Russia officially entered Ukraine. Conflicts began. The airports of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and its important city, Kharkiv, have been rendered inoperable. News followed one another, some of which denied later about the parachute landing of the Russian Spetsnaz troops to Kharkiv, the landing of Russian tanks in the port of Odessa in the Black Sea, the downing of 5 Russian warplanes and a helicopter in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. Then came the Russian statement that the Ukrainian air force had been completely neutralized.
The question now is whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will turn into a full scale war with NATO’s military intervention – which will also entail Turkey’s participation. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan is holding meeting after meeting with security and diplomacy officials.
While Russia is engulfing Ukraine, the world is watching the international institutions and order to collapse with harsh condemnations and senseless sanctions.
I witnessed the crumbling of the United Nations that was established after the Second World war as I watched the Security Council meeting in the morning. It was convened after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to enter the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine, which he recognized as an independent state two days ago, under the name of “peacekeeping”.
As the first round of speeches ended, Putin said that it was a “Special Military Operation”, not an “invasion”. The goal was clear: to expel the Ukrainian troops from these areas by force of arms.
The collapse of the UN minute by minute
Thereupon, there was a heated discussion between Ukraine Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya and, the Russian Representative Vasily Nebenzya, who happens to be holding the term presidency of the Security Council. Turning to the others, the Ukrainian representative was calling out: “What are you waiting for; take action”. At that time, news began to arrive that the Kyiv airport was bombed and explosions were heard from the city, and discussions flared up. Despite all the demands, Nebenzya did not initiate a vote of condemnation, and even if he did, he would veto it. The session ended with Kyslytya’s shout: “You are committing great sin”. It was a moment that reminded Erdoğan’s phrase, “The World is Bigger Than Five”.
The actual collapse occurred after the meeting at the press conference of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Turning to the cameras with tearful and sincere sadness, Guterres said to Putin, “In the name of humanity, please withdraw your troops.” American CBS television reporter “Is there a way for the UN to stop Russia?” she asked. Guterres paused, he mumbled something like “in my case, appeal the security council, the body that has the powers given by the charter to address the situation”
Indeed, the system was locked itself in, and condemnation and appeal did not stop the invasion.
UN is incapable, EU is helpless, NATO is indecisive
US President Joe Biden’s calling the whole world to pray for the Ukrainian people was more tragic than Guterres’s admission of the UN’s impotence.
The USA had already shown that it would not fight for Ukraine with its sanction policy that would make no sense in 2014 as Russia annexed Crimea. It was known that Russia had placed troops in Donetsk and Luhansk at that time. On the other hand, it was clear that NATO attempts to expand into Ukraine was Russia’s red line. Russia was angry because the promises given to Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed, which ensured that NATO would not expand to the East, were not kept.
All this does not justify Russia’s invasion of the independent state of Ukraine. But Putin is obviously following the footsteps of the Russian Tsars, implementing a power policy.
Will there be a decision to take military action against Russia at the NATO summit, which Erdogan will also attend? It doesn’t look easy. Because it seems that Turkey and most European countries will not accept such an option, which even the USA is not enthusiastic about. It is clear that most NATO members, who are also members of the European Union, have no intention of going to war with Russia, especially Germany and France, which are the locomotive powers of the EU. The energy dependence of most EU countries on Russia, if not France, is also evident.
Putin: Erdogan did not say anything new
Putin spoke with Erdogan a few hours before launching military action in Ukraine on the phone. Erdogan has sincerely believed that he would bring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin together to avoid conflict. This sincerity was too optimistic. Because Turkey was supposed to try to keep on good terms with both countries, Russia saw Turkey as a NATO member that sells an effective weapon system, TB-2 SİHA (UCAVs) produced by Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar, to Ukraine. However, Erdogan wanted to meet after meeting with Zelensky and before the NATO summit; That was what diplomacy required.
Presidency’s statement about the meeting was published on Twitter at 17.01 on February 23. Erdogan said that Turkey was ready to do whatever it could to prevent war, adding that Ankara “maintained a constructive stance within NATO”. This meant “I am making an effort to prevent NATO from engaging in military conflict with Russia.”
But Putin did not seem impressed.
In a statement from the Kremlin at 17.41, it was stated that “Erdogan expressed his well-known views on the subject.” Putin wanted to say, “Erdogan didn’t say anything new.”
Can Turkey close the Straits?
The most important part of the Kremlin statement was that it also said that “the need to provide legally binding long-term security guarantees to the Russian Federation” was also discussed during the meeting with Erdoğan. This part was not included in the Turkish Presidency statement. Putin also conveyed his disappointment to Erdogan that the United States and NATO “ignored Russia’s legitimate concerns and demands.”
Putin almost wants a document from NATO stating that he will not accept Ukraine (and in that context, Georgia) as a member.
Can NATO deliver that? We’ll see.
However, in the meantime, on February 24, Ukraine, through its Ankara Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar, repeated their call to Turkey on February 23 to close the Straits to the passage of warships, when the invasion officially began.
It is highly doubtful that this will save Ukraine from its predicament. But obviously Zelensky wants to force Erdogan to take a tougher stance against Russia.
Article 21 of the 1936 Montreux (Montreux) Convention, which is Turkey’s most important political weapon in this crisis, allows Turkey to stop warships passing through the Dardanelles and Istanbul Straits “if Turkey considers itself subject to an imminent threat of war”, even if she does not participate into the war. Legally the answer is “Yes, it can be closed”, but politically it is open to discussion.
Of course, Montreux was signed before the Second World War and before NATO’s establishment or Turkey’s (1952) membership. Will stopping the passage of warships also stop the passage of other NATO country ships? Politically, will it contradict Erdogan’s policy of “We don’t want to lose Ukraine or Russia”? These are difficult decisions that Erdogan probably made after the NATO summit. It would be beneficial to get the support of the opposition in this regard.
Putin’s intentions are clear
Putin doesn’t want to be known as the leader who let NATO expand under Russia’s nose. He will probably want to continue the operation until the Zelensky government falls and is replaced by a pro-Moscow man who will sign a military and economic cooperation agreement with Russia. If this happens, it will want to reshape Ukraine in Moscow’s sphere of influence.
Will it succeed? So far, it has been advancing towards its goals by destroying the system of international institutions and rules.
According to many commentators, a 2016 video that was recirculated on the occasion of the crisis actually reveals Putin’s subconscious. Putin asks a boy about Russia’s borders and corrects the answer: Russia is everywhere. I leave the video at this link.