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Ukraine-Russia crisis: Erdogan urges Nato to make up its mind

Turkey has strong ties with both Russia and Ukraine and 'cannot abandon either', says Turkish president
A French soldier takes part in a drill for Nato's EFP (Enhanced Forward Presence) operation at the Tapa army base in the north of Estonia, on 6 February 2022 (AFP)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Nato leaders to act swiftly and decisively on the situation in Ukraine.

“There is only Nato left,” Erdogan said on Wednesday to journalists accompanying him on a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, on Tuesday, accelerating a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.

Putin's announcement drew international condemnation and immediate US sanctions, to halt US business activity in the breakaway regions and ban imports of all goods from those areas. The EU and UK also announced sanctions that target the Russian banking sector and oligarchs.

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Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that Nato allies had deployed thousands of troops to Eastern Europe and placed more on standby, saying it will "continue to do whatever is necessary to shield the Alliance from aggression".

But Ergodan wants more from the security alliance.

“Nato should determine its own stance and do whatever it will do. As you know, we didn’t see any significant deployment of military forces in Ukraine. Everyone is talking, but there is no action.”

Erdogan said that he talked to his Ukrainian counterpart earlier this week and told him that Turkey won’t accept any initiative that violates the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014 and 2015 after the war in Donbas - the region that is home to Donetsk and Luhansk - to secure a ceasefire between the two sides.

“Our stance is the same as Crimea,” he said, referring to Russia's invasion and annexation of the region in 2014 after Ukraine's Maidan revolution that February. “We have shown our attitude regarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine and rejected the Russian attitude.”

Turkey's foreign ministry said this week that the decision of Russia to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics amounts to a clear violation of not only the Minsk agreements, but also Ukraine's political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"We find Russia's so-called decision to be unacceptable and reject it," the ministry said.

'We cannot abandon either Ukraine or Russia'

Turkey has substantial defence, trade and commercial ties with both Russia and Ukraine. Kyiv supplies drone engines to Ankara, while Turkey is the most popular destination for Russian tourists.

“We cannot abandon either Ukraine or Russia,” Erdogan said. “We hopefully would like to take a step that won’t force us to abandon any of them. This is why I really value the Nato leaders' summit [a forthcoming virtual meeting]. We will see what all the leaders think about it. And then we will make up our own mind.”

Erdogan on Wednesday also had a phone call with Putin and told him that Turkey, as a matter of principle, doesn't recognise steps that violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a readout released by the Turkish presidency.

Erdogan said during the call that an armed conflict won't serve anyone, adding that Ankara values diplomatic engagement and reiterated his call for dialogue. 

Turkey's foreign ministry said on Tuesday that "Within the framework of the latest developments in eastern regions of Ukraine, our citizens are strongly advised to leave eastern regions of Ukraine."

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