On 16 November 2022, the Department of Political Sciences in conjunction with the Embassy of Türkiye hosted a seminar on the Role of Türkiye in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The discussion included presentations by Professor Mesut Özcan (Director: Turkish Diplomacy Academy), Dr Ufuk Ulutaş (Chairman: Strategic Research Centre, Türkiye) as well as the department’s Roland Henwood (Lecturer: Department of Political Sciences).
Held at the Javett-UP Art Centre, the discussion was focused on the position that Türkiye holds in this ongoing conflict that has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people, one of the largest refugee crises recorded since World War 2, as well as global food shortages. In his comments, Professor Özcan emphasised the third ramification of this war, expressing that ‘the main issue is food security’. Özcan clarified the importance of renewing the Grain Deal between Russia and the Ukraine, which allows exports of Ukrainian grain and other farm products from the Black Sea and ensures a vital flow of foodstuffs to the world market.
Since Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on 24 February 2022, international and regional organisations have discussed and implemented efforts to minimise the impact that this invasion has had on the international community and, most importantly, the citizens of the Ukraine. Amongst several reactions, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the Council of Europe has expelled Russia and nations across the globe have imposed sanctions on Russia.
Given these circumstances, why then is it important to examine Türkiye’s role in this conflict?
Türkiye has a unique relationship with both Russia and the Ukraine. As Professor Ulutas pointed out, Türkiye’s geographical proximity to the war - sharing sea borders with both actors involved - means that the state is automatically affected by the conflict.
In addition, the country's ties to Russia have significantly improved since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the two nations have a thriving trade relationship. Russia is Türkiye’s largest source of energy and multiple companies have begun operating in Russia. On the other hand, Türkiye’s relationship with Ukraine has strengthened over the past few years with the two nations’ focusing on their economic and political ties to bolster the Türkiye’s goal of becoming an influential regional power and strengthening its positions in the Black Sea basin.
Taking these relationships into consideration, Türkiye’s response to the conflict is particularly important. Both Özcan and Ulutas emphasised that the Turkish government’s intention was to limit the ramifications of this conflict while maintaining relations with both Russia and the Ukraine. As Özcan expressed, Türkiye is ‘attempting to pursue a balanced, active and cautious approach’ to the conflict. The Turkish delegation outlined a three fold strategy towards this response: a) closing down the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to warships and allowing the passage of civilian vessels as per the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits; b) finding sustainable outcomes by promoting dialogue between ministers of both the Ukrainian and Russian governments; and, c) contributing towards post-war reconstruction within the Ukraine.
In his remarks, Henwood used a realist perspective to assess the conflict and explained how various national interests, the aspiration for power and the foreign policy of individual states have influenced global responses. He further emphasised that preserving peace within the region should be a fundamental concern – a task the UN Security Council seems to be unable to ensure.
Nonetheless, the Turkish delegation continued to stress the importance of diplomacy and political leadership in this conflict. The delegation was positive about multilateral efforts to preserve peace and defended Türkiye’s strategy of ‘non-alignment as opposed to neutrality’. In closing, the delegation stated ‘that no war can be won through fighting’ and that going forward ‘diplomacy is the best bet for peace within the international community’.