Although Russia and Turkey have backed opposite sides in Syria and Libya and Turkey played an important role in Azerbaijan's victory over Armenia and had turned the Hagia Sophia church from a museum to a mosque, the Russian leadership was able to swallow it. The friendship between Turkey's Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky that extended to the sale of Turkish attack drones to Kiev, brought tensions out into the open. Russia has been massing troops near its border with Ukraine presumably to deter Ukrainian aggression against the breakaway pro-Russian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. Turkish support for Ukraine including the sale of arms was hitting close to home, and both Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova publicly criticized Turkey. Although here as well, Russian officialdom tried to keep a lid on its anger. Russia sharply cut back on flights between the two countries. Although Russia sought to describe the action as motivated by epidemiological reasons, the deputy speaker of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev called on Russians to display patriotism by avoiding Turkey. An adviser to the defense minister referred to Peter the Great's quip about the advisability of distrusting the Turks. It was also hinted that defense cooperation with Ankara could be affected.
MEMRI's report on the Ukrainian issue as an irritant in relations between the two frenemies, Russia and Turkey follows below:
Ukraine's President Zelensky with Turkish President Erdogan (Source: Unian.info)
Ukraine's President Volodymr Zelensky visited Istanbul on April 10, 2021 to attend the 9th meeting of the Turkey-Ukraine High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, and met with Turkish President Erdogan. After their meeting, Erdogan reiterated Turkey's policy of non-recognition of Russia's Crimea annexation: "We stand for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. We reiterated our principles decision not to recognize Crimea's annexation. We said we support Ukraine's initiative of the Crimean Platform geared to consolidate the international community around Crimea. We hope this initiative will yield positive results for all Crimean peoples, including Crimean Tatars, and for Ukraine."
Kommersant commented on the visit and viewed it as a success for Zelensky and Ukraine. "A new external player has actively intervened in the aggravated conflict in Donbass. This [player] is Turkey, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky journeyed on Saturday. During the visit, they mainly discussed military contracts that Ankara called the driving force of relations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims that he favors a peaceful resolution of the conflict and is ready to contribute to this, but it seems that Moscow does not really believe him."
What caught Kommersant's eye were the burgeoning military ties. "Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran, who flew to Istanbul with the president [Zelensky], met with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar and discussed a number of important defense contracts with him. According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's press service, it concerned 'building corvette-class ships, supplying Bayraktar unmanned aerial systems and ammunition as well as opportunities for the development of further projects, in particular in the aviation industry. '. On the same day, the deputy head of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Yuriy Mysyagin wrote on his Facebook page that the Bayraktar TB2 drone made its first flight in the Joint Forces Operations (JF) zone in Donbass. According to the deputy, this facilitated locating Russian equipment in the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass: the Pantsir-S self-propelled anti-aircraft missile-gun system, the S-125 and Tor anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as tanks and howitzers." Mysyagin noted that the Bayraktar had been used to very good effect against the Russians in Syria. Turkey and Ukraine also discussed the joint production of transport aircraft.
Although Erdogan is hardly in good odor in NATO councils, Russia could hardly be pleased with Erdogan's support for Ukraine joining NATO. If that were to happen NATO would be only 300 miles from Moscow.
Turkish Defense Minister Andriy Taran (l) with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar (Source Ortadoguhaber.com
Lavrov and Zakharova Criticize Erdogan
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized Turkish arms supplies to Ukraine at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt Sameh Shoukry in Cairo.
Question: The media and various experts linked President Zelensky's recent trip to Turkey to Ankara selling attack drones to Kiev. Is Russia concerned about the possibility of such deals?
Sergey Lavrov: We strongly advise all responsible countries with which we are in contact (Turkey is one of them) to analyze the situation and Kiev's continuing warlike statements. We warn them against feeding this militaristic sentiment.
It is no secret that already in 2014, the new Kiev government – the putschists – emboldened by the encouragement it received following the anti-constitutional coup, carried out an act of aggression against its own people. When officials from the Zelensky administration say that Kiev is not planning anything in Donbass, because it cannot fight its own people, they are not telling the truth. After the "revolution of dignity," which, in fact, was an unconstitutional coup, Kiev attacked its people and has since waged a war against them, having declared its own citizens terrorists even though Donbass residents didn't attack anyone in the rest of Ukraine, but simply asked Kiev to leave them be and let them figure out what was going on after the neo-Nazis grabbed power in Kiev and immediately came out against the rights of Russian-speaking people living in that country.
I hope that everyone, including the countries that are discussing the possibility of supplying military equipment to Ukraine, remember this history.
Foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, reiterated this message at a press briefing three days later:
Question: After the talks with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Turkey and other countries against providing military support to Ukraine. Did Turkey give any response about understanding the situation?
Maria Zakharova: I have already said enough on this matter today. I can add that during contacts with Turkish leaders, we have a regular exchange of opinions on all, even the most sensitive, issues on the international and regional agendas. In particular, we inform Turkey about Russia's stance on the southeastern Ukraine.
Of course, Ankara is well aware of the fact that we are highly concerned about foreign countries encouraging Kiev's hostile course of action. We always stress the importance of refraining from steps, including in the military and technical cooperation, that could trigger an escalation in Donbass.
We intend to continue an engaged and professional dialogue with our foreign partners and to discourage them from stimulating Kiev's revanchist sentiments. Instead they should use all available political and diplomatic resources to make their fair share of contribution to stabilizing and improving the situation around Ukraine.
Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov sought to portray the incident as a blip on relations between Russian and Turkey: " Their statements on Crimea fall into the category of issues on which we have serious disagreements...but we hope that our consistent line will allow us to convince the Turkish partners that their current position is completely wrong with regard to Crimea." "Peskov emphasized.
Less diplomatic comments were also voiced. Journalist Usik Markosyan commented in his blog spot in Live.journal: " Well done Erdogan! One takes weapons worth billions [from Russia]...a free nuclear power plant, and supports its enemy [Ukraine] in restoring its territorial integrity! PS. It's a bitch when the enemy is smart, cunning and agile..."
It's even difficult to comment, although nothing unexpected happened
An adviser to Russia's Minister of Defense, Andrei Ilnitsky commented on Erdogan's pledge not to recognize Russia's his support of the "Crimean Platform" of Vladimir Zelensky on his Twitter account..
Ilnitsky quoted the phrase of Peter the Great, who rerportedlysaid: "Don't trust three: don't trust a woman, don't trust a Turk, don't trust a non-drinker." In these words, of course, there is a grain of irony, but, as events show, there is also a grain of truth....The Tsar knew," Ilnitsky wrote.
Andrei Ilnitsky (Source: Gazeta.ru)
Choking Off Russian Tourism To Turkey – A Shot Across Erdogan's Bow?
Turkey is a major destination for Russian tourism, but coincidentally or not, on April 12, 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that Russia had decided to limit air traffic with Turkey due to the aggravated epidemiological situation in the country. According to Golikova, regular flights between the two countries would be limited to two flights a week on a reciprocal basis. So, one flight from Moscow to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Moscow will remain. The cutback was to last for a month and a half - from April 15 to June 1, 2021. Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, sought to squelch theories that the move was a signal of displeasure to Turkey: "This is due to the alarming epidemiological situation."
Peskov's claim that the decision was purely health related was belied by a post by the Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev. Kosachev wrote:
"Regardless of the actions of the authorities, civic solidarity is called powerful. It is in such situations that the nation's patriotism is tested, regardless of vacation plans. And this would represent a truly powerful response by our society to the statements by the leader of a country inviting Russians to vacation there, and counting on their love for the warm sea, and not for their homeland....
About 2 million Russian citizens live in Crimea, about 500 thousand more in Sevastopol. Erdogan does not consider them to be citizens of Russia, and the (President of Ukraine Volodymyr) Zelensky, whom he so strongly supported, considers them invaders. For each "Turkish" vacationer there are five fellow citizens whom they do not consider to be free people. "
A leader of Russian tour operators, Vladimir Kontarovich, also expressed doubt that the reasoning was purely epidemiological: "Why wasn't it decided to send vaccinated people and people with antibodies to Turkey, because this would help the vaccination situation in our country...As long as decisions are made so opaquely, we have all these conspiracy theories."
Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov claimed that Russia would decide on the continuation of military-technical cooperation with Turkey, depending on the specific actions by Ankara. When asked whether this cooperation would be terminated if Ankara supplies Ukraine with a new batch of drones, Borisov answered noncommittally that Russia would decide in each specific case.
Other Reports Of Ukraine-Turkey Collusion
Ukraine and Turkey were accused of striving reducing the religious importance of Moscow by the creation of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, under the auspices of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Erdogan did not interfere, although since the Constantinople Church is located in Turkey, he could have weighed in against the move. The Ukrainian Rada deputy Mustafa Dzhemilev helped convince Erdogan that he could gain from such developments: I explained to Erdogan colloquially that currently for the Orthodox Mecca is Moscow, and after the tomos on autocephaly [autonomy] for the Ukrainian church, Istanbul will become it [the Orthodox Mecca]. So, it also has political significance for you.
A few papers picked up a report on the WarGonzo Telegram channel claiming that 150 Turkish soldiers had arrived in the Ukrainian city of Mariopol. They were variously described as drone operators, handlers of recruits from Syria and members of the Turkish special forces. Military expert Konstantin Sivkov claimed that Turkey was sending these forces because the Ukrainian army did not want to fight and if it did fight it would fight against the "junta" in Kiev.
Russian Experts: Turkey Is Befriending Ukraine For Its Own Reasons
Bohdan Bezpalko, a member of Putin's Council for Interethnic Relations claimed that Turkey was using Ukraine because it itself had designs on Crimea: "Turkey is a controversial ally. On the one hand, Ankara disputes the reunification of Crimea with Russia, using the term "annexation". On the other hand, in the Turkish media, Crimea and even Donbass are shown as a zone of Turkish influence. It turns out that Ankara itself claims part of the territory of Ukraine."
Aleksey Obraztsov, a specialist in Turkic studies and research fellow at the Center for Asian and African Studies at the Higher School of Economics advised Russia to get used to Turkish probes in its vicinity.
"Turkey now views the ruins of the Soviet Union as a kind of window of opportunity for implementing the idea of a common Turkic unity. And whenever it [Turkey] sees the slightest gap in the defenses of the actors in this direction, Turkey gladly and not always deliberately rushes into this gap in order to stake out new territories and new positions." 
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch 8613, Prior To Idlib Ceasefire Deal Russian Media Argues Whether To Show Erdogan Who Is The Boss Or To Allow Him To Save Face, March 9, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8874, Russia's Reactions To Turkey's Decision To Turn Hagia Sophia Back Into A Mosque, Part II: Russian Commentator Akopov: 'Two Romes Have Fallen, The Third Stands... That Is, There Is No Longer Constantinople – There Is Istanbul', July 31, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9190, Russia Shrugs Off Map Shown On Turkish State Channel Showing An Expanded Turkey Incorporating Territories Currently Part Of Russia, February 19. 2021..
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