countries as threatening its own stability. Therefore, the reaction of Ankara to the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the events of the Maidan (late 2013 — early 2014) was wait-and-see and restrained. The country is also faced with a loud corruption scandal which undermined the positions of the ruling party. Since March this year, for over 15 months, in Turkey will be held local, parliamentary and presidential elections, with preparations to which are busy the Turkish authorities. In this situation it is important to keep the status quo in the area of ​​foreign policy, avoiding a conflict with Russia.

The Crimea as a test for viability

In Turkey, was held a meeting “Turkey - supported the Crimea”
In Turkey, was held a meeting “Turkey - supported the Crimea”, organized by the Society of Culture and Mutual Assistance of the Crimean Tatars, under the slogans “No to occupation of the Crimea!”, “No to referendum in the Crimea!” “The Crimea is Turkic land!”

Фото http://news.eizvestia.com/

At the moment the Crimea is actually a test for the viability of the new Ukrainian government, international players and institutions. Taking into consideration the strategic position of Turkey towards Russia and Ukraine, its special point of view at the situation of the Crimean Tatars, it is important to ensure a more active participation of Turkey in solving the Crimean problem. And it is not just the matter of Turkey's providing economic assistance to the Crimea, though it is also very important. Ankara must understand that in the case of changing the status quo on the Crimean peninsula, Turkish interests will surely suffer:

  • the military-strategic balance of forces in the Black Sea region will change in Russia's favor;
  • will increase the probability of implementation of the Russian South Stream gas pipeline project, which will also have a negative impact on the Turkish energy security;
  • will suffer Turkey's image of a «peacemaker» and «humanitarian player» because of the infringement of the rights of the Crimean Tatars.

That is why, the referendum on the annexation of the Crimea to Russia and predictable negative consequences for the Crimean Tatars should outline, figuratively speaking, the «red line», making Turkey to take a tougher position regarding the illegal actions of Russia in the Crimea.