OP/ED: Turkey-Ukraine defense co-operation upsets strategic balance in Eastern Mediterranean

OP/ED: Turkey-Ukraine defense co-operation upsets strategic balance in Eastern Mediterranean

Analysis by an expert associate

Few things have been said about the defense co-operation agreement signed between Turkey and Ukraine in mid-October this year, which is shaping new ties in the region.

A Ukraine-Turkey defense cooperation upsets the strategic balance, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek government should react immediately by making it clear to Ukraine that its choices in military drone co-production undermine its European ambitions.

Turkey is promoting a strategic partnership with Ukraine, aiming primarily at strengthening the production of arms systems in Turkey, which pose a threat to the Greek defense doctrine. This policy is consolidated,  as we will see, through the example of Ukraine from 2018 and culminated at the Erdogan-Zelinskiy meeting on October 16, 2020 in Istanbul, where new agreements were signed in the framework of Turkey’s close defense ties with Ukraine.

“Turkey sees Ukraine as a key state for building stability, security, peace and prosperity in the region,” Erdogan said at the signing ceremony. In response, the Ukrainian President noted that the agreements paved the way for “new opportunities”. Cooperation in the defense sector, he added, is “important for the development of our strategic partnership”. Prospects for this include energy cooperation.

Ukraine today stands out as Turkey’s main partner in a number of critical military technologies, inter alia turbo prop and diesel engine, avionics, drone, anti-ship and cruise missiles, radar and surveillance systems, space and satellite technologies, robotic systems, active and passive shielding systems and rocket engines and guidance systems.

Technological cooperation between the two sides has increased exponentially in the last two years, with significant implications for the geopolitical equilibrium in the wider Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean region.

Cooperation between the two countries commenced with the 2018 agreement which provided for the procurement of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2, while today the Turkish and Ukrainian companies currently cooperate in about 50 joint defense projects.

Many in Ankara believe the joint venture between Baykarar drone maker Baykar Makina and Ukrspecexport, Ukraine’s state-owned arms dealer, will address the Turkish defense industry’s long-standing engine shortages. The engines are expected to power Turkey’s next-generation Gezgin rocket.

The various types of engines were designed by the company, a subsidiary of Ukroboronprom, for installation in unmanned aerial systems and advanced cruise missiles.

Erdogan’s visit to Ukraine in February 2020 and his decision to invest $ 40 million in Ukraine to support engine technology research has boosted bilateral economic relations. Ukraine has agreed to transfer know-how to the satellite research and development laboratory at Roketsan, a constructor of Turkish military rocket engines and satellites.

At the end of August 2020, Oleg Urusky, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine for Strategic Industries, visited Ankara and strengthened the alliance by selling about a quarter of the shares of Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich to Turkish companies. This agreement was complemented by the transfer of knowledge to Turkey. Urusky and the head of Turkey’s war industry Ismail Demir signed an agreement to transfer Ukrainian expertise in the development of jet engines to Turkey’s TFX fighter plan, launching a joint long-range drone program.

While Turkey is bolstering its military industry through partnerships, Greece is negotiating an arms system procurement hoping for political support.

According to media sources, the Turkish side officially reiterated its desire to develop a joint intelligence satellite with Ukraine during Zelensky’s visit. Turkey’s state-controlled military software company Havelsan and Ukraine’s largest defense company Ukroboronprom have already signed an agreement on co-operation in the production of satellite technology.

Greece’s multiple dependencies geopolitically and economically result in its inability to form strategic alliances with a number of countries. Ukraine constitutes a state with significant know-how in the defense industry; Greece as an EU partner, and despite the political support provided to Ukraine, failed to develop its relations at economic and military level.

While Turkey is bolstering its military industry through partnerships, Greece is negotiating an arms system procurement hoping for political support. Even when a decision to purchase an armament system is announced, processes nullifying any political gain typically ensue, as was recently the case with the defense cooperation agreement with France and the supply of frigates. The country is regarded on the international stage as an orientalist who bargains but fails to keep their political promises.

It is the responsibility of the current government, in addition to the institution of new bodies for National Security and Foreign Policy, to formulate the national security policy of the country with periodic review, in cooperation with the opposition parties. /ibna