Turkish navy's long African tour at a time of crisis in Black Sea
Russia's de facto invasion of Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea on the Black Sea requires an increased military presence in the region from Turkey by deploying warships, for example.
Yet there are no signs that Turkey will dispatch more of its fleet that is concentrated in the Aegean and in the Mediterranean to the Black Sea to send a signal to Russiathat, among other things, it will protect the rights of Crimean Tatars, with whom it hasethnic links.On the contrary, at a time when there is the possibility that tension will escalate in theBlack Sea region due to Russia's invasion of Crimea, the Turkish navy is preparing tostart a weeks-long journey to Africa on March 18 that will take it on a cruise of about20,000 kilometers in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, sailing via the Cape of GoodHope.A Turkish journalist rightly asked navy commander Adm. Veysel Kösele at hisGölcük headquarters during a press conference held on March 3 if starting a longAfrican tour wouldn't create a weakness for Turkey coming at a time of crisis inUkraine, occurring as a result of Russia's invasion of the Autonomous RepublicCrimea on the northern coast of the Black Sea and where Russian warships havealready been reinforced.“You should not have such a concern.
The Turkish Naval Forces' area of effectivenessis the inner seas, i.e., the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, whileits area of interest includes seas other than those. The Turkish navy has the capabilityto fulfill the tasks that it may be given in both internal and external seas,” Köseleresponded.It would, in the meantime, be wise for Turkey to show restraint in the wake of thecrisis that has erupted with Russia's invasion of Crimea and to avoid any furtherprovocation in the Black Sea region. In addition, Russia has economic leverage overTurkey due to its enormous sales of gas and oil to this country. While the two nationshave close economic ties, this is a factor that will prevent Ankara from takingunilateral provocative actions against Russia.In response to Russia's aggressive policies on Ukraine, Turkey prefers to act withNATO, though NATO has not yet taken any serious or biting measures againstRussia, such as reducing its ties in order to deter it from its military ambitions in
Crimea. On March 5, NATO instead took softer measures, such as suspending the planning of the first Russia-NATO joint mission in retaliation for the Russian aggression. But still, while Turkey should and is avoiding taking any unilateral provocative military measures against Russia, it should reinforce its fleet in the Black Sea region, bringing some of the warships in the Mediterranean and the Aegean to this sea, too, instead of starting a long journey around the Cape of Good Hope for the purpose of prestige. Russian warships have already sailed to the Black Sea via the Bosporus and the Dardanelles Straits, which Turkey controls, which is also a good reason for Ankara to be vigilant and to keep a strong military presence in the Black Sea region. Turkey also has a responsibility to protect the rights of Crimean Tatars whose ancestors were already subjected to the assimilation campaign of Stalin's Soviet Union in 1944 when they were deported in large numbers from their Crimean homeland to Uzbekistan and other parts of the Soviet Union, mostly Siberian areas.
Crimean Tatars now only represent 15 percent of the Russian-dominated population in Crimea, i.e., in their homeland, as a result of their ancestors' deportation. In an interview with NTV news on March 3, Professor Hakan Kırımlı from the Ankara-based Bilkent University's international relations department, warned that there is a threat that the remaining Crimean Tatars face total annihilation by Russia under the guise of its invasion of this autonomous republic. The professor is known to have a Crimean background; Kırımlı means those coming from Crimea in Turkish. Possible Russian atrocities against Crimean Tatars also require that Ankara pursue a foreign policy supported by a military presence in the Black Sea to deter Russia from such an act. It is not widely expected that the US will engage in a military confrontation with Russia as a means of punishing this nation's aggressive policy in Ukraine.
But the US may opt to punish Russia by helping the opposition in Syria to regain strength in the almost three-year civil war against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian, Chinese and Iranian support to the Assad regime has played a significant role in prolonging the civil war in Syria, aiding in Assad's brutal crackdown on the moderate opposition. If the US begins supplying the moderate Syrian opposition with heavy arms, this would be like a penalty for Russian policies in Crimea. This added strength would also change the equation in favor of the Syrian moderate rebels against the Syrian regime. Turkey, suffering from the Syrian war's spillover effect, in addition to hosting close to 1 million Syrian war refugees, would also benefit from a situation in the country that is its southern neighbor where the opposition, to whom Turkey has been giving open support, regains strength.