Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 was “illegal” and that it should be returned to Ukraine during the Crimea summit on August 23.
"The return of Crimea to Ukraine, of which it is an inseparable part, is essentially a requirement of international law," Erdogan said in a video message to the second Crimea Platform Summit that has been organised by Kyiv to rally international support for its campaign to liberate Ukraine from Russian occupation.
Erdogan said Ankara will continue to support the Crimean Platform and that "Turkey does not recognise the annexation of Crimea and has been openly stating since the first day that this step is illegitimate and illegal. This is a principled stance that has not only legal but also moral foundations," he said.
Erdogan has been playing both sides in the Ukraine conflict and delivered a dozen of its famous Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine in 2021 that were first used in the Donbas conflict on October 27 to take out a Russian artillery unit. More recently in August Erdogan agreed to set up a drone production factory in Ukraine and construction began on at the start of August.
Since then, Turkey is also Ukraine’s fifth largest trade partner and last year became the country’s top foreign investor as the Turkish strongman seeks to expand his influence in the Black Sea region. Millions of tourists from Ukraine also visit Turkey every year, a major source of foreign exchange earnings for the country.
As bne IntelliNews reported, since the war in Ukraine started, Erdogan has deftly placed himself between the two warring parties and made himself indispensable to both.
Erdogan’s comments on Crimea will annoy Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claims that the Crimea is Russian sovereign territory, but the issue together with the Russian support for the independence of the two Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk has become a leitmotif for foreign leaders in Russia’s backyard who are keen to demonstrate their distance from Russia.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also told Putin to his face during the plenary session of this year’s St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June, where he was an honoured guest, that he does not recognise the independence of the two breakaway Donbas regions.
Despite Erdogan’s public comments on Crimea’s sovereignty, Turkey has rapidly moved closer to Russia, hoping to profit from the sanctions regime. Exports from Turkey to Russia have soared in recent months and are now just under half more than over the first six months of last year as Turkey becomes a major transit country for Russia’s parallel imports. Warehouses at ports in Turkey are packed full with goods bound for Russia and Erdogan has also publicly refused to adopt or adhere to the Western sanctions regime. More recently Turkey has joined the growing club of countries that are ignoring Western efforts to hamper Russian oil exports and has doubled its imports of Russian crude to 200,000 per day year to date. India, China, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt have all been actively buying the deeply discounted Russian oil and taken up all the slack created by Europe’s reduced demand and self-sanctioning.
Nevertheless, Bankova will welcome Erdogan’s support as it attempts to rally its international allies to continue their support for Ukraine’s war. Fighting has ground down to stalemate as Russia’s logistics have been thrown into disarray by Ukraine’s use of the deadly US-supplied US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that can accurately target ammunition dumps and command posts deep behind the front line. At the same time Ukraine lacks the first power to continue its counteroffensive and capture the key city of Kherson to the north of the Crimea, which Russia has recently reinforced with troops from the Donbas. That redistribution of troops has also left Russia with insufficient forces in Donbas to continue making progress in its offensive there.
Ukraine has hardened its line and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that he is not prepared to start peace talks with the Kremlin until Russia is driven out of the Crimea and the Donbas region. “Ukraine will take back Crimea by any means we deem right,” Zelenskiy told the delegates to the summit.
Ukraine has scored a series of spectacular strikes against a Russian airbase in Crimea and the headquarter of the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol in the last two weeks, the first time the fighting has spilled over into the Crimea, and thousands of panicked Russian holiday makers immediately fled the peninsula.
The Crimea summit saw many of Ukraine’s most ardent allies add to the rhetoric and call for more aid for Kyiv.
Polish President Andrzej Duda was in attendance and said: "Crimea is and will be a part of Ukraine, just like Gdansk and Lublin are part of Poland." Duda said that the entire territory of Ukraine must be liberated, including the territories that Russia occupied before February 24, and promised Poland will support Ukraine until "the last day of the fight."
The US also upped its commitment to Ukraine promising a fresh $3bn in military aid for Kyiv during the summit that comes on the eve to Ukraine’s independence day celebration that tragically also marks a full six months of war.
US officials told The Associated Press that details of what is in the new package is expected to be announced on independence day on August 24 but included will be money to fund contracts for as many as three types of drones, and other weapons, ammunition and equipment to help fight a long war marking a shift in strategy by the White House.