News Analysis: Turkey keen to act as mediator in Russia-Ukraine rift

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-10 18:16:19|Editor: Liangyu
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ANKARA, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is keen on playing a mediation role to ease new tensions between Russia and Ukraine, fearing a full-scale war in the Black Sea that would jeopardize its own interests in this region.

The new tensions erupted late October when Russian border guards opened fire on three Ukrainian vessels near the Crimean Peninsula as they were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait on their way to the Sea of Azov. The Russians then captured the ships and 24 crew members.

The standoff continued in early December with both countries accusing each other of violation and aggression while trading angry accusations.

Turkey, a key NATO power in the region and a Black Sea littoral state, fears that this new crisis between the two countries could escalate into a military conflict. The day after the incident, Ankara made a statement calling for peaceful settlement of the crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered his country's mediation to ease tensions. "Here we could take on a mediator role and we have discussed this with both sides," Erdogan told reporters last week in Istanbul, adding that his country would like to see the Black Sea as a "sea of peace."

Experts are divided on the role that Turkey can play in this new crisis.

"Both Russia and Ukraine are in need of the mediation role that Turkey can play as Turkey is offering to ease the situation between these nations who remain at loggerheads," Togrul Ismail, international relations professor from Kahramanmaras University, told Xinhua.

Ismail, an expert on Russian affairs, believes that Turkey, which enjoys good political and trade relations with both Moscow and Kiev, is the perfect nation at hand to offer mediation in this complicated situation.

"If Turkey is indeed accepted as a mediator and succeeds to ease tensions, this would be an important factor of diplomatic prestige for the country and also regional stability," argued Ismail.

However, Ismail thinks that the crisis will not escalate into a full-fledged war, which would spark a major crisis and hit Turkey's regional interests.

Ankara's relations with Moscow have flourished since mid-2016 in a rapprochement that has sometimes troubled the West.

Turkey is working closely with Russia on the Syria conflict and is also purchasing sophisticated Russian S-400 air defence systems.

But Erdogan has always sought to emphasize the importance of Turkey's traditionally strong relations with Ukraine, even as Kiev and Moscow remain at loggerheads.

And if Turkey really takes the step to mediate the Russia-Ukraine crisis, it could boost Erdogan's image in Turkey and abroad at a time when things are heating up ahead of crucial local elections in Turkey, planned for the end of March, 2019.

In 2014, though as a vocal supporter of Ukraine's territorial integrity, Turkey did not sanction Russia over Crimea crisis like other European nations did.

Turkey, who doesn't recognize Russia's stance on Crimea, is opposed to the Russian policy in the disputed peninsula.

In the wake of the latest Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Turkish leader held intense telephone diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Erdogan also talked to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Some analysts argue that Turkey is not in a position to act as a peacemaker in the Russian-Ukrainian standoff because of clashing interests between Ankara and Moscow.

"Turkey has a diminishing influence in the Black Sea because of the Russian policy there ever since the Georgian crisis after which Moscow has bit by bit squeezed Turkey," Selcuk Colakoglu, an international relations professor, told Xinhua.

The Black Sea has long had strategic significance, and Russians consider it as their "backyard," the expert said.

"I don't think that Turkey is seeking or poised to mediate in this conflict," said Colakoglu, director of the Asia-Pacific Center in Ankara, while underlining the actual low-key attitude of Ankara which simply mentioned its position in official statements regarding the latest incident.

"While Turkey is considering Russia as a partner, Russia for its part is seeing clearly Turkey as a regional rival," indicated Colakoglu.

This expert added that Turkey should instead focus on establishing a "healthy partnership" with Russia and make this powerful nation take notice of its national security "red lines," such as the strategic future of the Black Sea.

Colakoglu reminded that in recent years, Turkey has grown increasingly dependent on Russia's natural gas and its support in the Syrian war. Ankara and Moscow have also major energy interests in the region while Russia is constructing Turkey's first nuclear power plant.

Russian leader Putin visited Turkey in mid-November to attend a ceremony marking the completion of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline's offshore section, a project which bypasses Ukraine and gives a new boost to the Turkey-Russia ties.