Turkey’s Ukraine Stance Boosts Hopes for a Reset With the West

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, Wednesday. Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey would continue its diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Ukraine. Cavusoglu is also visiting Kyiv.

While Ankara has close ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly condemned Russia’s assault on Ukraine, closing access to the Black Sea to most of Russia’s warships. Such moves received strong plaudits from Brussels and Washington.

Sinan Ulgen with the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, a research organization in Istanbul, said the Ukrainian conflict offers an opportunity to Ankara.

“The world has entered a new era, somewhat similar to the Cold War, (which) will also emphasize Turkey’s geostrategic importance,” Ulgen said. “And as a result of which there will be an opportunity for Turkey and its Western allies, and here particularly the United States, to try to resolve their outstanding issues on a more constructive note.”

Ankara’s close ties with Moscow have deeply strained relations with its NATO partners.

Erdogan’s backing of Ukraine comes as he is already working to repair relations with others, including Armenia and Israel — moves that have also drawn praise from the West.

Sezin Oney, a political columnist for PolitikYol, a Turkish news portal, said that despite such efforts, Turkey still faces significant obstacles to any reset in relations with its Western partners.

“I don’t see a return to old alliance structures, not unless there is a very big change in Turkey, and Turkey moves towards democracy and rule of law and respect of human rights,” Oney said. “And we don’t foresee that at this point, not with this government. So, I don’t think so. But there might be coinciding interests. There might be new coinciding interests developing. There might be cooperation.”

Rights groups say Turkey is one of the biggest jailers of journalists globally, while its treatment of government opponents and its Kurdish minority continue to draw strong international criticism. Ankara rejects such criticism, insisting it’s a law-abiding country.

But some analysts suggest Ankara may be calculating that any return to Cold War-like diplomacy, could, as in the past, see Turkey’s Western allies placing security concerns ahead of democracy.

“Turkey will find itself in a more positive environment based on its geostrategic importance, but this is an environment where the overriding analysts, especially from the side of the White House, is one of global competition between democratic countries and authoritarian states,” Ulgen said.

Democratic reform is currently not on the Turkish political agenda. Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision not to visit Turkey despite Washington’s praise of Ankara is also widely interpreted by analysts as a signal that relations still have a long way to go before they can be considered normal.

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