Turkey has closed its airspace to Russian military and civilian aircraft en route to Syria. In doing so, Ankara has restricted Moscow’s ability to supply its troops fighting in the civil war country in the Middle East and the air force and naval bases there. At the same time, it is likely to have become more difficult for Russia’s head of state, Vladimir Putin, to move troops or weapons stationed in Syria to the Ukraine front.
When Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced the airspace closure, he emphasized that this should in no way be understood as an affront. He had already announced the blocking to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in March, who informed the Russian president in good time. Putin then ordered that the Syria flights would be discontinued from the agreed date in April. Overflight rights must be renewed quarterly.
Çavuşoğlu compared the process to closing Turkey’s waterways to foreign warships on the basis of international treaties. This measure, which Ankara had taken at the beginning of the war on the basis of the “Treaty of Montreux”, prevents the Russian naval formations in the Black Sea from being able to be reinforced.
Coming from the Mediterranean, Moscow’s warships would have to pass through the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to reach the Black Sea and the Ukrainian coast. Çavuşoğlu emphasized that Turkey had also made a planned NATO maneuver in the Black Sea impossible by blocking the Bosporus at the beginning of the war. They did not want to “provoke” Russia with the passage of western warships.
Pragmatic balancing act
Former AKP MP Emin Şirin said the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the blocking of airspace will make it noticeably more difficult to supply the troops in Syria: “The sea route is closed. The air routes via Iran are not sufficient, the Russians also have to fly via Georgia,” said Şirin. “Specialists tell me that the Russians don’t yet know what they will do in Syria in the future.”
As a Black Sea state, Turkey is pursuing a policy of pragmatic balancing act in the Ukraine conflict. It maintains good relations with both warring factions. She leaves no doubt that she sees Moscow as an aggressor, even though she is economically dependent on Russian energy, grain supplies and Russian tourism. At the same time, she has not joined most of the punitive measures against Moscow.
In return, Turkish private companies are supplying Ukraine with drones. But Ankara’s most important role is that of mediator. The first high-level meetings of opponents of the war took place in Turkey. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu now said: “Between the leaders” – meaning Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy – “there is a back-door diplomacy.” There are first drafts for possible agreements to settle the acts of war. Should there be progress, Putin and Zelenskiy would meet in Turkey, Çavuşoğlu claimed. Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Zelensky again on Sunday and assured him that Turkey could assume guarantor status in the event of an agreement.
Çavuşoğlu caused a stir on Wednesday when he claimed that some NATO countries wanted to deliberately prolong the Ukraine war. He told broadcaster CNN-Turk: “They want Russia to be weakened more as a result.” Çavuşoğlu did not name any of the states allegedly pursuing this. It is obvious that, in addition to the USA, Eastern European NATO countries such as Poland, the Baltic States or Romania should have an interest. These NATO countries must feel threatened by Russia itself.