Forum: Turkey's efforts make its stance on Ukraine war clear

I am writing to clarify some of the points made by Straits Times global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal in the article, "Erdogan moves closer to Russia, positions Turkey as critical in handling Ukraine war" (Aug 11).

Turkiye has called Russia's invasion a "war" at an early stage, and closed the Turkish Straits in accordance with Article 19 of the Montreux Convention. This should leave no doubt about my country's stance.

That said, Turkiye has been dealing with the ramifications of various concurrent conflicts in its adjacent regions and beyond, for decades. We have made huge sacrifices in terms of human and financial resources, while many of our transatlantic friends and partners have enjoyed the "peace dividend" until relatively recently.

Contributing to the resolution of these conflicts, be they active or protracted, is a priority for Turkiye, and acting proactively is often not an option, but a necessity.

With that understanding, Turkiye has been working hard to ensure a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, in order to pave the way to a negotiated resolution of this war.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent visit to Ukraine, following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, has been the latest step in our efforts, and itself responds to some of Mr Eyal's claims.

Yet, the ongoing war in Ukraine is not the only conflict we are grappling with. The civil war in Syria, coupled with the influx of Syrian refugees and terrorist organisations taking hold in Syrian territory, is another problem that affects Turkiye and our security directly.

While Turkiye's fight against YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is often portrayed, including by Mr Eyal, as one "against the Kurds in Syria", Turkish Armed Forces operations target only YPG terrorists, who do not represent the Kurds.

Turkiye does not have any problem with any ethnic group or people in Syria, including the Kurdish population. Our aim is to keep our border regions free from terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, PKK and its Syrian offshoot YPG.

Meanwhile, we are trying to carry forward the Astana process together with Russia and Iran - the only international actors in Syria in the absence of others - to pave the way to a political resolution of the conflict in Syria under the auspices of the United Nations.

M. Burcin Gonenli

Ambassador to Singapore

Embassy of the Republic of Turkey

Jonathan Eyal's note:

The Turkish ambassador is right to focus on his country's list of security concerns, given its challenging neighbourhood. He is also right to remind us of Turkey's decisive contributions to addressing the stand-off between Russia and Ukraine over the export of grain; the Turkish-brokered deal helped alleviate global food shortages.

Yet it is equally true that no other leader of a Nato member-state, apart from President Erdogan, would have met Russian President Putin at this stage, and no other Nato member-state apart from Turkey has avoided imposing economic sanctions on Russia.

The latest statistics indicate that Turkish imports of Russian oil have doubled since the start of the Ukraine war.

The purpose of my article - which touched on all these points - was not to suggest that Turkey's policies are either reprehensible or deserve criticism but, rather, to point out that, for a variety of reasons, Turkey's approach to the war is different from that of its Western allies.

The ambassador's letter only underlines this proposition even further.

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