How Ukraine is helping Turkey to become a formidable military power

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In a rare move, a Chinese company Skyrizon at the end of 2021 filed an application to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration over the failed purchase of Ukraine’s Motor Sich, one of the world’s advanced military aircraft engine manufacturers. The company is seeking compensation from the Ukrainian government to the tune of $4.5 billion, according to media reports. Ukraine scuttled the deal after US objections over concerns that important military technology may pass on to Beijing. 

Motor Sich is one of the world’s largest engine manufacturers for missiles, airplanes and helicopters. Skyrizon bought a majority stake in Motor Sich, but the shares were frozen in 2017, after Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky signed a decree imposing sanctions on Skyrizon.

Now, Motor Sich has found a new investor – Turkey. Such a deal was discussed last year by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Zelensky during the latter’s visit to Ankara.

“Ukraine, being in a state of war, cannot afford to hand over the enterprise, on which the Ukrainian defence capabilities depends, into the wrong hands” Oleksiy Danilo, Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council head had said then on national television.

Clearly Danilo does not consider Turkey to be those “wrong hands”. Because Motor Sich has now become a key partner in this Turkish-Ukrainian venture to develop the drones and supply engines to the drones.  Turkey has been strengthening defence cooperation with Ukraine, a world leader in military-engine production. Eight defence agreement were signed during President Erdogan ‘s recent visit to Kyiv in early February. In October last year, Motor Sich agreed to provide Turkish defence company Baykar with 30 turboprop engines to use in its Akinci strike drones.

On February 3rd Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Turkey’s, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inked a deal to build more TB2 drones together. Some of these drones have already been used against pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region in October. Now Ukraine is set to buy more and these drones will be manufactured jointly on Ukrainian territory, while Turkey will also be constructing a drone pilot training center and factory.

While such cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey is beneficial to both sides, what it also means is that Turkey is able to diversify its defence procurement and partnerships away from NATO and decrease its dependence on it, especially in the aftermath of the failed 2016 coup, and after the USA ousted it from the F35 program because Turkey procured the S400 missile system from Russia.


But the USA is not alone. Germany too is aiding in Turkey’s expansionist policies under ambitious President Erdogan who views Turkey’s claims on territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire as legitimate. According to Greek journalist Nikos Fragkakis, “German companies sell hi-tech defence material to Turkey for the production of the Bayraktar at a time when the west imposed an embargo on defence systems to Turkey.”

Germany sent €250.4 million worth of weapons to Turkey in the first eight months of 2019, according to German media reports, the highest in 14 years. This made Turkey the top importer of German arms, amounting to almost a third of the German defence industry business.

In July 2020, for instance, the German government agreed to supply Turkey with key components for the construction of six German submarines, which is believed to be shifting the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean in favour of Turkey. This was after it imposed a ban on weapons sales to Turkey, following its military assault on Syrian Kurds.

Germany, says Fragkakis, is Turkey’s main enabler. Germany is Turkey’s biggest trade partner, with a bilateral trade of $38 billion in 2020. Germany ranks first in Turkey’s exports at $16 billion and second in imports at nearly $22 billion.

Germany also played a major role in blocking EU sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit in December 2020, for its unauthorized actions in the Eastern Mediterranean drilling for gas off the coast of Cyprus.

A defence analyst based in Moscow who does not want to be named says both Germany and US aid Turkey while exploiting its military, pointing to the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh which has given Turkey a foothold in the South Caucasus from where it will seek to enter Central Asia, challenging Russia, their main rival, and South towards the Persian Gulf, challenging Iran and the Arab lands the Ottomans had once controlled. Given America’s withdrawal from the Middle East it may be content to have Turkey make inroads in the region, as seen in Libya where it has countered Russia. Ukraine is another conflict area that Turkey has a strong presence though it can challenge Russia only to an extent, given its energy, and partial economic and defence dependence on Moscow.

This is best borne out by the fact that Turkey is set to play a major role in Afghanistan, facilitated by the US when it enabled the Taliban to retake Kabul. Simultaneously, the US, after years of deliberation, pulled out of the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline project – to transfer gas from Israel and Cyprus to Europe’s gas network via Greece and Italy – in January this year, widely believed to be as a conciliatory gesture towards Turkey, which stands the most to benefit if the project is called off entirely.

According to Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington “The decision to call into question its technical feasibility, economic viability and commercial competitiveness now – at this late hour – smells of a political decision, not an economic one.”

Turkey’s presence in South Asia will have major implications for India, as the National Investigative Agency has already red-flagged. But what seems to be equally astonishing is that in order to keep Turkey within its orbit, NATO countries like the USA and Germany are in effect facilitating Turkey’s independence from them.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a columnist specialising in Eurasian geopolitics. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)



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