Zelensky's visit to Turkey: Formula for peace and cooperation

Zelensky's visit to Turkey: Formula for peace and cooperation

Turkey unequivocally supports Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea

At the end of last week, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit to Turkey. The delegation included the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Strategic Industries.

The visit was planned earlier, but the President's busy international schedule prevented it. The visit to Turkey took place in a "lightning round" format: the delegation visited the corvettes that Turkey is building for the Ukrainian Navy at a shipyard near Istanbul, arrived at the talks between the presidents and delegations at the Dolmabahce Palace, and immediately after the talks, late in the evening, left for Ukraine.

Obviously, this was also a sign of respect for Turkish believers, as the visit took place on the last working day before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when (especially in the first week) they prefer to focus on the spiritual rather than the mundane.


The first item on the program was a visit to a shipyard in Istanbul's Gebze district. The construction of Ada corvettes for Ukraine began here in September 2021, with a contract value of about EUR 500 million, and payment began even before Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, work continues here despite the war.

In October last year, the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, and the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Oleksiy Neizhpapa, attended the launching ceremony of the first corvette named after Hetman Ivan Mazepa in Istanbul.  At the time, the Ukrainian delegation did not board the ship, as the work inside was still in its infancy.

This time, the President and his team were shown the equipment of the captain's bridge and other areas of the Hetman Ivan Mazepa corvette, the future flagship of the Ukrainian fleet, and were informed of the progress of work on the second corvette, which was named after Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky by presidential decree on March 8.

The Ada corvettes, which means "island" in Turkish, are modern coastal area ships that were designed, built, and are currently in service with the Turkish Navy. These ships are being built for Ukraine with a view to installing the latest weapons, including those for launching domestic Neptune surface-to-air missiles and foreign-made anti-ship missiles.

When asked whether Ukraine will be able to receive the new corvettes after they are completed during the war, the answer is that it will be able to receive them, but it will not be possible to send them to the Black Sea. Currently, the passage through the straits for warships of the belligerent countries is limited by the Montreux Convention. Moreover, if the new flagship appears in the Black Sea, it will become Russia's No. 1 target. Instead, there are other options for the use of these ships (they will not be idle), but they are currently preferred not to be discussed.


The program of the visit, including the bilateral talks between the presidents, was to discuss the Peace Formula, the organization of the Peace Summit, the safety of navigation in the Black Sea, global food stability, and the release of Ukrainian prisoners and political prisoners held by Russia.

Cooperation in the defense sector was a separate issue.

The head of Turkey's State Agency for Defense Industries accompanied Zelensky during the inspection of corvettes and meetings with representatives of leading defense companies. Among them are Baykar, which produces the legendary Bayraktars, STM, which builds our corvettes, ROKETSAN and ASELSAN, which specialize in missile weapons and modern electronic systems for the military industry, and other companies.

"We are ready to move as quickly as possible to implement the projects we have developed. I am pleased with the conversation with Turkish companies and businesses and the results, which I am sure will be strong," Zelensky said following the meeting, which was held behind closed doors. Defense projects traditionally like silence.

As a representative of a Turkish company told Ukrinform backstage, cooperation with Ukraine for Turkish defense companies is now not only about contracts, but also about advertising weapons and demonstrating their effectiveness in real combat, so interest in cooperation is only growing. As, for example, was the case with Bayraktars.

Before Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine, these drones proved their effectiveness in Azerbaijan's operation in Karabakh, but after their use in Ukraine, the company received many new offers and signed new contracts with various countries. As President Erdogan recently said, today Turkish combat and non-combat UAVs (not just Bayraktars) protect the skies of 34 different countries, and Turkey is among the top three countries in the world in terms of combat and non-combat UAVs. Soon, Ukraine will join the ranks of Turkish UAV manufacturers - the construction of a Bayraktar plant is expected to be completed in less than a year.


Ankara still sees negotiations as the most effective way to end the war and is ready to provide a platform for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. This is stated in Turkey at every opportunity.

At the very beginning of the war, the Turkish authorities managed to organize a meeting between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul. The attempt did not have a positive result, as Lavrov was not authorized to make any decisions, broadcasting narratives of Russian propaganda that were far from reality and trying to convince people that Ukraine had provoked Russia's attack. As Dmytro Kuleba admitted in an interview a long time later, those negotiations were one of the few in his diplomatic career when "you want to get up and punch him in the face, but you can't afford to."

The second meeting of the negotiators took place at the end of March 2022, and no specific agreements were reached, but they agreed to continue consultations. But after it became known about the atrocities committed by the Russian military in the Kyiv region, it became obvious that it was impossible to negotiate with those who came to commit genocide.

Subsequently, Russia began to lie about how peace agreements had allegedly been reached in Istanbul, but Ukraine had broken them. And the negotiation window closed tightly.

Nevertheless, Turkey's diplomatic success in mediation, together with the UN, was the agreement to open a "grain corridor." Despite constant obstacles, threats from Russia to suspend its operation, and delays in ship inspections, the Black Sea Grain Corridor managed to export 33 million tons of grain during its first year of operation.

Ankara's attempts to revive this project, for which President Erdogan personally flew to Sochi last September, were unsuccessful. And it is unlikely that Turkey's ongoing attempts in this direction will be successful in the near future. The work of the alternative grain corridor operating in the Black Sea has once again shown that it is easier and safer to implement any project without Russia.

At a press conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan proposed holding the Global Peace Summit in Turkey. But with one condition. "It will be attended by Russia," he added.

In turn, Zelensky noted that Ukraine does not see Russia's representatives at the Global Peace Summit because it is not advisable to invite those who "block, destroy and kill." "Therefore, first, civilized countries will develop a plan, and only then will they involve representatives of Russia who want a just peace," the President of Ukraine said.


The weekend before Zelensky's visit to Turkey, an international diplomatic forum was held in Antalya. It brought together representatives from 147 countries, including 19 heads of state and government and 73 ministers. European countries, with the exception of a few, were represented at the level of former officials and diplomats.

This year, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was given the platform to speak at the Antalya Diplomatic Summit. His speech covered the entire spectrum of Russian propaganda: from the "Nazi regime" and the "need to protect Russians" in Ukraine to Western preparations for a major war against Russia, the weakening of the United States against China, and the American undermining of Nord Stream. There was no applause or questions (they were asked from the audience at almost all panels, except for the one in which Lavrov participated).

The Ukrainian delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytskyi, and it had no contact with the Russian delegation. And at all meetings and panels, it was emphasized that peace talks with Russia are possible only if it withdraws its troops to the 1991 borders and sits down to negotiate reparations.

Nevertheless, at the closing of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said that in the Russian-Ukrainian war, both sides have reached the limit of results that can be achieved by military means, and therefore it is time to start a dialogue on a ceasefire separately from territorial issues.

I would like to note here that at every opportunity (from the president to local leaders), Turkey constantly reiterates its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the Crimean peninsula. That is why the proposal voiced by the head of Turkish diplomacy to separate the issues of territories and the ceasefire in the negotiations attracted special attention.

At a press conference following the meeting between Presidents Zelensky and Erdogan in Istanbul, Ukrainian journalists asked the Turkish president to explain what was meant by the proposal to consider the ceasefire separately from the territorial issues of occupation and respect for Ukraine's sovereignty, and who would guarantee that Russian troops would withdraw from our territories after the ceasefire.

President Erdogan expressed hope that Russia would respect Turkey's position, but if this does not happen, it will be impossible to achieve peace. "But at least in the eyes of the world public opinion, we, as Turkey, will consider that we have fulfilled our duty," Erdogan added.

The Turkish president did not say who would be able to guarantee the withdrawal of Russian troops in the event of a ceasefire and whether Russia, which has repeatedly violated the agreements since 2014, should be trusted at all.

It is worth adding that Turkey is being pushed to play an active peacekeeping role by the growing pressure from the United States to comply with sanctions against Russia, which has already caused significant losses and a one-third reduction in trade with Russia, as well as by the economic situation in Turkey itself, whose rather shaky stability largely depends on Russian energy.

In this puzzle, Turkey is trying to put together a positive picture for itself, following a multi-level approach to foreign policy, including expanding cooperation with Ukraine, trade and energy cooperation with Russia, strengthening its peacekeeping role in the region, and ending the war. Ankara has repeatedly emphasized that it is the established dialogue with both sides of the conflict that makes it possible to mediate and serve as a platform for peace talks, as demonstrated by the Black Sea Grain Initiative (which, by the way, Ankara also proposed as a format for a peace agreement).

Be that as it may, cooperation with Russia is bringing less and less positive, geopolitical and economic benefits to Turkey itself. Unlike cooperation with Ukraine, which, in particular, was demonstrated by the current visit at the highest level.

Olha Budnyk, Ankara

Photo by the author and the Office of the President

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