As United States and European sanctions broaden due to special military operation, largely directed at demilitarization and denazification in Ukraine, Russians are now diversifying both exports and imports in Africa’s direction. After the first summit held 2019 in Sochi where a mountain of pledges incorporated in a joint declaration, but have not been given serious attention as expected.
Russia and Ukraine share common border, both are former Soviet republics struggling to move unto the global stage. Russia was angered because Ukraine’s ambition to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. With the conflict that began February 24, and amid Western and European sanctions, Russia plans to expand its network of trade missions in Africa, according to Vladimir Padalko, Vice President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The meeting held March 4 at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry building was really to re-examine how import-export trade be intensified and map out possible support for Russian enterprises and organizations in entering the African market, in practical terms, for mutually beneficial support and benefits in the light of Russia-Ukraine crisis. State support and business facilitation have been on the agenda these several years, and was exhaustively discussed during a panel session in Sochi.
“During the meeting, the participants voiced a proposal to expand the network of trade missions in Africa in the countries, which are priority for trade. It was agreed that the Industry and Trade Ministry would work on this issue together with the Foreign Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry,” Padalko said.
According to official reports, the popular Russian perception is that Africa is a promising market for Russia and information data obtained from the Industry and Trade Ministry, Russia has only four trade missions in Africa – in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. In addition, several interviews and research indicated that the Russian expert community advocates for strengthening business relations with Africa, and for example sees fruits, tea, coffee from the EU countries can be replaced with products from African countries.
Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.
On the other hand, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”
Senator Igor Morozov, Head of the Coordinating Committee on Economic Cooperation with Africa (AfroCom), business lobbying group established back in 2009, expressed his views posted to the website: “It is impossible to grow the national economy without developing new markets. Only more than 20 companies are working on raw materials projects in different parts of the continent, there are traditional deliveries through the military-technical cooperation, export of grain, mineral fertilizers, oil products with a total turnover of US$17 billion (2020)!”
Morozov argued that “it is necessary to involve large-scale involvement of small and medium-sized businesses from the Russian regions in the African direction. It is necessary to reconsider the entire range of the export potential of the regional economy: the transport industry, agricultural machinery and units, mechanical engineering and navigation equipment, the mining sector, water treatment, and information technology.”
According to his interpretation, the geopolitical situation is rapidly changing and especially in such desperate condition of sanctions pressure, the outlook for new markets, new partners and allies are important for Russia. “This predetermines the return of Russia to Africa, makes this direction a priority both from the point of view of geopolitical influence, and in the trade and economic context. It is important for us to expand and improve competitive government support instruments for business. It is obvious that over the thirty years Russia left Africa. There are foreign players such as China, India, the United States and the European Union that have significantly increased their investment opportunities,” Morozov stressed.
Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers actively competing with one another, the Senator further frankly acknowledged, and added that there is nothing surprising in the fact that the European Union is increasing its trade turnover with African countries, and it amounts to more than US$300 billion a year. For instance, the United States, implementing the Prosper Africa Programme, continues to push American investments and high-tech products to priority African markets.
In this regard, in order to promote Russian goods, it is necessary to create conditions that would be competitive for exporters. It is obvious that the Russian Export Center (REC) does not have a direct investment fund in the system of financing African projects. Successful practice in Africa clearly demonstrates the widespread use of such funds by China, India, France and many other players.
Russian Export Center says despite the emerging challenges the market is potentially the largest, Africa – is the continent of the future, but currently, the demand is generally limited. Speaking about Africa, there is the need to distinguish the countries of the continent into two groups: the northern and southern parts.
“We note an increase in the number of requests to find a Russian supplier from sub-Saharan Africa. Companies from such countries as South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Benin are most interested in increasing imports. We frequently receive requests to search for suppliers in such industries as mineral fertilizers, food products and the rest,” explains an official from Russian Export Center.
In such Russia-Ukraine paradigm, Russian enterprises and importers still need to understand a set of priority problems and barriers, especially now when showing searching for alternatives for European suppliers, and interested in establishing stable long-term with African partners.
Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), has questioned whether Russia has a long-term strategy in there. “Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa. Now at this critical time, Russians have to decide what they can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market in exchange for needed importable consumables,” she underscored.
The Maghreb region is an important gateway to Europe and to sub-Saharan Africa. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase both imports and exports of agricultural products. South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and a few others have been delivering fruits, described as marginal quality though, in the Russian market.
In an interview discussion for this article, Dr. Chtatou Mohamed, a senior professor of Middle Eastern politics at the International University of Rabat, emphasized that, on the geo-economic level, the five Arab countries present themselves as an unavoidable interface to enter the African continent, these are rich in raw materials and present as the great consumer market.
“While the context between Russia and Western countries is highly troubled, and characterized in particular by a regime of sanctions and counter-sanctions, it is to better serve the interests of their peoples and find solutions by exploiting the opportunities. Moscow has more room for turn round export-import business with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa,” he pointed out.
Members of African diplomatic missions informed the greatly unrealized potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in agro-industry infrastructure, education and many other sectors, and unreservedly called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.
During the early March discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedures, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. As always, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.
Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. Removing barriers could help export-import collaboration reach an entirely new level. Russian and African business communities lack of awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues swiftly have to be resolved through establishing an effective system of communication to guarantee their reliability and integrity between public business associations in Russia and Africa.
In the meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered to restrict or prohibit import and export of certain products and raw materials from Russia in 2022, according to the decree on special foreign economic measures aimed to ensure Russia’s security.
“Ensure implementation of the following special economic measures until December 31, 2022: export and import ban of products and/or raw materials in accordance with lists to be defined by the government of the Russian Federation,” the document says, adding that a separate list will define goods, whose export and import will be restricted. The decree becomes necessary in order to ensure Russia’s security and uninterrupted operation of agriculture and industry.
On March 9, Putin and his Senegalese counterpart, Chair of the African Union, President Macky Sall held a telephone conversation to discuss the situation covering Russia’s special military operation to protect Donbass and the development of ties between Moscow and Africa.
“At the request of President Sall, Vladimir Putin informed him on the main aspects of the special military operation to protect the breakaway republics with an emphasis on the humanitarian element. In particular, it was stressed that Russian military personnel take every possible measure to safely evacuate foreign citizens,” the Kremlin press service said in a statement circulated after the conversation.
The Kremlin further stressed that the leaders confirmed the importance of the consistent implementation of the agreements reached at the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 and the further development of diverse ties in various economic spheres between Russia and African countries.
According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the preparations for the Russia-Africa summit are in the active stage. The dates of the summit have not been determined yet. The first Russia-Africa summit took place in October 2019, and it was co-chaired by Russian and Egyptian Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The next summit scheduled for autumn 2022.
The Political Imbroglio And The Solution
It is unfortunate that despite being 75 years old, the country’s political and economic crisis is far from over. The leaders bereft of understanding and sensibility continue to exchange barbs in Assembly as well as through Press Conferences using derogatory language against each other crossing all moral frontiers.
The Political disarray and instability have impacted the Economy to the extent that the Dollar has rocketed upwards while the rupee continues to lose its value and slipped to its bottom due to falling exports and depleting foreign exchange reserves. IMF program on tough conditions and regulations has jolted the whole economic system and turbulent political instability has further worsened the situation to an alarming condition ahead if the incompetence continues to haunt the economic policies
In such circumstances, the political parties should show restraint and take serious steps to resolve this impasse that has overcast the clouds of uncertainty. The people are more concerned regarding the state and the fear of Default than their Political Parties or dirtiest political conspiracies and tactics to stick to corridors of power.
They have almost forgotten their role as reformers and problem solvers instead of just creating such a mess that is deteriorating the situation with each Passing Day. The Main Stream parties such as PPP, PML –N and JUI have joined hands to defend their overtures whether taking place by hook or crook. Their 15-party coalition seems to be at daggers drawn towards PTI as they have forgotten their national role to take the people out of the crisis. PTI is under the radar of the ruling coalition as the narrative built by Imran Khan has dusted their political future.
The tested and tried parties have got the power through conspiracy. However, they claim to have the legitimate right to rule the country by amending NAB laws and depriving overseas Pakistanis of the right to Vote fearing that extending the right to vote and EVM may take these corrupt elements out of Election Winning race.
Since they are well aware that the overseas Pakistanis have strong support for PTI so they want them out of Electoral Process. The Evil designs of this rejected class are crystal clear that they are not sincere with those expats from whose exchange the Pakistan economy gets strong support.
Furthermore, the governance crisis in the biggest province of Pakistan Punjab has further aggravated the situation. Since the resignation of CM Usman Buzdar, Punjab has been run either on an Adhoc basis without any Government or as Trust. The musical chairs between Hamza Shahbaz and Chaudhry Pervez for Punjab’s top slot have already messed up the situation and created a political crisis. Though the Supreme Court decision in favour of PTI Nominee Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi has so far cleared the air for time being.
Luckily, PTI and PML-Q coalition has been successful in installing their Government in Punjab and winning Speaker and Deputy Speaker slots. Though, the PML-N-led coalition has challenged the Speaker Election in the High court which is also ringing alarm bells if the high court terms the Speaker’s Election null and void.
It is beyond understanding that on the one hand PTI demands General Elections to bring Political and Economic Stability of the country but on the other hand, it wants to hold Provincial Governments of KPK and Punjab. Especially, after regaining power in Pakistan’s largest provinces, PTI seems to have backed out from its General Elections Demand.
The existing Constitutional crisis is far from over as both PTI and PDM-led coalition are at loggerheads and making every effort to destabilize the PTI Government in Punjab province, without it, the coalition appears to be limited to Federation as PTI has Government KPK and Punjab Province.
The politics of revenge, opposition, Ego and stubbornness has shaken the very roots of the country. The economic and political crisis seems to have no signs of ending given the polarized and selfish nature of the leaders.
The political imbroglio starting from the no-confidence motion is far from over as it is deepening with each passing day.
The leadership crisis is evident from the prevalent state of affairs when the dollar is rising against the rupee and depleting foreign exchange reserves ring the alarm bells for the country but our political parties being devoid of sensibility continue infighting over the lust for power or the throne.
The Political theatre has opened many fronts that are increasing the risky journey ahead that includes electoral reforms, delimitation, falling rupee and terms of engagement with the IMF program and efforts to get the IMF tranche released. Even the Army chief approached the US to expedite the release of the tranche so the emerging economic crisis could be tackled and falling foreign exchange reserves could be increased.
The fuel price hike has already created inflation costing heavily to common men but the so-called coalition parties in power just show their teeth in mass gatherings that everything is going fine. Their non-serious attitude shows that they will not provide any relief to common people. They are concerned about the power and want to retain it for a long time as they believe that PTI after the en masse resignations saga, are out of the contest and they will not experience any opposition as PTI is not mulling over returning to Parliament terming the multi-party coalition as a mixed pickle.
The PTI terms the coalition as an imported Government since it was formed with external support. If the PTI MNAs return to Assembly, they will have the feeling that on their Government benches, they will find those criminals who were either convicted or sentenced.
Meanwhile, the acceptance of 11 MNAs of PTI by the Speaker National Assembly and their subsequent denotifying notification by the Elections Commission of Pakistan has added fuel to fire in the already polarized and turbulent political situation.
Fearing the adverse decision in the alleged Foreign Funding case by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the PTI passed Resolutions in both Punjab and KPK Assemblies demanding the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner. Even PTI has decided to register a reference in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and their Members.
The establishment being neutral or apolitical must come forward to unite the political forces so that the strategy is devised to revive economic growth and stop the rupee from further losing value. The judiciary is performing very well since it is proactive to help prevent the country from falling prey to turbulent political and constitutional crises.
Political leaders have their priorities than those of national interest which is causing the economy and stock market to crash.
The political debacle emancipating in Punjab Assembly has engulfed the entire country since all coalition parties were pressing hard to make full court to hear the case of Deputy speaker Mr Dost Mohammad Mazari’s ruling regarding PML-Q Party Chief alleged letter calling the MPAs to vote for Hamza Shehbaz instead of the Parliamentary party nominee Chaudhry Pervez Illahi who had a thumping majority in the House with 186 Votes against Hamza bagging 179 votes. But it was rejected by Supreme Court clarifying that the Full bench is not needed to decide the case and decided the case in favour of Chaudhry Pervez Illahi terming the Deputy speaker’s ruling null and void.
Since then the Political weather has become very hot and PML N-led coalition Government has built pressure on ECP to announce foreign funding cases of PTI to continue their political rivalry as they want that the PTI should be banned and Imran Khan should be sentenced for receiving funding from Israel and India. Their reliance on the outcome of PTI’s foreign funding case is aimed at Political rivalry with PTI chief Imran Khan and his Party due to its narrative of corruption.
The decision was reserved for eight years but finally, it is being announced after the ruling coalition exerted too much pressure on the Election Commission of Pakistan. The PTI will eventually challenge the decision. Political analysts are of the view that the Political crisis will further deepen and will further aggravate economic conditions and the Pakistani Rupee Slide against Dollar.
It is the need of the hour to have the charter of Economy and reach the consensus to hold early General Elections so that the Economic and Political situation may be stabilized with a new Government with a simple majority whoever gets it.
The concerns and fears do predict that ECP’s sudden decision to announce the foreign funding case will create the worst political crisis which will risk the economy and provide the opportunity for the country’s foes to conspire against the fragile state of affairs.
Let’s hope that whatever happens, it should not have any adverse effect on the country’s disarrayed political arena because the economic crisis, increasing Power tariffs and skyrocketing inflation have already made the life of common men miserable and the uncertain situation presenting a grim outlook that is dangerous for the country.
It is imperative for all the parties to sign a charter of the Economy so that economic conditions could be improved. It is in the national interest to have an apolitical COE that can put the economy on the right track.
Imran Khan’s graceless exit
Leaders come and go, but the manner in which Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power through a parliamentary vote of no confidence has no precedent in Pakistani history.
After the opposition had mustered the necessary support of the members of the National Assembly, Khan could have resigned and exited from power with grace. Instead, he chose to cling to power until the last moment by sabotaging the vote of no confidence proceedings, despite a clear verdict from the Supreme Court to complete the voting process on Saturday. A cricket legend who played politics like a T-20 match; he kept the nation on its toes until midnight. His ego seemed bigger than the country he led.
Khan promised to build a new ‘Naya’ Pakistan, a thriving nation free from corruption beyond the dynastic politics of the past. But his nearly four years of narcissistic rule have been so nightmarish that ultimately public representatives opted to vote for Old Pakistan.
Khan leaves behind a nation with deeply polarised politics, an economy nearing collapse, and a foreign policy that has ruptured relations with major powers and trusted allies. Challenges that will be difficult to surmount by his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
Pakistan has a chequered political history. In the past half century, long military rules have been followed by unstable civilian eras. This instability is often the result of the military’s intrusion into politics. The current impasse is no different, except that the alternative leader the generals tried to cultivate eventually became a Frankenstein.
To be sure, the post-Musharraf transition to democracy is different from the previous two such transitions of the 70’s and 90’s in the sense that rapid urbanization in the past couple of decades has produced a middle class that is no longer apolitical. Khan’s personal charm galvanised this class, especially its youth segment, leading to the emergence of PTI as a potent challenge to mainstream political parties, including the PMLN and Pakistan People’s Party.
Instead of focusing on the economy, Khan pursued a vengeful accountability drive against the leaders of PMLN and PPP. Their character assassination by trolls on social media, with unfounded accusations of corruption and treason, has introduced a level of toxicity in politics never seen before.
In the PTI’s rise, the military saw an opportunity to discredit both parties. Thus began the unique experiment of a regime built on the premise that civilian and military leaders would remain on the ‘same page.’ The bargain was that Khan would receive unwavering support from the military leadership and his government would, in return, deliver tangible economic outcomes through better governance. Keeping the opposition at bay was a shared interest.
But this bargain took no time to flicker due to the bad economic start of the Khan regime. It wasted almost a year in negotiating a bailout package with the IMF worth $6 billion, which devaluated the rupee. The subsequent period has seen further economic mismanagement amid the global pandemic, curtailing the GDP growth rate from 5.9% in 2018 to 3.4% this year. IMF conditionalities have led to double digit inflation. Foreign borrowing has raised the debt burden significantly. The economic corridor project with China is derailed. Unemployment has also skyrocketed. There is deep public disillusionment as a result.
Instead of focusing on the economy, Khan pursued a vengeful accountability drive against the leaders of PMLN and PPP, who were hounded and jailed on alleged corruption charges that remain unproven in any court of law. Their character assassination by trolls on social media, with unfounded accusations of corruption and treason, has introduced a level of toxicity in politics never seen before.
Islam has been a convenient tool for both military and civilian leaders to divert public attention from real socio-economic issues. But the way Khan has used his religious narrative to cultivate support among the population has no parallel.
Under no circumstances does the military allow civilian leaders to play with its chain of command, but Khan crossed this red line. He also played the American conspiracy card, using a diplomatic cable from the ex-envoy in Washington to claim the no confidence motion was a US ploy to change his regime. All his opponents, he dubbed traitors.
Without the military’s support, Khan could not have made it to the premiership. Its top brassindeed bet on the wrong horse and may have learned a hard lesson. His reckless subversion of the constitution to keep himself in power has also annoyed the judiciary and, perhaps, a significant chunk of his urban middle class supporters who have already borne the brunt of indirect taxes under PTI rule.
Despite his disgraceful exit from power, Khan retains a cult following among the youth. But with key PTI financiers drifting away and his own accountability about to begin, Khan’s political fate now hangs in the balance. The emergence of PTI as an alternative political force to cater to the rightful aspirations of the middle class was a good thing in the patronage-driven politics of Pakistan. Its demise – at the hands of its own leader – will be quite unfortunate.
Turkey in the Black Sea Region: Risks for Russia?
On February 3, 2022, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an official visit to Ukraine, during which he managed to put his signature to a Turkey–Ukraine free trade agreement following more than ten years of negotiations on the provisions of the document. But this was not the only achievement of the President’s visit: Ankara and Kiev also signed a framework document on the construction of a facility that will produce Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles in Ukraine.
The dynamically developing relations between Ankara and Kiev bring into focus such issues as Turkey’s vigorous penetration into the post-Soviet space, its willingness to act as a military and political patron of a number of former Soviet countries and aid them in strengthening their relations with NATO despite their non-NATO member status. Do these developments make conflict in the Black Sea more likely? What risks would this create for Russia and its interests?
The Caucasus and Ukraine: Two Links in the Same Chain
After the Second Karabakh War, the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict was no longer a predominantly regional ethnopolitical confrontation rooted in the consequences of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The strategic link between Ankara and Baku formed in the early 1990s has gone from strength to strength. Opportunities for Turkey and Azerbaijan to collectively exert pressure on Armenia (military, political and diplomatic) and Georgia (in terms of economic cooperation) have expanded. Russia’s hegemony in the South Caucasus has been challenged. At the same time, the Turkish strategy of strengthening its positions in Eurasia has created additional tensions in Ankara’s relations with its NATO allies and with Iran.
However, the events of 2020 did not lead to changes in just one region of the post-Soviet space. Turkey’s growing presence in the South Caucasus has opened up opportunities for it to build up political and economic influence in the Black Sea. And the expansion of multifaceted cooperation with Ukraine is one of the most obvious consequences of Turkey’s encroachment into the former Soviet Union.
Today, President Erdogan consistently promotes the idea of Turkey being a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Yet, he is just as consistent in promoting ideas and practices that are unacceptable to Moscow. Erdogan has made no secret of the fact that he does not recognize Russian jurisdiction over Crimea, while the Russian authorities have declared that the issue of the status of the peninsula is “closed.”
Military-technical cooperation between Ankara and Kiev has long ceased to be merely a part of the foreign policy activity of the two states. On September 29, 2021, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and the Bayraktar Savunma signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on the construction of a joint training and testing centre for the maintenance, repair and modernization of UAVs and training of personnel. In late October 2021, Ukraine used a Bayraktar strike drone for the first time in the armed conflict in the southeast of the country, in violation of the peace agreement between the parties. Following the strike, a group of reconnaissance officers from the Armed Forces of Ukraine infiltrated and captured the village of Staromaryevka located in the so-called “grey zone” between the DPR (the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic) and Ukraine. Such operations are very much to the liking of Ukraine’s partner countries in Eastern Europe. In the autumn of 2021, Minister of Defence of the Republic of Latvia Artis Pabriks suggested that EU and NATO countries follow Ankara’s example and learn from its experience in developing relations with Kiev without taking the position of Moscow into consideration.
In this context, it is worth noting a certain incongruence between the approaches of the United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies to its actions in the Caucasus and Ukraine. France could not (and cannot) tolerate Ankara’s unequivocal support for Baku, while the United States has adopted a position of cautious restraint. Washington and Paris are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and they are concerned about Turkey’s “revisionism” in the Caucasus. This explains why both the French and the American sides are prepared to put up with Russia being the only major player in Nagorno-Karabakh as an inevitability or a lesser evil.
There is an Armenian lobby in the United States and France. Without exaggerating the role that it plays in the politics of both countries, we can say that the issues of Karabakh independence and the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire are present in the American and French narratives. Yet there is no scenario in which one could possibly imagine a discussion of the self-determination of the Donbass republics taking place in Congress or the National Assembly of France. It is unlikely that influential groups (not individual members of parliaments) calling for the recognition of Crimea as part of Russia will appear in either country any time soon.
Thus, the collective West sees Turkey’s advances in Ukraine as being far less nuanced than the strengthening of the strategic alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Some countries of the “New Europe” even believe that Ankara is acting as any NATO member can (and should) act in its relations with Ukraine—without any kind of political correctness or reservations, something that representatives of Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and other EU countries resort to from time to time. All this cannot but embolden Turkey to take new steps to build allied relations with Kiev. In turn, Ukraine, tired of sitting on its hands waiting for NATO to make up its mind about the country’s membership in the organization, is ready to welcome Turkey with open arms.
But does Turkey’s growing activity in the Black Sea necessarily mean that its relations with Russia will suffer greatly? Well, the answer to this question is not as clear-cut as it may seem at first. To understand why this is the case, it is vital to examine the foundations on which the bilateral partnership between Ukraine and Turkey was built.
Ukraine and Turkey: It is more than just about Crimea
For Ukraine, President Erdogan and the Turkish establishment are a sympathetic audience, especially when it comes to the loss of Kiev’s sovereignty over Crimea. Turkish officials miss no opportunity to stress that they do not recognize Russian authority over the peninsula.
But the Crimean Tatar community is an important domestic factor for Turkey. According to various estimates, approximately 4–5 million descendants of Crimean Tatars live in the country. Russian expert in Turkic languages and civilization Pavel Shlykov has noted that, “there are forces in Turkey that are ready to exploit the romantic moods of a part of the Turkish elite who dream of expanding more actively into the Caucasus, Crimea, the Volga Region and Central Asia, and who view Russia not as a partner, but as a geopolitical rival.” In this regard, it is no coincidence that Erdogan, justifying his initiative to act as a mediator between Moscow and Kiev, has pointed out just how important it is for the Black Sea region as a whole to see a positive resolution to the Crimean Tatar issue. During his visit to Ukraine in February, Erdogan met with a delegation from the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (an organization banned in the Russian Federation).
But Turkey does not focus on Crimea only. The Turkish elite, realizing the complexity of relations between Moscow and Kiev, uses Ukrainian channels to express its dissatisfaction with Russian stance on other foreign policy issues. This was the case during Erdogan’s visit to Kiev on February 3, 2020, which was timed to coincide with the 28th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Turkey and post-Soviet Ukraine. It also took place against the backdrop of a sharp military escalation in Syria. The Turkish President lambasted the Russian leadership for deliberately turning a blind eye to the actions of the “Syrian regime.”
We should keep in mind that contacts with Bartholomew I of Constantinople are extremely important for the Ukrainian leader, Volodymyr Zelensky (as they were for his predecessor Petro Poroshenko), as he wants to use the Archbishop’s influence to fuel the “nationalization” of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. And there are no two ways about it—he needs Erdogan to do this. Arguably, Ukraine is willing to showcase its privileged relations with Azerbaijan, while it also seems poised to affirm the policy of non-recognition towards the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Following the Second Karabakh War, Kiev has noted a change in the behaviour of the Azerbaijani leadership, deeming it more relevant to today than the example of the 1995 “pacification” of the Republic of Serbian Krajina it relied on before.
However, despite the commonality of interests and growing cooperation between the sides, Ankara will most likely try to compensate for its emotions with regard to Ukraine by being pragmatic in its relations with Russia. No matter how intensively cooperation between Ankara and Kiev may develop, Erdogan is not trying to give up its role as an “intermediary” between Ukraine and Russia. He is under no illusion that the West would be satisfied if it were Turkey pulling the chestnuts out of the fire and not the “Euro-Atlantic brotherhood.” But the Turkish leadership is trying to raise its profile in the dialogue with the United States and the European Union by appealing to its “special relations” with Moscow. For all intents and purposes, this looks similar to how Ankara is conducting the dialogue with the European Union around the problem of refugees and migrants from the Middle East. For Turkey, getting caught up in an open confrontation with Russia would mean losing its status as a “special member” of NATO that needs to be coaxed and coddled.
Over recent years, Erdogan has thrown down the gauntlet to a number of countries, such as when putting Moscow, Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi, among others, on notice. However, by embracing his image as a major troublemaker, the President of Turkey has repeatedly shown that he is able to rationalize confrontation. This was the case in 2016 when Turkey and Russia disagreed over Syria, and in 2021 when Joe Biden called the tragedy of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a genocide.
However, no matter how the Turkish President and his inner circle maneuver, Turkey is becoming more and more militarily and politically involved in post-Soviet affairs with each passing day. And we are no longer talking exclusively about the Caucasus region. It appears as if Erdogan wants to become one of the key actors in the Ukrainian game—a player without whom any reconfiguration in the Black Sea region would be, if not impossible, then extremely unlikely.
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