Associated Press

October 16, 2020

ISTANBUL – Turkey and Ukraine signed military cooperation agreements in Istanbul on Friday, deepening a defense partnership seen as an effort to counterbalance Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea region. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan oversaw the signing of a “goodwill” agreement concerning the defense industry and a “military framework agreement,” officials said, although details of the agreements were not immediately known.  

“Turkey sees Ukraine as a key country for the establishment [of] stability, security, peace and prosperity in the region,” Erdogan said following the signing ceremony between the two Black Sea nations that have been enhancing military ties in recent years.  

Zelensky said the agreements pave the way for “new opportunities.”  

“Cooperation in the defense industry is important for the development of our strategic partnership and I am happy that we are strengthening it today,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.  

Last year, Ukraine reached an agreement for the purchase of Turkish-made drones. The two countries are also reportedly engaged in discussions to develop an aircraft engine. 

The signing of the agreements comes as the conflict in the Caucasus over Nagorno-Karabakh is putting a strain on Turkey’s relations with Russia. Turkey has backed Azerbaijan in the dispute, while Russia has a military base in Armenia and a security pact requiring Moscow to intervene if its ally is attacked.

In a delicate balancing act, Russia also has sought to maintain warm ties with Azerbaijan and avoid upsetting relations with Turkey. 

Although Ankara and Moscow have developed strong economic ties and are accommodating mutual interests in Syria and Libya, the two have an often uneasy relationship and remain geopolitical rivals.  

Erdogan on Friday reiterated Turkey’s refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. 

“Turkey has not recognized Crimea’s illegal annexation and it never will,” Erdogan said. 

Zelensky, meanwhile, presented Erdogan with a state medal for his support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.” 

“We have and always will support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including over Crimea,” Erdoğan said during a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in the capital Ankara.

“Turkey sees Ukraine as a key country for ensuring stability, security, peace and prosperity in our region,” Erdoğan said.

Russian forces entered the Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin annexing Crimea the following month.

Since then, Crimean Tatars have continued their struggle for Ukraine’s territorial integrity against Russian occupation.

Crimea’s ethnic Tatars have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the peninsula, a situation Turkey has decried.

Turkey and the United States, as well as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), view the annexation as illegal.

Zelensky stressed his country was ready to further enhance the strategic partnership with Turkey, adding that Friday’s discussions had been productive.

Stressing the importance of Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, he vowed to maintain efforts to release Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar political prisoners held by Russia.

He said Ukraine and Turkey would work closely in the U.N.’s 75th General Assembly to ensure the protection of human rights in illegally annexed Crimea, noting that the dispute in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine could likewise only be resolved through political and diplomatic means.