Turkey and Ukraine cooperate on defence matters under the suspicion of Russia

The agreement signed at the end of the summer provides for a massive exchange of materials and know-how between Turkey and Ukraine that could change the balance of influence within the Black Sea.
Ucrania y Turquía

AFP / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS / MURAT KULA  -   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Since the beginning of the year, Turkey has been moving closer to Ukraine, leaving the Russian authorities perplexed by the signing of new military cooperation treaties. The first rapprochements were made in February, and in August what will be cooperative relations on key defence industry projects was finalised.

In August Ukraine and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ukrainian Ministry of Strategic Industries and the Turkish State Defence Industry Agency. This could challenge Russia's position in the Black Sea, as well as the Russian country's veiled support for the rebels at war in eastern Ukraine. 

Just this week, after the conclusion of the agreement with Turkey, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced the construction of two naval bases "for the protection of the Black Sea region".

President Zelensky emphasised that the country's authorities are developing an army that will not allow anyone to be given up the national territory and pointed out that "anyone who surrenders the Crimea without a battle will already be punished", referring to the government of Viktor Yanukovych who ended up fleeing the country and is at an unknown destination after the Euro-Maidan revolution.

In addition to the national mentions of the Crimean crisis that triggered the (still ongoing) armed conflict in the Donbas, where pro-Russian Ukrainians are fighting for Ukrainian independence and annexation to the Russian country. It should also be remembered that this alliance positions Turkey on a pro-Ukrainian side in the face of Black Sea hegemony. This makes the Russian government uncomfortable, Turkey is also positioned against Russia in other international scenarios: Libya, Syria and now Azerbaijan.

International confusion by Turkey's contradictory allies

While the Turkish army was testing Russian-made S-400 missiles on the Black Sea coast on 16 October, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received his Ukrainian counterpart Zelensky in Istanbul to discuss the progress of defence industry collaboration. 

Erdogan considers Ukraine to be "key to the establishment of stability, security, peace and prosperity in the region". Zelensky added that defence industry cooperation is important in developing a strategic partnership. 

From the media Al-Monitor they explain that the statements of the two leaders can hardly be minimised as diplomatic clichés. The cooperation has been signed and has begun to materialise immediately. "Ukraine stands out today as Turkey's main partner in a number of military technologies such as turboprop and diesel engines, avionics, drones, anti-ship and cruise missiles, radar and surveillance systems, space and satellite technologies, active and passive robotic systems," the digital newspaper states. To these materials must be added various shielding systems and rocket engines and guidance systems. 

Technological cooperation between the two sides has increased very greatly in the last two years, laying the foundations for an alliance with far-reaching implications for the geopolitical balance of power in the Black Sea basin. 

Volodymyr Zelenskiy
AFP/GENYA SAVILOV  -   The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Black Sea balances could change with Ukraine's new equipment

Already in 2018 a historic agreement was signed on the purchase of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones by the Ukraine. This may have laid the foundation for expanding cooperation and had a confidence-building effect between two countries. 

According to a Turkish defence industry expert in statements to Al-Monitor, "Turkish and Ukrainian companies are currently working on around 50 joint defence projects".

Many in Ankara believe that the joint project between the drone manufacturer Bayraktar Baykar Makina, and the Ukrainian state-owned arms trading company Ukrspecexport will finally solve the shortcomings of the Turkish defence industry in engine production.  

Erdogan's visit to Ukraine in February and his decision to extend $40 million to Ukraine to support research and development of engine technologies gave a further boost to bilateral relations in the defence field.

During the constant meetings, the two parties have opened a new chapter of cooperation: space and intelligence satellite technologies. Ukraine agreed to transfer know-how to Turkey to boost Turkey's fledgling space agency and a satellite research and development laboratory in Roketsan, Turkey's leading manufacturer of rocket and missile engines and satellites.

The meetings were repeated in August, when Oleg Urusky, Ukraine's deputy prime minister in charge of strategic industries, paid a visit to Ankara that marked another turning point in the face of Russia's stupor. 

This defence technology alliance involves the sale of approximately a quarter of the shares of Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich to Turkish companies, along with terms related to the transfer of know-how.

It also includes Turkey's sale to Ukraine of Atmaca anti-ship missiles with a range of 200 kilometres (124 miles), a development that could change the geostrategic balance in the Black Sea region at Russia's expense if Ukraine and Turkey deploy such systems on their coasts. 

Finally, the purchase of communications and radar surveillance systems manufactured at Aselsan to modify mine-resistant tanks and vehicles was also carried out.

The exchange of defence materials overwhelms Ukraine's and Turkey's neighbours

Urusky and the head of Turkey's defence industry agency, Ismail Demir, signed an agreement that lays the foundations for cooperation, including the transfer of know-how on space and satellite technologies, as well as the development of long-range cruise missiles.

For its part, Ukraine will provide assistance for the development of jet engines in Turkey's TFX fighter project, launching a joint long-range drone programme and further cooperation opportunities for Turkish state enterprises TUSAS and Roketsan.
 

Erdogan y Putin
PHOTO/REUTERS - Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey

According to Al-Monitor, Turkey needs a new aircraft to increase its military transport fleet, which includes aging aircraft such as C-160s. Turkey's recent military participation in Libya and other conflict areas has underlined the urgent need for a transport plane powered by a jet engine, and the AN-178 plane from Ukraine has been considered as an option.

During Zelensky's visit, Turkey formally reiterated its wish to develop a joint intelligence satellite with Ukraine. Turkey's state-controlled military software developer, Havelsan, and Ukraine's largest defence holding company, Ukroboronprom, have already signed an agreement to cooperate in the production of satellite technology. 

The two sides also began discussions on the possibility of joint maintenance of ships and even the purchase by Ukraine of Turkish MILGEM-type frigates and gunboats as part of efforts to rejuvenate the aging Ukrainian navy, according to sources. 

For Turkey, the strategic partnership with Ukraine promises a way out of enduring obstacles in its defence dealings with Western partners, including difficulties in securing know-how and joint production, as well as a ban on exports to third countries when it comes to military products made from foreign inputs. 

With this partnership, Turkey hopes to achieve domestic production of military technologies and gain freedom in exports. Bilateral cooperation in the field of defence industry could lead to joint military exercises and training that would improve the interoperability of the Turkish and Ukrainian armies, a prospect that could alter the geostrategic balance in the Black Sea region. 

Certainly, as Al-Monitor states, Moscow is closely monitoring the growing Turkish-Ukrainian rapprochement.