Turkish madman, who happens to also be the President is biting way more than he can possibly ever chew. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s shenanigans were uncomfortably acceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin so long as they did not affect Moscow’s interests directly. However, the Turkish President has taken up a direct fight with Russia now, and Putin is not expected to just sit back and allow Ankara to compromise Moscow’s security interests in Eastern Europe and the Crimean Peninsula. Turkey has decided to sell 24 armed attack drones to Poland, while talks regarding a similar deal with Ukraine are also said to be progressing between Kyiv and Ankara.
Polish President Andrzej Duda agreed to purchase 24 Bayraktar TB2 Turkish attack drones during his latest trip to the country in Ankara’s first such sale to an EU or NATO state. Turkish drones played an instrumental role during the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, as Azerbaijan fired fury upon Armenian assets using such attack drones. Therefore, the potency of Turkish drones to be a gamechanger in conflicts has not been given a miss by Moscow.
Importantly, if Turkey thinks it can flex its attack drones against Moscow, in no less than Russia’s sphere of influence, then it is surely in for a big surprise. But what Turkey is doing by selling such attack drones to Lublin Triangle countries of Poland, Ukraine and possibly Lithuania is not just an exercise in flexing its muscles, but is a direct affront to Russia’s national security. The Russian territory of Kaliningrad – which is not a part of the Russian mainland but instead borders Poland and Lithuania, comes at the centre of Moscow’s concerns regarding Turkey’s latest moves.
Kaliningrad also shares its western border with the Baltic Sea. The protection of Russia’s sea communications and of its energy exports are among the most important tasks of Kaliningrad, apart from being a humongous Russian base in a region, which is rather hostile towards Moscow. Russia has, in the past, made no secret of the fact that it would use Kaliningrad as a staging area for new Russian missiles.
By arming Poland with attack drones, Turkey is threatening Russian control over Kaliningrad. It does not require an incredible genius to conclude that in case of a conflict, Poland would use these attack drones against Kaliningrad. It would not use them over the Russian mainland, as that makes no sense unless Warsaw is suicidal – which leaves Kaliningrad alone at the receiving end of this deal between Turkey and Poland.
Kaliningrad is very important for Russia. It is Moscow’s opening to the Baltic Sea. Meanwhile, Turkey’s purported sale of attack drones to Ukraine is all the more inflammatory for Russia. Ukraine, meanwhile, in times of conflict with Russia, would use its Turkish drones against Moscow-controlled Crimea. Interestingly, the Crimean Peninsula opens into the Black Sea – across which lies Turkey. Therefore, by arming Poland and Ukraine, Turkey is, in fact, trying to subdue Russia’s influence and might in the region.
Russia will not take Turkish attempts to undercut its influence lying down. Russia, by having openings into both the Baltic and Black Seas has also been able to get hold of warm water ports for itself. According to the foreign policy think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Moscow sees the Black Sea as a region vital to its geo-economic strategy: to project Russian power and influence in the Mediterranean, protect its economic and trade links with key European markets, and make southern Europe more dependent on Russian oil and gas.
Moscow depends on the Black Sea for access to the Mediterranean and beyond, both for military operations outside its immediate neighbourhood and for exports of Russia’s main commodity – hydrocarbons. A reported sale of armed attack drones by Turkey to Ukraine happens to directly impact such Russian interests.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan must not forget that Vladimir Putin can weaponise the Black Sea against Turkey if Ankara continues behaving in a mindless manner. In any case, Putin has been growing increasingly uncomfortable with Erdogan’s antics, and the sale of attack drones to Poland and Ukraine might just prove to be the last straw for the Russian President.