Bosphorus Summit: CEO Charles Blackmore and Advisor Lady Olga Maitland represent Audere in Turkey.

Lady Olga Maitland, Strategic Advisor, and Charles Blackmore, CEO, at the Bosphorus Summit 10 – 11 November sponsored by Audere International Ltd


Speech by Lady Olga Maitland, Strategic Advisor to Audere International, at the 13th Bosphorus Summit, Istanbul, 11th November 2022

Turkey is an important ally. Yet in 2022 we are at a crossroads. While Turkey remains firmly within NATO, a rocky road lies ahead. 

Times were different in 1952 following the accession of Turkey to NATO. The newly elected leader of the time, Adnan Menderes, expressed the desire for his government to be the military alliance’s ‘backbone’.  

Indeed, as the first country to join NATO following its founding in 1947, Turkey was important to all sides. Turkey gave a crucial strategic position between Europe and Asia, and astride both the Middle East and the Black Sea. 

It was firmly in the West, sharing democratic values and concern about the ascending Soviet Union’s expansion in the Cold War.

Seeking NATO membership was as much a political move as a military one.  

Seventy years later, Turkey has changed fundamentally. But so too has the international landscape. And for all of us, especially within NATO, we will have to adapt.

Horizons have shifted. Soviet Unions’ new Russia under Putin today has created a new axis. Russia is very close to Turkey with only Georgia between, so this is important to them.

The first most evident shift came in 2019 when Turkey took possession of the S-400 surface to air missiles from Russia to be set up and operated by Russians and designed to intercept US F-35. Not surprisingly NATO reacted. Bewildered. Confused. Angry.

For NATO, Russia is unambiguously in the enemy category following the Ukraine War, which is putting a strain on Turkey’s complex relationship as both countries have developed competitive cooperation through different conflict zones.

For all that, NATO put on a brave face, and continued with a business-as-usual programme. Turkey was fulfilling its commitments to defence, for example at the time guarding Kabul airport, and doing nothing to hinder a NATO-EU security arrangement, which it could have blocked.

Turkey fully and actively participates in the Alliances exercises and missions and has been supportive in NATO’S efforts to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion. Indeed, they sent drones, mine resistant vehicles and made an allocation of $35m worth of equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces.

That Turkey is an important ally is self-evident, but it is true at times a somewhat uncomfortable partner indifferent to NATO members concerns, and at moments it can be said, seemingly outright hostile.

Different agendas, yes. There have been a number of occasions when as a NATO ally Turkey aircraft harassed Greek aircraft, menaced Greek naval vessels. Turkey balked at the deployment of a NATO radar system in Turkey… objected to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The list goes on. President Erdogan blocks consensus until the last minute when concessions are made: the latest, by agreeing to the admission of Sweden and Finland, Turkey was able to obtain US F16s.

In the end, issues were managed, and will be managed. But in essence, NATO and Turkey must de-thorn their relationship.

Today, Turkey has new horizons. It sees a world beyond  NATO, and a role to be both an active member of the Alliance, but also a key player in the Russian axis with its relationship to China and so on. And a significant regional and geopolitical player.

From a NATO perspective, there can be positives in this.  Turkey is the only NATO country with a real dialogue and regular contact with President Putin.  Others have tried and failed, be it President Macron or even the US President.

This has given President Erdogan an undeniable edge as a Moderator in NATO-Russia relations, especially over Ukraine. 

On the one hand Turkey has a Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine allowing 95% of Ukrainian goods to be imported into Turkey duty-free. More than 10,000 items.

On the other side of the coin is trade with Russia which is rapidly increasing. Economic and trade relations are key. So much so that while trade today between the two countries stands at $26bn, it is expected to reach $100bn by 2030. Since the start of the Ukraine war, trade between Turkey and Russia has increased by 198%.

This includes Turkey paying for Russian gas in roubles, also the introduction of the Mir payment system, so Russian tourists can return to holiday in Turkey. A longstanding favourite destination, and valuable to Turkey. Plus reaching agreement to construct a new Russian Atomic Power station.

Is it so negative for NATO to accept that Turkey has pursued a balanced approach to Ukraine and Moscow since the war began? In recent months they speak by phone. They have had at least three one on one meetings.

This dialogue gave President Erdogan the means to broker an agreement with the UN to open the Black Sea waters in Ukraine to export grain to desperate African countries. That grain deal averted a global food crisis.

Meanwhile this new relationship with Turkey has enabled Russia to bypass western sanctions via Turkey.

So where does NATO go from here?

My learned friend, Sir David Logan, former ambassador to Turkey, gave a lecture to Cambridge University last week. In his remarks, he referred to the renewed commitment of the United States to Europe and the change in German defence policy. Moreover, the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO are very important. 

The current crisis will end, he said. On the other hand, the American commitment to Europe will not last for ever in its present form. The Asia Pacific region, and the threat posed by China, will matter more to the US.

In the long term the prosperous Europeans will have to do more to defend themselves.  

Where does Ukraine fit into this picture? It should not join NATO. Putin felt he could achieve an easy victory in Crimea in 2014 partly because of Western failure to help Ukraine. This time there will have to be a Western security guarantee to Ukraine to demonstrate that it would not be left to Russia’s mercy again.

Finally, we need a new Western security architecture to take account of shifting geopolitical tectonics, in which the Ukraine war has been an important factor.

Remember the pressure mounted by President Trump, in admittedly a rude and tactless manner, for Europe to take more responsibility for its own defence. And it should.

But the fact is that after 77 years of peace, Europe has devoted its energies to social support at the expense of defence. The US meanwhile is looking East and wants to devote its defence energy and strategy to countering China. Would it really rescue Estonia in the face of Russian aggression, despite Article 5, which it invoked over Afghanistan?

Changing old habits will be difficult politically and economically.  President Macron has seen the writing on the wall. His recent idea of a ‘European Political Union’ shows that this is a time for new ideas. Europe needs a new, more pragmatic relationship approach to foreign policy.

I very much hope that Turkey would see its own participation in this. After all, Turkey has always had a respect for former enemies, and now partners.

As we mark the anniversary of Kemal Ataturk’s death yesterday, I remember vividly a visit I made to Gallipoli for the annual commemoration for  conclusion of the First World War. Thousands of British, New Zealanders, Australians and more died alongside young Turks, I recall the sincere and touching tribute that President Ataturk made after the war and now inscribed in stone. 

He said, ‘Those heroes that shed their blood on our land and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. You may rest here, in peace, side by side with our Mehmets.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from the country far away, wipe your tears. Your sons are now in our bosom, and they are in peace. And they sleep in tranquillity. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons a well.’ And so be it! We are at one with each other.

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