Turkey’s supply of Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine could tip the balance in its tense standoff with Russia, Atlantic Council analysts wrote on Thursday.
In their article entitled ‘Turkey could tip the balance in the Ukraine-Russia standoff’ Matthew Bryza, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and the Council’s IN TURKEY program, and Grady Wilson, an assistant director at the Atlantic Council IN TURKEY, wrote that Turkey’s tactic of direct military force “successfully persuaded the Kremlin to sue for peace twice in recent years.”
“Now, Ankara is raising the stakes by doubling down on its defence cooperation with Kyiv and recommitting itself to the continued sale of dozens of Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), much to Russia’s ire,” they added.
They went on to note that this move could be surprising to anyone who watched Turkey’s apparent drift away from NATO and toward Russia in recent years, as its purchase of Russian S-400s and its inclusion in the Russian-sponsored Astana Process on Syria.
“But in reality, Turkish-Russian relations are complex and characterised by both competition and cooperation across multiple theatres and dimensions,” the analysts noted. “Looming in the background are centuries of diplomatic antagonism and military conflict often centred on the Black Sea region – a balancing act that’s playing out again now.”
Consequently, even though Ankara and Moscow share economic interests in terms of energy, tourism and other sectors, Turkey has sided with NATO in opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Turkey is also concerned by an expansionist Russia near its borders in the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. As a result, it has advocated NATO membership for both Ukraine and Georgia.
The analysts identify Turkey’s sale of drones to Ukraine as the most significant aspect of its strategic partnership with Kyiv.
“Having witnessed the devastating impact of Turkey’s innovative drone-based tactics – combining the UAV’s battlefield intelligence and precision rocket strikes with closely coordinated standoff artillery assaults aimed at neutralising defences and capitalising on air superiority – Russia has plenty of reason to worry,” they wrote.
They pointed to the devastatingly effective TB2 drone strikes against Russian allied forces in Syria and Libya last year and Azerbaijan’s successful use of the same drones against the Armenian military.
Turkey has voiced its concern about Turkish drones on several occasions, the analysts note, pointing out that the latest example was when Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip that Turkish drones have enabled the “destructive” behaviour by Ukraine. Ankara doubled down and reaffirmed that its delivery of drones to Kyiv would continue and then offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, which Moscow rejected.
“Turkey’s combination of military firmness and diplomatic sobriety offers important capabilities for NATO as it struggles to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the analysts wrote.
The analysts conclude their article by arguing that “the United States and NATO would be wise to make use of the assets which the Alliance’s second-largest military brings to the table – especially the diplomatic wisdom gained from managing centuries of conflict and cooperation with Russia.”