Foreign Policy Research Institute

+38 (044) 287 52 58

Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Will Turkey become a security bridge in the Black Sea region?

Photo: Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Mariinsky Palace. 
Source: Office of the President of Ukraine

On February 3, the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Ukraine took place. In the Mariinsky Palace, the Presidents of the two states held a meeting of the Tenth High-Level Strategic Council and signed a number of agreements covering issues of military-technical cooperation, economy, trade, finance spheres, humanitarian contacts, law enforcement cooperation, high-tech, aviation and space industries. The parties also agreed to support each other within international standardization organizations. The central document signed by the parties was the Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and Turkey. The issue of signing this document remained a subject of discussion since late 1990s and early 2000s and its project had been developed for about 15 years.

The document provides for «zeroing» of customs rates with Turkey on more than 10 thousand items (about 95% of the nomenclature of Ukrainian exports) and the introduction of tariff quotas or reduction of duties on more than 1,300 items. Given the extremely high level of protection of domestic producers in Turkey at customs rates, which sometimes reach 150-200%, even such a reduction of the barrier can significantly facilitate the access of Ukrainian goods to the Turkish market. Also, the agreement creates new opportunities for joint production of Turkish raw materials on the territory of Ukraine and their duty-free entry into European markets.[1]

Turkey has become one of Ukraine's main partners in recent years. Relations between the two countries have reached a qualitatively new level and have been institutionalized by creating a «Quadriga» format. Turkey adheres to the policy of non-recognition of the Russian occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, consistently supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. First, the Turkish state cares about the Crimean Tatar population, which is experiencing political repression in the occupied territories, and has close ethnic, religious and linguistic ties with the Turkish people. Last year, the Republic of Turkey announced its intention to build housing in the south of Ukraine for internally displaced persons from the Crimean Tatar population. Secondly, Turkey's interest lies in the security plane of the Black Sea region. After the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the subsequent militarization of the peninsula, the Russian Federation significantly increased its influence in the Black Sea. This gives it the opportunity to project force into the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, where Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides, both in the war in Libya and in Syria. Also, Russia and Turkey support opposite sides of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Thus, the two states have many contradictions and the loss of positions of one side will mean the strengthening of the other.

Turkey is directly interested in a strong Ukrainian state in this regard, because in the event of a military victory of Russia over Ukraine, Moscow will finally strengthen the position of the dominant power in the Black Sea region, where it continues the actual blockade of Ukrainian ports in violation of the norms and principles of international law, in particular the UN Charter, resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Artificial restrictions in the Black Sea have been created by Russia since 2018, but in February of this year, an unprecedented event occurred when Russia announced that under the pretext of the exercises it would block almost the entire south of the Sea of Azov and the north-western part of the Black Sea.

Source: Andriy Klymenko's Facebook page

Subsequently, the Russian Federation abandoned these plans, but such actions, according to Andriy Klymenko, project manager at the Institute for Black Sea Strategic Studies, caused many negative consequences, including a significant increase in insurance rates, from 3 to 10 US dollars per ton of cargo, which are huge losses; and there was also a failure of all logistics networks connected with Ukrainian ports. Therefore, such actions of Russia cannot be ignored. As the expert noted, the government of Ukraine should sue in maritime arbitrations and form a new patrol project in the Black Sea together with international partners.

In order to counter such aggressive actions of Russia, Ukraine, within the framework of the strategy of building small alliances, is creating a belt of friendly states around itself. In addition to the mentioned Quadriga format, the Associated Trio was created, the primary goal of which is to coordinate the policy of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the field of European integration; The Lublin Triangle with Poland and Lithuania, covering several areas, including Euro-Atlantic integration and security cooperation. Now, against the backdrop of the creation, at the initiative of the Ukrainian side, of a new format of Great Britain, Poland and Ukraine, we should not exclude the possibility of Turkey to join this format. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, in addition to the security sector, the new format has the potential to develop cooperation in the areas of trade, investment, energy, including renewable. The need for cooperation with London in these areas was noted in Turkey a few years ago, when the UK was about to leave the EU.

British-Turkish relations, as well as Ukrainian-Turkish and British-Ukrainian relations, have prospects for further deepening. At the end of 2020, London and Ankara signed a free trade agreement, which has been described within Turkey as the most important trade agreement since the creation of a Customs Union with the EU in 1995. Negotiations are scheduled for 2022 to sign a new, even more ambitious trade agreement. In the field of security, cooperation between the two countries can have a significant impact on conflicts in the Mediterranean, Africa, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The Black Sea region deserves special attention in bilateral cooperation between the two states, where the interests of Turkey and the UK, one of the most powerful NATO member states, coincide, while ensuring freedom of navigation is a priority for them.

Ukraine, as well as Poland, the main ally of the United States in Eastern Europe, could become a bridge between Turkey on one hand and the United States and the European Union on the other. Given the difficult economic situation inside the country and the problems of recent years in relations with the United States and the EU, Turkey is interested in improving relations and further increasing Western investment in the country. Turkey's diplomatic efforts in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict are already being noted by NATO partners. On February 8, 2022, the Turkish and US Foreign Ministers had a telephone conversation in which Anthony Blinken emphasized the common commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and noted the Turkish President's engagement in support of a diplomatic resolution. The State Department's website states that the parties also considered opportunities to maintain robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey, and Anadolu Agency said that Cavusoglu had invited Blinken to a diplomatic forum to be held March 11-13 in Antalya. Thus, Turkey's role in resolving the Russian crisis strengthens its authority and improves its image in the international arena.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also suggested providing a platform for The Trilateral Contact Group talks. According to Yevgeniya Gaber, a senior analyst at the Centre in Modern Turkish Studies at Carleton University, Erdogan's minimum task is to turn Istanbul into a «second Minsk». The maximum program is to create a new, alternative to the Normandy, a format of negotiations at the level of leaders of the three states (like the Astana platform, launched in parallel with the Geneva talks on Syria). Turkey's mediation could help facilitate the activities of The Trilateral Contact Group and the exchange of prisoners, the release of political prisoners - Crimean Tatars. However, a significant breakthrough in the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine through the mediation of Turkey should not be expected. Russia continues to be an important economic partner for Turkey. And until Vladimir Putin decides to try to stifle Recep Tayyip Erdogan with trade embargoes and shutting off the gas pipeline, Turkey is likely to continue its flexible dualistic policy, support Ukraine against the backdrop of Russian aggression, and at the same time maintain relations with the Russian Federation.

In recent years, Turkey has become one of the main partners of Ukraine. The cooperation of two countries covers political, economic and military-technical dimensions, and after the Tenth High-Level Strategic Council meeting, it will receive an impetus for its further expansion and deepening. Turkey is interested in stabilizing the security environment in the Black Sea region, so the position of supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine remains unchanged. The involvement of Turkey in the new format of Ukraine, Great Britain and Poland can be considered as a possible scenario, given the common interests of the four countries and the benefits that the parties may receive from further cooperation. At the same time, there is a possibility that Turkey will remain aloof from the new format, at least formally, given the important place of trade with Russia in the country's economy and the difficult economic situation in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan finds himself at the moment.


  1. Є. Габер, Навіщо Ердоган приїздив до Зеленського, і чи допоможе це в боротьбі з Росією, 2022