Ukraine attack escalates tension between Erdogan and Putin

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Ukraine attack escalates tension between Erdogan and Putin

RZESZOW, Poland – In the hours before dawn, as the world held its breath as the world watched the first movements of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, the Turkish military made the last move to evacuate diplomatic staff and other Turkish citizens from the capital. Hit the dash in time. , Kyiv.

Two military cargo planes entered Ukrainian airspace shortly after midnight and made their rounds into Boryspil International Airport, the main civilian airport located 18 miles east of Kyiv city centre.

But the plane got stuck. So were their military forces, and the Turkish diplomats and civilians they were trying to expel. At 5 a.m., Russia made its first defense of its war on Ukraine, making any flight impossible.

Airport photos the next day, obtained from commercial satellite imagery company Planet Labs, show two gray military cargo planes parked in the open on one side of the airport, which have so far not been the target of Russian air strikes.

The halted planes are now at home for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s misreading of the situation in Ukraine, not evacuating Turkish citizens in time, mistaking Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and not taking a US warning of one Have become an exposition A for criticism. Attack very seriously.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin have had a close, sometimes controversial relationship as Turkey’s leader has developed ties with Moscow – partly as leverage against the West, but also out of necessity, because Turkey is being squeezed by Russia from many sides.

Turkey is a member of NATO, but Mr. Erdogan’s flirtation with Russia has caused so much distrust that he was not invited to at least one of the coalition’s leadership-level meetings before the Russian invasion, as in a According to the senior partner, Asli Aydintasbas, with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the same time, Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan have found themselves on opposite sides of conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria in recent years.

Russian troops in Syria have long threatened to suppress their offensive against the last rebel-held region in that country, which could force four million Syrians to flee to Turkey. And since 2020, the Russian military has expanded its footprint in the Caucasus region.

Now Russia is set to dominate the northern shores of the Black Sea with its advance in Ukraine, where Mr. Erdogan has harassed Russia by selling Turkish-made drones, some of which have been used on Russian armored convoys since the invasion began. made to attack. to the Ukrainian authorities.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin spoke on the telephone on 23 February, hours before the attack began. Mr. Erdogan reiterated his offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and invited Mr. Putin to visit Istanbul for a meeting with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.

“President Erdogan said that he always attaches great importance to the close dialogue established with Russian President Putin on regional issues, that he has seen positive results from this and that he is determined to maintain this understanding,” an official statement from Turkey said. The President said.

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Mr Erdogan has maintained a similar tone in his public statements on the situation, describing Ukraine’s invasion as “unacceptable”, but has continued to call for a peaceful solution.

But there is a sense of anger in Erdogan’s presidency that Putin lied to him about his intentions in Ukraine, Aydintasbas said.

“Turkey has been late in taking action and evacuating its men,” Ms Aydintasbas wrote in a text message, adding that “they never believed the US scenario of a full-scale invasion and rejected US warnings.”

“I suspect that Erdogan relied on his relationship with Putin and thought it would be a minor intrusion,” she said. “Turkey also failed to evacuate its citizens on the basis of that belief. This is proving to be a huge miscalculation.”

The situation seemed to have prompted a change in Turkey’s stance towards Russia on Sunday, when both Turkey’s foreign minister and the head of presidential communications first described Moscow’s intervention against Ukraine as an act of war. .

Turkey oversees access to the Black Sea through the Montreux Convention, a 1936 international treaty that regulates seafaring vessels passing through the Bosporus. Defining the situation as war would allow Turkey to close the Bosporus to the ships of the countries involved.

Russia remains a loophole because, as one of the littoral states on the Black Sea, it can claim that the movement of ships is to return to their home base. A Russian warship and a submarine have already passed through the Black Sea in recent weeks and played a part in an attack on Ukraine, but Turkey’s action could complicate Russia’s ability to send reinforcements or resupply its forces.

“It is not a game changer, but it is a nuisance for the Russians,” Ms Aydintasbas said. “It’s a nuisance for their Mediterranean fleet not to be able to go up” Bosporus to the Black Sea. The change in tone was “a sign of emotion in Turkey”, she said.

Little is known about Turkey’s decision-making process in the final hours before the start of the war, but it is clear that Mr. Erdogan had miscalculated the speed and severity of the Russian operation, and the urgency of the evacuation.

According to flight-tracking records, two Turkish Air Force aircraft landed in Kyiv, one with the code TUAF600, at 12:15 on Thursday and the other, TUAF601, at 3:43, Justin Bronk, Research Fellow in Air Power and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Two hours after the first plane landed, Ukraine announced that it was closing its airspace due to an impending Russian attack. The second Turkish plane appeared to be turning back, missed its scheduled landing at 2:46, but then proceeded and landed about an hour later.

Mr Bronk said there was no record of his departure in the hours after the two military planes landed. He said both Ukraine and Russia had announced the closure of the airspace by then.

Mr Bronk said flights could go unnoticed if pilots turned off their transponders. But satellite images seen by The New York Times indicate otherwise.

Turkey has been personally calling its citizens in Ukraine last month, urging them to leave, and is still trying to evacuate 6,600 citizens from the country, Foreign Minister Mevlut Kavusoglu said on Sunday.

A Turkish student trapped in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which was hit by the worst attack, Posted on Twitter to appeal for help on Saturday.

“We are a student community of 35 people in Ukraine/Kharkiv (this number is not the total number of students in Kharkiv),” wrote student Ahmet Kagan Gumas. “3 of us were evacuated and we are now 32. For the first time ever, we hear the sound of clashes, bombings, helicopters and jets at very close range.”

The plight of Turkish citizens – students, tourists and business professionals – stranded in Ukraine as the war intensifies, is not unique. Thousands of foreigners are struggling to flee, including Afghan refugees, African students and employees of Western companies and embassies.

Turkey, like many other countries, is scrambling to rescue citizens who manage to travel outside Ukraine to neighboring countries, but the borders are clogged with thousands of refugees and a 20-mile tailback. Mr Cavusoglu said a Turkish Airlines plane was bringing home some people who had managed to reach Romania.

Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, sought to speak to his Russian counterpart to arrange an air corridor for the evacuation, Mr. Kavusoglu said. According to an official statement from Turkey, Mr Akar was on Sunday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Meet Shoigu.

But that statement did not mention any agreement for the air corridor.

Nimet Kirac sold Rzeszow, Poland and . contributed reporting from Safe Taimur from Istanbul.

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