Defense is not the only driving force in Turkish-Polish relations
Poland’s name has started to appear often in Turkish media with the growing closeness between Warsaw and Ankara in recent years. Turkey places great importance on its relationship with Poland, which represents a strategic element in Ankara’s policy on Central and Eastern Europe. In 1999, Ankara’s support for Poland’s accession to NATO and in return, Poland’s support for Turkey’s EU membership, helped boost political and bilateral relations. Deep-rooted relations between the two evolved further with the signing of the Declaration on Turkish-Polish Strategic Partnership in 2009 and reached its peak with cooperation in the fields of defense and security.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda was in Ankara last week and the sale of Turkish armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Poland was announced during his three-day visit. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the purchase marked the first time a NATO and European Union member state acquired drones from Turkey and added that the deal will be a boost for the Turkish defense sector.
Under the deal, Poland is set to receive 24 armed drones from the private company, Baykar, which has also exported the TB2 model to the Ukrainian, Qatari and Azerbaijani ground control stations and data terminals. The first drone is expected to be delivered next year. Turkish drones have gained in popularity since the hardware was deployed in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan during conflicts that were prominently covered around the world. Turkey has effectively used its cutting-edge drones in cross-border, anti-terror military operations, such as Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, and Spring Shield, to liberate its Syrian border from terrorist entities.
“We are really happy to share this experience, capability and opportunities with our NATO ally,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkish F-16 jets would “soon” be sent to Poland to assist NATO’s Baltic Air Policing operation.
Poland earlier deployed a marine patrol aircraft and a military mission to Turkey’s Incirlik Base. The Polish president described Turkey as Warsaw’s “strongest ally” in its region, saying he believes that the two countries can fend off outside threats from within NATO’s framework.
Russia has been one of the most significant factors in both the foreign policy strategies of Ankara and Warsaw. Historically and politically, Russia has been at the top of threat perceptions in both countries. Thus, in terms of regional interests and relations with the West, Russia is always in the picture either as a partner or a threat.
Turkey and Poland, along with Romania, are part of a trilateral cooperation mechanism which is not only considered a political mechanism but also has a military dimension. One of its dimensions is also related to Russian influence in the post-Soviet countries. Thus, one of the key pillars of this trilateral cooperation is the common engagement with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Given Russia’s aggressive policies in these three countries, the trilateral cooperation mechanism of Ankara, Warsaw and Bucharest aims to support these countries under Russian pressure.
Although Poland, Romania and Turkey are key stakeholders in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, each country has its own priority partner and has its own national interest. For example, Ankara has intensified its political and economic ties with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine after the Russian annexation of Crimea and, in contrast to Russia, Ankara supports the membership of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in the EU and NATO. Same applies to Poland, which gives priority in its foreign policy agenda to these three countries.
In terms of domestic issues, there are some similarities in Turkey and Poland’s way of handling social-political issues. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which seeks the protection of women against violence and ensuring safety, was harshly criticized by human rights and women organizations.
Turkey and Poland, along with Romania, are part of a trilateral cooperation mechanism which is not only considered a political mechanism but also has a military dimension.
As to defend its decision, Turkey had also mentioned other European countries which are against the convention. One of these countries was Poland. The justice minister of the country had stated that Poland will initiate efforts to withdraw from a European treaty on combating violence against women due to its “ideological nature.” Advocating that the convention has an “ideological nature,” Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said it tried to construct a “sociocultural gender against the biological gender,” which, he said, is “unacceptable and harmful” for Poland. He said there are people claiming that opposing the Istanbul Convention also means being against the protection of victims, which he called “a downright lie.” This was also the same argument stated by Turkish officials.
Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention adopted in 2011 in Istanbul, while Poland ratified it in 2015. Although the EU and its member states have signed the treaty, some of them — Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia — have yet to ratify the document.
Thus, in addition to defense cooperation, Turkey and Poland share common concerns in their regional vision toward Russia and have similarities in their vision to the Istanbul Convention, which is highly important to EU countries.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz