08.03.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey: palm of peace or torch of war…?

Turkey: palm of peace or torch of war

With the start of the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine, Turkey positioned itself as a mediator and supporter of the cessation of hostilities. Ankara initiated the Istanbul process of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, facilitated the exchange of prisoners, and achieved the conclusion of an economically favorable “grain deal.” Additionally, Ankara received a promising mega-project “gas hub” from Moscow.

Meanwhile, Turkey publicly advocates a peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian military and political crisis. However, in reality, it provides the Kiev regime with significant military and military-technical assistance. The latter contradicts the strategic partnership between Turkey and Russia, as well as Ankara’s declared position as a mediator in the conflict.

In the context of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis, foreign states’ military and military-technical cooperation (MTC) with the parties to the conflict determines foreign interests’ nature and foreign countries’ attitude towards Moscow and Kiev. The military cooperation between NATO member states and the Kiev regime is not only directed towards Russia but has also contributed to the conflict itself. The ongoing NATO-Ukraine military cooperation process prolongs the time of peace and brings new physical losses, material destruction, and moral suffering to the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

Ankara’s behavior during the conflict has remained ambiguous. Military-technical cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine did not begin on February 24, 2022, but was planned in advance. This cooperation has been actively developed since 2015 and gained new momentum with the beginning of the Special Military Operation, expanding both qualitatively and quantitatively. What is the reason for this?

Firstly, the military-industrial potential of post-Soviet Ukraine has been attractive for the development of the Turkish military-industrial complex (MIC). This is due to the contradictions that the Turkish MIC often faces in regards to military supplies and technological cooperation with NATO allies such as the United States, Canada, France, and Germany. During the Soviet era, Ukraine acquired several defense enterprises, including Yuzhmash in Dnepropetrovsk. Yuzhmash was responsible for producing the R-36 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were nicknamed “Satan” in the West.

Secondly, unlike advanced Western military concerns, Ukrainian enterprises did not require significant investments from the Turks to participate in the development of joint projects.

Thirdly, as a member of NATO and in accordance with its commitments under the interoperability policy, Turkey cannot boycott US and UK commands to provide military and military-technical assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) against the Russian Armed Forces.

The primary areas of cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine include aircraft construction (aircraft, UAVs, engine construction, air defense systems), shipbuilding, eletronic warfare, communication systems, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms, and ammunition. This cooperation is supported by a strong legal and regulatory framework consisting of bilateral agreements, memorandums, and treaties. There are more than 50 projects that are being implemented in the field of military-technical cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine. Aselsan, Baykar, Roketsan, Ganik, Teknik and others are the main Turkish military companies cooperating with Ukraine.

Since March 2019, Ukrainian forces have been supplied with reconnaissance and attack drones developed by Turkish company Baykar, including 48 Bayraktar TB2 drones delivered before the beginning of the Special Military Operation. These drones have become a symbol of cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine. After February 24, 2022, an additional 35 Bayraktar TB2 attack drones and 24 Mini-Bayraktar reconnaissance drones, which are resistant to interference, were also provided. Half of the UAVs were donated, and the other half were sold at a 50% discount. The drones were transported from the Turkish Çorlu military base to Ukraine via Poland.

In August 2022, the Turkish company Baykar announced its plan to establish a joint venture in the Kiev region for the large-component assembly of UAVs. The company has pledged to invest $100 million towards this project. In February 2024, Haluk Bayraktar, Baykar’s CEO, announced the start of construction for a plant and service center near Kiev. It is worth noting that Bayraktar’s brother is the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The start of production (up to 120 UAVs per year) is planned for 2025. Vasyl Bodnar, Ambassador of Ukraine to Ankara, noted that Turkey and Ukraine could export their products to third countries in the future. Symbolically, the announcement of plans to construct the plant coincided with the Kremlin’s decision to postpone the meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdoğan.

Haluk Bayraktar expressed confidence that nothing would hinder these plans. According to Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Moscow has expressed its well-known position that military aid to Ukraine could be a potential military target of the Russian Armed Forces.

Turkish drones Bayraktar TB2 contributed in a great extend to stop the columns of Russian military equipment at the beginning of the Special Military Operation in the Kiev direction, may have played their negative role in the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva.

In addition to the UAVs, Turkey has also supplied other types of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine. Specifically, the TLRG-230 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, 122-mm T-122 and 300-mm TRG-300 MLRS, HISAR-A+ air defense systems with a range of 15 km and HISAR-O with a range of 25 km, 35-mm Korkut self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG), Kirpi armored personnel carriers (APCs) (200 units), Kobra BMPs, 155-mm Firtina E-155 self-propelled artillery units (SAU), Koral and Ihtar eletronic warfare equipment (ground and airborne), 60-mm Komandos mortars, RDS40-MGL grenade launchers, and 12. The equipment includes 7-mm Ganik M2F HMG and 12.7-mm Ganik M2 QCB HMGS machine guns, 9-mm MR-5 submachine guns (MKE), 100,000 rounds of small arms, 155mm artillery shells, MAM-L and MAM-C guided bombs for UAVs, cluster bombs, military equipment such as body armor and helmets, thermal imagers, and generators.

Turkey is constructing four Ada-class corvettes for the Ukrainian Navy. Additionally, Turkish engineers have upgraded Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters with laser guidance and equipped them with Cirit and UMTAS air-to-air missiles. Ankara has been in negotiations with Antonov, the aircraft manufacturing company, to collaborate on the production of the AN-178 military transport plane and construct a second Ukrainian AN-225 Mriya cargo plane. The partnership with state-owned company Zorya-Mashproekt entails the utilization of Ukrainian gas turbine units by the Turkish in the construction of hovercrafts with a carrying capacity of up to 150 tons and a speed of up to 60 knots.

Vasyl Bodnar, Ambassador of Ukraine to Ankara, stated that Kiev is collaborating with Turkey to develop an engine for the fifth-generation KAAN fighter and intends to purchase these aircraft. The KAAN fighter will compete with the US F-35 and F-22 fighter jets.

Of particular interest in this list is the delivery of banned Cold War-era cluster bombs (dual-use projectiles – DPICMs) from Turkey to Ukraine in November 2022. These bombs were intended to target Russian tanks and personnel on the battlefield, as noted by Foreign Policy. The use of cluster bombs in Donbass has become an effective means of defeating Russian engineering structures, equipment and personnel since the use of high-explosive artillery shells has been reduced. Even the United States has declined to provide Kiev with such shells.

Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania have carried out joint activities to clear certain areas in the Black Sea in order to create alternative—to Russia—routes for the export of Ukrainian grain. These actions have been met with praise by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The fact, content and volume of the military supplies to Ukraine are being publicly concealed by Turkey. At the same time, there may be discrepancies between media reports and actual quantities of military equipment. However, the inner circle of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (e.g. Haluk Bayraktar) openly advertised supplying Turkish UAVs and contructing a drone factory near Kiev. Meanwhile, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan themselves have commented on these issues, saying that Baykar is a private company and decides for itself to whom it sells its products. In other words, it’s a business and nothing more.

The American military corporation General Dynamics Land Systems and the German engineering concern Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, which specialize in the production of tanks such as Abrams and Leopard, are also private companies. However, this does not mean that their military supplies to Ukraine are carried out without the knowledge (authorization) of the US Presidential Administration and the Office of the Federal Chancellor of Germany. Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, formerly an official of the CIA’s Directorate of Covert Operations, is unlikely to be sending Abrams tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces on a personal whim.

In the early stages of Turkish UAV deliveries to Ukraine, Moscow made an offer to purchase the drones, but it was rejected. So, where’s the business? Arms sales are not a trade in tomatoes but always politics. As the Turks say, “You can’t hide a spear in a sack.”

Commenting on selling arms to the Kiev regime at the height of the confrontation with Moscow, Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar, bluntly stated: “Money and material resources have never been the goal in our business. Our friendship and cooperation with Ukraine has been going on for many years. Therefore, no matter how much money we are offered, honestly, providing them [Moscow] with drones in this situation. During this period, all our support is completely on the side of Ukraine. Since we have a very strong connection, and Ukraine is under a very unfair, aggressive and unreasonable attack. And therefore, nothing will overshadow our cooperation with Ukraine, no matter what amount is offered, our position on this matter is clear.” Meanwhile, the director of the Turkish defense company stated that the ultimate decision in such matters rests with the country’s leadership, specifically President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It turns out that Turkey is a partner and friend of Russia in the economy, but in the military field, it aligns with NATO members in support of Ukraine.

In addition to military-technical cooperation, Turkey is providing direct military assistance to Ukraine by sending militans to the conflit zone from the extremist Grey Wolves organization, which is the militant wing of the far-right pan-Turkic Nationalist Movement Party (since 2015 an ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party), and SADAT PMC under the control of the radical Islamist and associate of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s General Adnan Tanriverdi.

The militants of these structures have previously participated in military operations in Chechnya, Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh. It is evident that neither the Grey Wolves nor SADAT PMC are state institutions. However, they are likely to be financially supported and coordinated by Ankara.

In 2022, it was discovered through radio intercepts that 3,000 fighters from the Grey Wolves were transferred through Poland to the Kharkov and Odessa-Nikolayev areas. SADAT PMC mercenaries were reportedly seen in Volchansk, Mariupol, and Priazovye.

Their duties included controlling Turkish Bayraktar drones, training Ukrainians in sabotage and combat tactics, forming all-Turkish combat structures, and testing them in conflict conditions. According to reports, members of the Grey Wolves are the main force behind the Crimean Tatar battalion named after Noman Chelebidzhikhan, an organization banned in Russia. According to the publication Sepah Pasdaran, Grey Wolves and SADAT PMC are creating a “Turkic (Turanian) Legion” in Ukrain to unite and coordinate combat assistance for representatives of Turkic peoples in the AFU. The Turan Battalion has been formed with Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uighurs, and Azeris under the command of Almaz Kudabek uulu, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. The latter has publicly called for sabotage within Russian territory.

There is a high probability of Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation through the military intelligence agencies (GRU and GUR). These agencies ensure the continuity of military-technical cooperation, organize the secret transfer of military cargoes and militants, and exchange intelligence information.

Turkey’s dual practice cannot serve as an example of strategic partnership with Russia. Previously, due to economic pragmatism, Moscow did not pay much attention to Ankara’s tactic of “sitting on two chairs,” which is motivated by Turkey’s high military and economic dependence on the US, EU, and NATO, or by its mediation mission between Moscow and Kiev. Given the complexity of Turkey’s partner, Russia has made several compromises with Turkey in sensitive regional politics, such as in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, comments on this matter: “Putin is frustrated. Turkey’s position is not perfect, but it is not bad either, because it gives him economic access to world markets and a breathing space. And that’s very important to him.”

However, there are limits to this situation. Due to the decrease in exports of goods from Turkey to Russia and the refusal of Turkish banks to accept payments from Russian companies, Moscow may need to reevaluate its policy towards Turkey.


Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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