Experts and officials in Turkey and Ukraine have emphasised the importance of continued quality relations between the two countries in the wake of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and its on-going interference in eastern Ukraine.
As he attended a roundtable meeting earlier this month in Istanbul, organised by Kadir Has University's Centre for International and European Studies, Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey Sergiy Korsunsky told SES Türkiye that Ankara and Kiev have enjoyed a strong partnership.
"Turkey has always had ethnic and cultural relations with the Crimean Tatars, and it has funded dozens of projects in the poorest villages of the region by establishing schools, mosques and cultural centres. Now we see that Turkey is also concerned that the recently acquired autonomous status may harm [Tatars'] human rights," Korsunsky said.
Since Russia's annexation of Crimea on March 21st, Crimean Tatar leader Abdulcemil Kirimoglu has been denied entry into the peninsula.
In a recent phone call, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to lift the ban on Kirimoglu.
"We are very grateful for Turkey for its continuous and adequate support," Korsunsky said. "Turkey did not recognise the referendum and the annexation of Crimea, and it followed an active diplomacy regarding the rights of Crimean Tatars through regular phone calls' mediation."
Turkey also supported the March 27th United Nations General Assembly resolution calling on the international community not to recognise the change in Crimean's status. Turkey's representative Halit Cevik emphasised the importance of Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity in his statement at the UN, describing the results of the referendum as not legally valid and in violation of the Ukrainian constitution.
Ertugrul Apakan, a prominent Turkish diplomat, currently heads the special mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine to monitor the progress of security and human rights conditions in the country.
Korsunsky said Turkey's experience in transforming a society toward embracing European ideals might also be inspiring for Ukraine in opening new paths of co-operation between the two countries. The protests that forced former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to leave office and flee to Russia earlier this year were a response to Yanukovych's rejection of an EU association agreement.
Korsunsky also emphasised that Turkey and Ukraine may develop some common projects to decrease their heavy dependency on Russian gas and diversify their energy resources by working together on the transit of gas shipments through the Black Sea region.
Turkey buys about 58 percent of its natural gas from Russia, while its oil dependency is about 12 percent. Ukraine is 70 percent dependent on Russian energy resources.
"We attach more importance to the fact that Turkey encourages us than to Turkey only punishing Russia. In that regard, with the possible non-permanent membership of Turkey to the UN Security Council, we would welcome that Turkey supports the international efforts to bring a new framework of security guarantees for our territorial integrity through bilateral and maybe multilateral agreements," Korsunsky said.
Turkey is campaigning to win one of two non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for the period of 2015-2016 that will be determined in voting this fall. Emre Ersen, a Eurasian politics expert from Istanbul's MarmaraUniversity, agrees that Turkey is doing its best to be active in the Ukrainian crisis, including protecting the rights of Crimean Tatars, who make up roughly 12 percent of the peninsula's population.
"Turkey continues to support Ukraine's territorial integrity. Over the past few years, Turkish-Ukrainian relations have significantly improved,” Ersen told SES Türkiye.
However, Ersen added that as a country that promotes itself as a regional power in the Black Sea, Turkey is following a policy of balance in this crisis without taking sides with either of the parties.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the think tank CIES, said the Ukraine issue is happening in the neighbourhood at a time when Ankara is in search of a foreign policy beyond the delicate balancing act between Russia and its Western obligations.
"The pressure on Turkey will grow especially in light of the forthcoming NATO summit in the fall where the Black Sea and relations with Ukraine will feature prominently in the final communiqué, as will the issue of energy security," Triantaphyllou told SES Türkiye.
"Whether Turkey will allow the communiqué to go as far as allowing the Alliance to formulate a policy for the Black Sea region remains to be seen," he added. Triantaphyllou also said that if new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's initiatives to stabilise eastern Ukraine are followed by a pullback of Russian forces, it could create an opportunity for Turkey, as a regional player, to co-operate with other countries to take the lead in forging regional stability.
"Another approach could also be the continued strengthening of the BlackSeaFor and Black Sea Harmony [naval] operations in the Black Sea given their multi-lateral character. It could also show strong support to the stabilisation of Ukraine by urging Turkish businesses to invest there," he added.
Experts in Kiev said the relationship between Turkey and Ukraine is exceptionally important.
"During all the years of independence of Ukraine, Turkey showed us a lot of respect. And this is very important," Igor Semyvolos, director of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies in Kiev, told SES Türkiye.
"Now, as a NATO member, Turkey supports our territorial integrity. It is obvious that in the future we should be partners," Semyvolos added. "The Black Sea region has always been divided, there have always been conflicts. And now the task of Turkey and Ukraine is to build their relations so that they unite the region and develop a common strategy of its development."
Following Poroshenko's victory in the May 25th presidential election, Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a statement describing Ukraine as a neighbour and a strategic partner, and congratulated the Ukrainian people "for their demonstration of democratic maturity and will through their high level of participation in the elections for the sake of unity, stability and future of their country."
"The results of the elections, which have also been monitored by observers from Turkey both within international organisations and on bilateral basis, reflect the choice and the will of the people," the statement said.
"In this framework, we believe that the legitimate and democratic mandate obtained by the office of the president has created a very significant opportunity to overcome the long-lasting crisis in the country through a participatory and meaningful dialogue process that includes all segments of the society and all regions of Ukraine. In this process, Turkey will continue to be in close co-operation and share its experiences in different areas with Ukraine," the statement added.Sourse