Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced on a TV program that Turkey had officially requested help from Russia for the evacuation of Turkish citizens living close to the Russian border in Ukraine, handing in Moscow a list of the people and their locations.
Speaking on Habertürk TV on Tuesday, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey had requested that Moscow open a security corridor to Russia for the evacuation of citizens living in Sumy in the north of Ukraine, citing the presence of Russian soldiers as the reason.
Adding that the Russian military attaché in Ankara had visited the Defense Ministry, Çavuşoğlu said they also conveyed their request at the military level.
He also said the military attaché was given the list of Turkish citizens and their locations. “We will continue our efforts in this direction. We have arranged buses on the Russian side. If the corridor is opened, we will transport our citizens to Rostov Airport or the nearest airports.”
However, Çavuşoğlu’s statement sparked a debate on social media. Former Turkish military attaché and colonel Halis Tunç, who shared a video of Çavuşoğlu on Twitter, said this was a big mistake, adding that it was actually recognition of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While many social media users agreed with Tunç, those who claimed that this was the right decision in order to rescue citizens wrote that Sumy is close to Russia and that reaching evacuation points in the west means crossing Ukraine under war conditions.
Turkey in contact with both Russia and Ukraine
No evacuations through Russia are believed to have taken place so far. Making a statement following the extraordinary meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on Friday, Çavuşoğlu told reporters that 9,653 Turkish citizens have been brought home to Turkey from Ukraine. He later updated the figure to 11,024.
Regarding evacuations through Russia, Çavuşoğlu said they are continuing talks with the Russian side at the military level to rescue people in the besieged areas.
It is estimated that there are around 20,000 Turkish citizens in Ukraine, about 5,000 of whom are university students. The reasons for the high number of students are that Turkish high school graduates can enter university without an examination, and the cost of living is low compared to other European countries. Turks in Ukraine mostly live in the capital city of Kyiv, followed by Kharkiv, Odessa and Sumy. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday called on citizens living in Odessa, located on the Black Sea coast, to immediately leave the country.
Meanwhile, delegations from Kyiv and Moscow agreed on Thursday to the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape Moscow’s invasion, the first apparent progress in talks at the Belarus border.
Turkey continues to pursue a balance in diplomacy following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prefers to use the word “military operation” or “crisis,” which is close to Russia’s rhetoric, instead of occupation. Turkey, which declared that it would close its straits to the passage of warships in accordance with the Montreux Convention, asked countries including Russia not to send naval vessels to the straits. Military experts say Russia has enough warships in the Black Sea and will not be affected by this.
Turkey, which previously declared that it would not participate in sanctions against Russia, is the only NATO country that has not closed its airspace to Russian planes Turkey abstained rather than support a motion to freeze Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe last week. However, it voted in favor of a resolution condemning Russia at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
Speaking at a party meeting in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdoğan, referring to the developments in Ukraine, told party members that what happened to Ukraine was a confirmation that they were on the right track.
Meanwhile, Janes, a global agency for open-source defense intelligence, reported that Turkey has airlifted additional Baykar Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to Ukraine. According to Janes, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on March 2 that new combat-ready TB2s had arrived in the country as part of a wider package of international military assistance.
Bayraktar military drones are produced by a company partly owned Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar to which generous government incentives were allocated thanks to his father-in-law.