The former permanent representative of Turkey in NATO: "Russia does not hide that it sees Turkey as an “outsider” in the region"

Turan: Dear Ambassador, you said that NATO countries could help Ukraine with bilateral agreements before the Russian attack on Ukraine. In addition to the fact that your prediction came true, the boundaries of the work were further expanded, and the doors were opened for Sweden and Finland to join NATO. How can you interpret the scene in the fifth month of the war?

Fatih CeylanCeylan: We see that Russia's attack on Ukraine has already turned into a “war of attrition”. The goals set by Russia in the days of the beginning of the war have already shrunk. All energy is concentrated over the Donbas region of Ukraine. Ukraine was forced to withdraw from that region. Looking at the ongoing war as a broad picture, we see that Russia is being dragged to the losing side. When analyzing Ukraine's resistance to Russia's invasion initiative, the solidarity shown by the Western world, the unconditional comprehensive support to Ukraine by the European Union and the United States by taking necessary measures, and eventually the fact that Russia, which went to war to try to prevent Ukraine from joining the European Union, will have a new border of 1,300 kilometers with NATO through Finland, which is expected to be a member of NATO, it turns out that the calculations of the Russian leader were wrong. It seems that the war in Ukraine will not end in the near future. This war also conditions the deepening of the energy and food crisis on a global scale, forcing the peoples of the world to experience the bitter consequences of this. After the end of the war, a global architecture will emerge that will take a long time to rebuild. It is difficult to see all aspects of this architecture right now. However, it is possible to observe that a new global system will be built on different poles and alliances.

Turan: At the last summit meeting of NATO in Madrid, President Erdoğan directly said that Turkey was clearly on the side of Ukraine. How will this affect the future of Turkish-Russian relations?

Ceylan: Turkey has been a member of NATO for 70 years. The Russian leadership knows this reality. Turkey's support for Ukraine's entry into the Euro-Atlantic organizations a few days ago is also an important fact. The Russian leadership is aware of this. Therefore, there is no question of an unknown situation, there are no surprises. Under the current circumstances, it is impossible to say that the path taken by Turkey, which takes maximum account of regional conflicts, will damage the relations with Russia. Turkey's taking a different position will depend on Russia's plans in Ukraine. If Russia continues to shed the blood of thousands of civilians in Ukraine as it has done so far, it cannot be said that Turkish-Russian relations will not be harmed. As the processes continue, they will be reflected in the relations.

Turan: Russian President Putin, who has never achieved his goals in Ukraine, is focused on Eurasian geography. On June 29, at the summit meeting of the heads of states on the Caspian coast in Ashgabat, it was decided to "prevent the military forces of foreign countries from coming to the coast of the Caspian Sea." What are the goals and objectives of this decision? Can it aim to hinder the development of relations of Turkey with other Turkic countries, especially Azerbaijan?

Ceylan: Russia's economy was formed on the sale of natural gas, oil, and weapons, so after the embargoes, its relations with the West were completely damaged. Therefore, the Russian economy is in a tunnel. This situation prompts Russia to establish economic and commercial relations in other areas. While looking for new ways, Russia has to think about its own security first. Russia, whose economy is weakening every day, has very little capital to devote to development projects in the regions it plans to keep under its control. On the other hand, Russia sees the Caspian region as its “immediate environment” and considers it its natural right to maintain military forces there. From this point of view, the presence of foreign military forces in those regions is not compatible with the Russian military force doctrine. Therefore, it does not hesitate to deploy its soldiers in the region, including the Caspian region, under the name of “peace-loving military forces”. It avoids introducing itself as a “foreign military force”. Despite the fact that Turkey has a border with Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran do not hide that they see Turkey as an “outsider” in the region, and they demonstrate this by their actions and send messages to other countries, including Turkey, “Don't enter my garden”. The document adopted in Ashgabat is another example of this.

Turan: From July 1, Azerbaijan closed the only land border crossing with Turkey, and Turkish citizens were prevented from traveling to Azerbaijan by land. Why do you think Azerbaijan took this decision?

Ceylan: We see that this decision did not cause an expected response in the Turkish public. At the same time, we see that certain comments have been made about this decision. Therefore, first of all, the Azerbaijani leadership should explain the essence of this decision to the public in detail. Otherwise, it will be difficult to avoid subjective comments. Nakhchivan has a special status for Turkey, and from the point of view of Azerbaijan and Turkey, Nakhchivan has an important role in the East-West balance. This temporary decision may cause problems for both Azerbaijan and Turkey in the field of freight transport in the East-West corridor, including Zangazur, and the issue should be considered in this context. It is also necessary to think about the consequences of the decision taken by Azerbaijan in terms of the future roadmap defined by the member countries of the Organization of Turkic States. It is also necessary to see whether this decision, the reasons for which are not fully known, contradicts the decisions made by the Organization of Turkic States so far.

Turan: As part of the normalization of relations, Turkey allowed citizens of third countries to go to Armenia through its territory. How do you evaluate this decision and, in general, the steps taken within the framework of the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations?

Ceylan: In the fall of 2020, Azerbaijan won an important victory by rescuing a large part of its ancient land, Karabakh, from occupation. With this, the door to the normalization of regional relations was opened. After the end of the 44-day war, we see that serious steps have been taken for peace and tranquility in the region. This process must continue and the problems must be solved once and for all. In this context, the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia came to the fore. Both countries appointed special representatives and after four rounds of discussions in foreign countries, important results were achieved. It is necessary to expect that the starting process will contribute to the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is observed that this fact has been accepted by the leadership of Azerbaijan. It is in their interest for Turkey and Azerbaijan to cooperate and increase their efforts to develop regional peace, stability, and prosperity. Strengthening and diversification of all transport, communication, investment, and goods import-export chains in the East-West circle have become more important than ever. In this regard, it is necessary not to be satisfied only with the Zangazur corridor, to focus seriously on other transport and communication links that will complete the corridor, and to take steps that will help the progress of peace processes in the region. Therefore, the role that Turkey and Azerbaijan will play is important. Therefore, it is necessary to achieve the East-West transport corridor passing through Nakhchivan and other regions and reaching Central Asia. The joint action of Turkey and Azerbaijan in these processes will benefit both countries.

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