As Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on, Turkey’s role expands | Russia-Ukraine war News

Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey’s affect within the Ukraine battle is rising once more.

In latest weeks, Ankara helped save the grain export deal after Russia all of the sudden withdrew from the settlement, threatening the world’s meals provide.

After 4 days of phone diplomacy between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in addition to different officers on each side, Moscow introduced on November 2 that it was rejoining the pact initially brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July.

“He [Putin] doesn’t comply with open this grain hall via others. However with me, after I name … immediately he opened the grain hall,” Erdogan stated in an interview with broadcaster ATV on the day of Russia’s U-turn.

Early within the battle, Ankara hosted negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officers in Istanbul and Antalya.

And on Monday, the heads of the American and Russian international intelligence providers – the CIA’s Invoice Burns and Sergey Nariskin of the SVR – met in Ankara to debate “threats towards worldwide safety, beginning with using nuclear weapons”, Erdogan’s workplace stated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shake hands
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [File: Sputnik/Alexander Demyanchuk/Pool via Reuters]

Since February 24, Ankara has rigorously balanced relations with each side within the battle.

Turkey has equipped Ukraine with very important weaponry, such because the much-vaunted Bayraktar drones, but in addition tools together with Kirpi armoured troop carriers and physique armour. Final month the primary of 4 Ada-class corvettes constructed for Ukraine was launched at an Istanbul shipyard.

As guardian of the Black Sea entrance, Turkey closed its straits to navy vessels inside days of the battle beginning, stopping Moscow from reinforcing its fleet.

In the meantime, Erdogan has maintained common contact with Putin and, in step with Turkey’s coverage of solely following UN Safety Council-approved sanctions, has stored up financial ties because the West turned its again on Russia.

Commerce between the Black Sea neighbours has blossomed over the past 9 months.

Turkey’s exports to Russia leapt 86 % final month to $1.15bn whereas imports from Russia greater than doubled to $5.03bn, in accordance with official Turkish figures.

Solar-seeking Russians – in addition to yacht-owning oligarchs – have been flocking to Turkey’s seashores this yr, with 3.8 million arriving within the first 9 months, the second-largest nationwide group after Germans.

Valeria Harmash
Valeria Harmash, a Ukrainian dwelling in Istanbul, says it’s painful to see Russians ‘dwelling like they don’t care’ concerning the battle, whereas in Turkey [Andy Wilks/Al Jazeera]

For Ukrainians in Turkey, nonetheless, sharing Istanbul’s retailers and eating places with Russian vacationers and draft dodgers has rubbed salt within the wound.

“It’s very tough as a result of they began the battle after which they run away from Russia and revel in their lives in locations like Turkey,” stated Valeria Harmash, a 28-year-old from Kharkiv, whose brother and uncle are on the entrance line.

“It’s very painful for me – their folks, their president destroyed the lives of my household and buddies, however I see Russians in Zara, Starbucks and Mango dwelling like they don’t care. I can see it of their faces after they see my Ukraine badge that they don’t really feel any sorrow.”


Tourism and different international earnings have proved very important as Erdogan faces Turkey’s worst financial disaster beneath his 20-year rule and tough elections subsequent yr.

Entry to Russian vitality has meant Turkey will not be going through the identical degree of value will increase seen elsewhere in Europe.

Pure gasoline from Russia stuffed 45 % of Turkey’s wants final yr and Ankara has reportedly requested for its funds to be deferred to 2024.

In the meantime, Putin has floated the thought of Turkey changing into a hub for the sale of Russian gasoline to the European market.

Giant sums of largely untraceable international money have additionally flowed into Turkey – $24.9bn between January and September, in accordance with Central Financial institution figures launched on Friday, greater than double the identical interval in 2021 – and have helped prop up its rising present account deficit.

“I believe it’s now past affordable doubt that these … inflows are predominately Russian cash flows, with Putin now firmly pinning his colors to Erdogan’s mast to make sure his re-election,” stated Timothy Ash, an affiliate fellow at Chatham Home’s Russia and Eurasia programme.

The Central Financial institution didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s request for remark on the time of publishing.

Nevertheless, in a Monetary Occasions interview final month, Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati stated tourism income made up a major chunk of the unaccounted earnings, since Russians use money as a result of sanctions have excluded them from the monetary system. He stated all of the funds have been authentic despite the fact that the origins of such money deposits are not possible to hint.

Mithat Rende, a former Turkish ambassador to Qatar with experience in vitality negotiations, described Putin’s gasoline hub suggestion as an try “to drive a wedge between Turkey and the West and likewise upset the solidarity between European nations”.

Questions have been raised concerning the viability of such a hub, given Europe’s need to wean itself off Russian gasoline and the extra infrastructure wanted.

“If Putin want to make a gesture in direction of Turkey, or in direction of his buddy, the president, it’s not by declaring his willingness to make Turkey an vitality hub. It’s to postpone the [gas] funds,” Rende added.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, pointed to the arrival of reported Russian capital as a consider Erdogan’s latest rally within the polls.

“In comparison with final June, all main polls recommend Erdogan has consolidated his supporters,” he stated. “I believe that is extra because of capital inflows to Turkey in the course of the summer time. It was an excellent tourism season. Russian cash got here to Turkey and unemployment decreased a bit of and the foreign money kind of stabilised.”

Erdogan’s function within the grain deal – Putin congratulated him as a champion of the world’s poorer nations as he returned to the settlement – has undoubtedly raised the Turkish president’s worldwide standing as he has steadfastly sought mediation between the warring sides.

And Russia, which has deepened its ties with nations reminiscent of China, India and Turkey because it has been frozen out by the West, is more and more reliant on Ankara as a window to the Western world – a place that has raised issues about sanctions-busting in Washington.

Turkey’s positive factors because of the battle can be seen in its relationship with its NATO allies and the West, generally.

Swedish and Finnish efforts to hitch the Atlantic alliance have been blocked by Turkey because it sought concessions from the Nordic states, calling for a crackdown on these it deemed “terrorists” sheltering within the two nations. The brand new Swedish authorities has indicated its shifting place over the Kurdish-Syrian YPG, because of the group’s ties to Kurdish rebels who’ve fought the Turkish state for the final 38 years.

Though Washington has denied a link to the Nordic NATO enlargement, Ankara is transferring nearer to reaching a take care of the US on updating its fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Erdogan’s balanced method has usually met with public approval in Turkey.

“It’s proper that we don’t get too intently concerned on this battle,” stated Omer Avci, an Istanbul shopkeeper.

“The Russian occupation is horrible however President Erdogan is the one working for peace whereas the West does nothing. We’d like peace within the area for ourselves in addition to the world.”

Russia’s war in Ukraine challenges old comrades in Southeast Asia | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russian President Vladimir Putin has oozed an informal resentment when describing the “irreversible and even tectonic adjustments” that he says have led the West to turn into a spent pressure on the earth.

“Western international locations are striving to keep up a former world order that’s helpful solely to them,” he instructed attendees on the Jap Financial Discussion board within the Russian metropolis of Vladivostok in September.

These days had been numbered, he insisted.

The long run was within the “dynamic, promising international locations and areas of the world, primarily the Asia Pacific area”, he stated. Putin was adopted on the rostrum by Myanmar coup chief Min Aung Hlaing – the symbolism was not misplaced on shut observers of regional politics.

This week Putin was invited to attend the Group of 20 assembly, which opens on Tuesday on the Indonesian island of Bali. It gave the impression to be the proper venue for him to double down on his overtures to the Asia Pacific, significantly in Southeast Asia — one of many world’s most economically dynamic areas.

However it was to not be.

Putin skipped his second within the Balinese solar as a result of undefined “scheduling” causes.

With Putin a no-show, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy might have a captive viewers if he addresses the summit nearly after his invitation to attend by the summit’s host, Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Putin’s absence from the G20 additionally undercuts “discuss of a Russian pivot to Asia”, wrote Susannah Patton of the Lowy Institute, an Australian suppose tank.

Now with the Russian military retreating in components of Ukraine and worldwide sanctions biting deeply into Russia’s financial system, some previous associates in Southeast Asia seem like avoiding direct eye contact as Putin appears to be like east. Others are actively wanting the opposite means, and Myanmar appears to be Moscow’s final true pal within the area.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing shake hands and pose for a photo during their meeting on the sideline of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Myanmar’s Senior Common Min Aung Hlaing meet on the Jap Financial Discussion board in Vladivostok, Russia, in September 2022 [File: Valery Sharifulin/Sputnik/Kremlin pool via AP]

Outdated comrades, quick recollections

Russia has no main strategic pursuits in Southeast Asia, however Soviet-era relations run deep and Moscow has lengthy political and emotional connections to the previous nations of Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Hanoi, particularly, remembers Russian assist throughout the warfare towards the US-backed regime in South Vietnam within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies — a warfare from which it emerged victorious in 1975.

Vietnam and Laos abstained from UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Ukrainian territory, and voted towards suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

In Monday’s vote on a decision requiring Russia to pay reparations for the injury brought about to Ukraine, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia had been among the many 73 members of the meeting that abstained. Amongst international locations within the area, solely Singapore and the Philippines backed the decision.

Vietnamese communist soldiers moving forward under covering fire from a heavy machine gun during the Vietnam War.
Vietnamese communist troopers shifting ahead underneath masking fireplace from a heavy machine gun throughout the Vietnam Battle, circa 1968 [File: Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Vietnam’s resolution to abstain on the UN is completely authorized, argued Huynh Tam Sang, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh Metropolis College of Social Sciences and Humanities. However it is usually “morally questionable” as Vietnam had did not defend the “ideas of sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he writes. That’s no small oversight for a rustic whose profitable liberation struggles towards international occupiers — China, France, and the USA — is a defining nationwide motif.

“Vietnam’s transfer is geared toward avoiding criticism and potential retaliation from Moscow,” stated Huynh Tam Sang, mentioning the fabric behind the fraternal: commerce links between Hanoi and Moscow amounted to nearly $2.5bn within the first eight months of this 12 months, and Russia is a major investor in Vietnam’s oil and gasoline sectors.

Russia can also be Vietnam’s largest arms provider.

“It isn’t in Vietnam’s pursuits for Russia to be weakened,” Carlyle A Thayer, emeritus professor on the College of New South Wales Canberra, instructed Al Jazeera in a latest interview.

Historic threads

Vietnam’s assist for Russia must be understood when it comes to Hanoi’s historically fraught relationship with neighbouring China. Vietnam fought its personal border warfare with China in 1979 and has typically relied on its relations with Moscow as a counterweight to stress from its historic rival.

Neighbouring Cambodia, nevertheless, with its Putin-esque authoritarian chief Hun Sen who has held energy for 37 years, has proven shocking insubordination to its former Soviet-era help donor and political supporter.

The then Soviet Union was one of many earliest international locations to assist rebuild Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime when the federal government in Phnom Penh — put in by Vietnam — confronted near-total Western sanctions. One among Phnom Penh’s hottest markets remains to be often called the “Russian Market” owing to the massive inhabitants of Russian diplomats and technical assistants from Soviet states who frequented its stalls throughout the Nineteen Eighties.

Simply final 12 months, Hun Sen acquired Russia’s Order of Friendship medal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen during their meeting at the ASEAN-Russia summit in Sochi, Russia.
Vladimir Putin shakes palms with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen throughout their assembly on the ASEAN-Russia summit, within the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, in 2016 [File: Alexander Zemlianichenko, pool/AP Photo]

However that has not prevented the Cambodian chief from taking a “surprisingly hard-line stand” towards Moscow over the warfare in Ukraine, in accordance with Ian Storey, a senior fellow on the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Hun Sen has not simply referred to as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an “act of aggression”, however he has additionally questioned Russia’s capacity to emerge victorious, and expressed a willingness to absorb Ukrainian refugees, Storey notes.

Hun Sen’s pro-Ukraine stance appeared to immediate the Russian ambassador to remind him in a tweet that it was Moscow who got here to Cambodia’s help “in essentially the most troublesome interval in its historical past” following the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia was unmoved by the Russian reminder.

Phnom Penh has been a cosponsor of condemnatory UN resolutions on Russia’s invasion — though it has abstained on some Ukraine-related votes — and extra not too long ago, Hun Sen invited Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to deal with by video link final weekend’s summit of the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. The invitation was apparently torpedoed by the necessity for consensus among the many ASEAN leaders.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been extra cautious of their public pronouncements on the warfare, with G20 host Indonesia cautious to protect its conventional non-aligned stance.

However, Indonesia’s Widodo did go to Kyiv first and Moscow the following day in late June when he went to debate the worldwide meals disaster with Zelenskyy and Putin, and presumably lengthen private invites to the Bali summit.

Russian marketplace for arms

Russia’s arms trade is the “single largest provider of main weaponry to Southeast Asia”, in accordance with the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute (SIPRI).

Russia accounted for greater than 1 / 4 of all main weapons deliveries to the area over the previous 20 years, in accordance with SIPRI, and when Moscow can’t promote its weapons for laborious money, it has been keen to do barter offers or present loans as an alternative.

The Indonesian authorities deliberate to purchase 11 Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter plane from Russia in a deal that concerned fee of half the associated fee with the equal in agricultural and different produce, in accordance with reviews.

Within the Philippines, Russia stated in 2018 that it was “greater than keen” to supply a gentle mortgage in order that Manila may purchase its first-ever — however Russian-built — submarine, the nation’s Philippine Information Company reported.

As SIPRI factors out, gross sales of Russian weaponry to Southeast Asia are “an essential aspect of Russia’s whole export earnings and important to sustaining the financial viability of the Russian arms trade”.

However with US sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and alleged interference within the 2016 US presidential election, some regional governments have already begun to maneuver away from Russia.

Manila didn’t purchase the Russian submarine, and Jakarta introduced in December that the Sukhoi fighter deal was lifeless.

Now, with a plethora of Ukraine war-related sanctions awaiting these coping with Moscow, Russia’s export arms trade appears to be like set to really feel the collateral injury of Putin’s Ukraine invasion.

Take the Philippines, for instance.

Over fears of sanctions, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr stated final month that his nation would supply navy helicopters from the US after scrapping a $215m deal to purchase 16 heavy-lift helicopters from Russia.

The federal government of Marcos Jr’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had signed the take care of Russia in November 2021. However even Duterte wished to place distance between himself and Putin, whom he had as soon as described as his idol, after the Ukraine invasion.

“Many say that Putin and I are each killers,” Duterte stated three months into the invasion in Might.

“I’ve lengthy instructed you Filipinos that I actually kill. However I kill criminals, I don’t kill youngsters and the aged,” he stated, evaluating his brutality to that of Putin in Ukraine.

“We’re in two totally different worlds,” he added.

’Twenty first-century imperialism’

The Southeast Asia outlier is military-ruled Myanmar, which has thrown its full assist behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Already heat relations between Russia and Myanmar have deepened additional for the reason that invasion of Ukraine and final 12 months’s coup by the navy that toppled the elected authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Because the Worldwide Disaster Group notes, the Myanmar navy has positioned itself as “Russia’s most uncritical post-invasion associate in Asia”, and Russia has backed the navy regime when it comes to offering worldwide diplomatic cowl and superior weaponry.

Ian Storey of the ISEAS sees three elements at work: “Diplomatic validation, arms gross sales and power cooperation.”

Moscow moved shortly to recognise the Myanmar generals once they seized energy, and the generals have reciprocated by endorsing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing has declared Russia to be Myanmar’s “without end pal”, as compared with China being described merely as a “shut pal”, as Storey notes.

Much like Vietnam, Myanmar’s navy additionally wants Russia as an alternate provider of weapons and a counterweight to China. Myanmar introduced in September it might purchase Russian oil and pay in roubles.

However the Russia-Myanmar relationship is greater than an odious alliance, it is usually a timebomb for ASEAN.

Storey notes that Moscow’s arms shipments are driving the Myanmar regime’s capacity to wage a sustained warfare towards its inhabitants and armed ethnic teams, which undermines the potential for peace talks and a negotiated settlement, which ASEAN needs to see achieved.

Smoke rises from a village in Myanmar's Kayah State after it was bombed by the military.
On this picture taken from drone video supplied by Free Burma Rangers, black smoke rises from burning buildings in Waraisuplia village in Kayah State, Myanmar, in February 2022, the place the navy focused civilians in air and floor assaults [Free Burma Rangers via AP]

Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program on the Centre for Strategic and Worldwide Research (CSIS) in Washington, DC, stated Southeast Asia’s relationship with Russia is complicated.

Russia does, historically, maintain attraction for these with anti-Western sentiment within the area, and Putin’s hyper-masculine picture chimes in a area with a historical past of personalist, strongman politics.

Nevertheless, Southeast Asia’s expertise with Western colonialism, and the dedication by nations within the area to the preservation of their sovereignty, permits international locations to recognise neo-imperialism when it seems within the invasion of Ukraine, Poling instructed Al Jazeera.

International locations within the area “look and see a resurgent Russian empire, and that that is imperialism within the Twenty first Century,” Poling stated.

That sentiment was articulated in a speech by Singapore’s international minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, condemning Russia’s invasion and asserting sanctions on Moscow in February, Poling stated.

“Ukraine is far smaller than Russia, however it’s a lot larger than Singapore,” Bakakrishnan stated on the time.

“A world order primarily based on ‘would possibly is true’, or the place ‘the robust do what they will and the weak endure what they have to’, such a world order could be profoundly inimical to the safety and survival of small states,” he stated.