BY NUR ÖZKAN ERBAY
ANKARA FEB 24, 2022
War has begun and it’s not just about whether Russia will receive a guarantee from NATO anymore. Ukraine’s confidence in the West, which dragged it into the conflict and then abandoned it, is shaken. The only hope for stopping Russia and reviving mediation seems to be Turkey. For this, everyone needs to accept and follow Turkey’s constructive, principled, peaceful position for the entire region
The showdown between Russia and the West over Ukraine being watched like a thriller for weeks finally entered its irreversible finale following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s historic speech the evening prior. The war has now begun.
The daily doses of war rhetoric being fed by the United States and its European allies coupled with the intelligence reports coming in every minute have finally managed to escalate the crisis.
NATO’s inability and ineffectiveness to find a satisfactory response to Moscow to justify the alliance’s expansion along with Russia’s reawakening expansionist nationalism have brought the world to the brink of a new war.
With Russia unable to obtain the guarantees it sought from the U.S. and NATO and the rhetoric of war growing by the day, Russia on Wednesday night targeted Ukrainian cities with aerial bombardments.
This turmoil has once again revealed the importance of NATO member Turkey’s call for sobriety since the beginning of the crisis, its insistence on resolving the tensions through dialogue and diplomacy, and its mediation offer.
NATO has failed to put forth a single, uniform position since the crisis began escalating. As a result, it was also not possible to provide Russia with a reasonable guarantee. The whole world saw how France’s President Emmanuel Macron knocked on Putin’s door on behalf of the European Union and, perhaps, NATO as well, but was treated in a low-profile manner.
In addition, the initiatives of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were fruitless because Moscow saw through the sanctions bluff, especially over the Nord Stream 2 project.
Besides, Putin, who outlined the crisis of trust with the U.S. and NATO in his speech Monday evening, did not take Biden up on his offer for a face-to-face meeting afterward.
Even though Russia is the only dominant party against the Western alliance it refuses to back down.
However, why countries like the United States, France, Germany and Belgium, which made invasion announcements on an almost hourly basis, did not give Turkey, a NATO member, a chance to try its hand at a realistic mediation is another story. It is worth noting that Russia and Ukraine positively received Turkey’s offer to mediate among the proposals since the escalation of war rhetoric.
Therefore, on his return from a short tour of Africa on Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that NATO needs to determine its position and clearly explain its planned action. Erdoğan’s comment that “Everyone is just talking but no one is doing business” also stands out as one of the few that explains the status quo.
On the other hand, Turkey, as the only country with extremely strong relations with NATO, Ukraine and Russia, could have found better solutions by using its mediation capabilities when needed.
In fact, NATO and the United States missed these opportunities. Now all eyes will be on what position Turkey will take. Turkey’s stance on the issue will continue to reflect President Erdoğan’s statement that Ankara has extremely strong relations with both Kyiv and Moscow. Just before speaking with Putin on the phone on Wednesday, Erdoğan reiterated Turkey’s position saying that it could not abandon its ties with Russia or Ukraine as he criticized Western diplomatic efforts with Moscow for having achieved little.
Speaking to reporters on his way back from Senegal on Wednesday, Erdoğan said Turkey cooperates with both Russia and Ukraine and will not halt relations or impose sanctions against Moscow.
“We have political, military and economic relations with Russia. Same with Ukraine. We cannot give this up if you ask me because our country has high interests in this regard,” he said while commenting on Turkey’s possible stance.
Afterward, Erdoğan held a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday while on his Africa tour before speaking to Putin on Wednesday, as expected, before the NATO summit. Immediately after that, he also spoke with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev over the phone.
During the phone call with the Russian president, Erdoğan told Putin that Turkey is ready to do its part to calm tensions in Ukraine. He added that elevating the issue to a more complex level and military confrontation will not benefit any party.
He also emphasized that Turkey does not recognize the steps taken against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, underlining that this is a principled approach and that it is important to reach a conclusion based on the Minsk agreements.
The whole process has once again shown how Turkey’s crucial mediation offer provides a flexible and effective opportunity to solve the crisis.
However, the fact that the Western alliance, especially the Biden administration, has not given Turkey’s mediation due importance raises the possibility that, perhaps, they want non-resolution, maybe even a war in Ukraine. With its strong relations with both parties to the conflict, Turkey has a greater chance of successfully conducting diplomacy than Macron and Scholz on their useless visits to Moscow.
Now the war has begun and it is no longer just about whether Russia will receive a guarantee from NATO anymore. Ukraine’s confidence in the West is shaken after being dragged into a conflict only to be abandoned. Now Turkey seems to be the only hope for stopping Russia and making headway toward mediation. To be able to move in this direction, everyone needs to accept and follow Turkey’s constructive, principled, peace-oriented position for the entire region.