Both countries are Ukraine’s strongest allies in the Greater Middle East, where Arab countries and Israel are sitting on the fence and trying to play both sides or hiding their heads in the sand. This is not the case with Turkiye and Azerbaijan.
Turkiye and Azerbaijan have a close military and political alliance drawn up after the 2020 Second Karabakh War. Both countries are critically disposed toward Russia and align with the pro-Western camp: Turkiye as a NATO member and Azerbaijan as a non-aligned country that has stayed away from Russian-led Eurasian integration projects.
Turkiye is home to millions of Crimean Tatars who moved to the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. Their Crimean homeland was occupied by the Russian Empire in 1783 which changed its ethnic balance. Crimean Tatars, who closely follow developments in Russian-occupied Crimea, where racism, Islamophobia, and political repression is endemic, are a powerful anti-Russian lobby in Turkiye.
Iran meanwhile has become Russia’s staunchest ally in the Kremlin’s fight against the US-dominated unipolar world and its replacement by an allegedly more ‘democratic’ multipolar world. Iran is constructing a facility to build Shaheed drones in Russia, while Turkiye is building a plant to build Bayraktar drones in Ukraine.
Western governments have wrongly portrayed President Erdogan as being in bed with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and were therefore wrong-footed by his recent steps. In the space of a week, Erdogan released Ukrainian POWs from the Spring 2022 battle for the port of Mariupol, infuriating the Kremlin because they had been released from Russian captivity on the basis that they would spend the entirety of the war in Turkiye.
But Erdogan went even further. On the eve of the recent NATO summit, Erdogan extended strong support to Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. Turkiye’s support infuriated the Kremlin who has expressed strong opposition to Ukraine joining NATO and the EU because this would definitively end any possibility of bringing the country into the Russian World.
In addition to 35 Bayraktar TB2 and 24 Mini-Bayraktar reconnaissance drones, Turkiye is sending other types of military equipment to Ukraine. Before the US announcement, Turkiye said it would supply Ukraine with cluster munitions. Turkiye sent up to 200 TRLG-230 Rokestan missiles to Ukraine that can be fired from multiple rocket launchers and have a range of 20 to 70 kilometers. Turkiye also sent 200 Kirpi mine-resistant armoured personnel carriers and 20 COBRA II 4×4 Tactical Wheeled Armoured Vehicles.
During the same week of NATO’s summit in Vilnius, Turkiye said it’s navy would escort Ukrainian grain ships through the Black Sea. Turkiye’s offer will be tested later this month after Russia refused to extend the UN-Turkish brokered grain deal beyond July 17. Turkiye’s battle of wills with Russia will impact the Kremlin’s arrogant view of the Black Sea constituting a ‘Russian lake.’
Azerbaijan’s strategic importance to Ukraine is six-fold. Firstly, Azerbaijan is the only south Caucasian state that has successfully resisted Russian control over its affairs. With three Russian military bases, Armenia is a long-time ally of Russia since the early 1990s and is a member of all Russian-led integration projects in Eurasia. Georgia has been captured by Georgian-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili who has put former President Mikhail Saakashvili, a long-time opponent of Putin, in jail on trumped up charges.
Secondly, Azerbaijan is alone in the south Caucasus in not breaking Western sanctions against Russia. Armenia and Georgia are actively involved in sanctions busting both due to high-level corruption and because the Kremlin has influence over the ruling elites of both countries.
Thirdly, Armenia and Georgia, but not Azerbaijan, are disseminating the Kremlin’s talking points justifying Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine. Georgian leaders have parroted the Kremlin’s disinformation by blaming the West for the war in Ukraine. Speaking at the GLOBSEC Bratislava security forum in May, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said ‘one of the main reasons’ behind the war in Ukraine ‘was NATO expansion … the desire of Ukraine to become a member of NATO.’ The Georgian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church over Ukraine receiving Orthodox autocephaly (independence). The Georgian Orthodox Church joined the Kremlin in protesting against Ukraine’s clamp down on subversion and Russian Orthodox clergy collaboration with Russian occupying forces.
Fourthly, Azerbaijan and Ukraine uphold the territorial integrity of states, which is not true of irridentist powers such as Russia and Armenia. Ukraine has given unqualified support to Karabakh constituting Azerbaijani sovereign territory. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has not supported Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory during votes on critical resolutions at the United Nations.
Fifthly, Azerbaijan’s supply of energy to the European Union, together with other countries such as the US and Norway, removes Russia’s stranglehold over energy supplies. Azerbaijan is one of the strategically important countries assisting Europe to become energy independent of revanchist Russia.
Finally, Azerbaijan provides free energy to Ukraine for humanitarian work. Since Russia’s invasion, the Azerbaijani state energy company SOCAR has been providing free gas and petrol to vehicles used for humanitarian missions, such as delivering aid to internally displaced people, ambulances and fire trucks. In June Azerbaijan supplied twenty tons of fuel to Ukraine free of charge as humanitarian aid, as well as water pipes, water pumps, and life jackets, in response to Russia’s terrorist destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted how Turkiye and Azerbaijan are close allies of Ukraine over a wide range of areas. As the second biggest military power in NATO, Russia is forced to take Turkiye seriously when it supplies military equipment to Ukraine and protects grain convoys sailing through the Black Sea.
Turkiye, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine oppose Russian irridentism in Eurasia and Russian-led Eurasian integration projects; uphold the territorial integrity of states and Karabakh as Azerbaijani sovereign territory; and recognize the importance of European energy independence from Russia. Turkiye and Azerbaijan stand with Ukraine during votes at the UN condemning Russia’s invasion and occupation. Unlike Georgia and Armenia, Turkiye and Azerbaijan do not fan Russian disinformation about the causes of the Russian invasion.
Taras Kuzio is a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. His latest book is Fascism and Genocide. Russia’s War Against Ukrainians