PRIO Blog Post: Turkey’s Difficult Balancing Act in the Ukraine Crisis


3 March 2022

PRIO Blog Post: Turkey’s Difficult Balancing Act in the Ukraine Crisis
Photo: Illustration: Giorgi Balakhadze / Wikimedia Commons
​In the PRIO Blog Post: Turkey’s Difficult Balancing Act in the Ukraine Crisis, Senior Researcher Pinar Tank writes about Turkey’s attempt to carve out a more autonomous foreign policy and to assert themselves as a rising middle power amidst the Ukraine Crisis. To this extent, Tank argues, Turkey has been trying to manage relations on all three fronts – with Russia, the Ukraine and NATO. President Erdogan’s earlier efforts at diplomacy, meeting with President Zelenskyy in early February and offering to host a peace summit with President Putin, showcased Turkey on the international stage as a potential mediator.

​A NATO power in a regional alliance with Russia, Turkey saw itself as uniquely placed to play this role.

As partners in the Syria conflict (along with Iran), Turkey and Russia have sought to shape its outcomes. Tank writes that this is a relationship that has been fraught with challenges and driven by transactional self-interest rather than traditional notions of alliance loyalty. Erdogan and Putin both speak the language of hard power and have managed to maintain their relationship, cooperating (for the most part) in one theatre of conflict, such as Syria, while facing off in another, such as Libya.
In Ukraine, Turkish-made drones have been effective against Russian forces – destroying tanks, surface-to-air missile systems, fuel convoys and supply trucks – slowing down Russia’s advance to Putin’s much publicized annoyance and, importantly, raising Ukrainian morale.
In the process, however, Turkey may be realizing that it can’t have its cake and eat it too.
While the trade relationship between Russia and Turkey is more significant, not least because Russia supplies 40% of Turkey’s gas and 25% of its oil, the relationship to Ukraine has become increasingly important under Erdogan, with free trade agreements worth billions of dollars in addition to the weapons production deals now impacting the war.
Ironically for Russia, Tank concludes, who has sought to weaken the ties between Turkey and its traditional Western allies, the conflict may end up bringing Turkey closer into the NATO orbit than it has been since 2015.

Related pages