Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar Makina, which produces the Bayraktar TB2 military drones used by the Ukrainian army, accompanied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a visit to Ukraine on Thursday, 175 days after the start of the Russian invasion along with the defense minister and intelligence chief.
Bayraktar drones are viewed favorably by Ukrainians and are seen as one of their most useful weapons in the war with Russia. Ukrainians have even composed popular songs about them.The engines of Bayraktars are produced in Ukraine. Selçuk Bayraktar, brother of Haluk and one of the owners of the company, is Erdoğan’s son-in-law.
Haluk Bayraktar taking part in the official delegation can be seen as Erdoğan’s attempt to balance the perception of having close relations with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. NATO member Turkey previously announced that it would not participate in the sanctions imposed on Moscow by the United States and the European Union due to its dependence on Russia for natural gas and also because it’s a favorite destination of millions of Russian tourists.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry earlier issued a statement saying that military drones were not aid from Turkey but rather materiel purchased by Ukraine from a private company located in Turkey.
In a statement last week Haluk Bayraktar said they want to increase their production capacity with the factory to be opened in Ukraine. Bayraktar stated that they currently have the capacity to produce 20 TB2s per month. The facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2023.
Haluk Bayraktar has not yet made any statement about his visit to Ukraine on Thursday or shared any posts on social media. Fearing Russia’s reaction, Erdoğan conveyed a message to Ukrainian authorities that they should not be publicly discussing the Turkish drones.
On July 26 Erdoğan stated at a meeting with his ruling party’s top management that Russia and the United Arab Emirates were interested in Bayraktar drones and had suggested joint production. This has not yet been confirmed by either of the two countries.
However, on July 19 Haluk Bayraktar said during a live interview on CNN that his company would never sell drones to Russia. According to Bayraktar, they are proud that their drones have become one of the symbols of Ukrainian resistance.
However, it is known that Erdoğan, who sees Baykar as a family business and markets its products in many countries, especially in Africa, has the final say in which country to sell to.
Nordic Monitor had published a video initially shared by Valeriy Zaluzny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Army, on a verified Facebook account on March 13, 2022 and then circulated all over social media purportedly revealing background conversations in Turkish, most likely coming from Turkish operators who directed an armed drone from a base station to drop a bomb on an alleged Russian artillery fire control point, without mentioning the location.
Baykar Makina openly announced its strong support for Ukraine on February 25 when the Russian invasion first began. Selçuk Bayraktar tweeted that he condemns in the strongest terms the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which is disregarding the sovereignty of an independent nation. Selçuk also expressed his support for “Ukraine and Crimea, the homeland of our Turkish brothers resisting the occupation.”
More strong support for Ukraine came from Haluk Bayraktar, who was overseeing company projects related to Ukraine, when he tweeted in Turkish and Ukrainian that he “stands with the honorable people of friendly Ukraine, which has been brutally occupied before the eyes of the entire world.” Haluk also warned that “If not prevented, the war will knock on every door tomorrow,” adding, “The whole world must act before it’s too late to protect innocent civilians.”
Baykar has been selling military drones to Ukraine since 2019. The drone trade, which started with six TB2 models Bayraktar UAVs, continued with the delivery of an additional five to the Ukrainian Navy last year. Military experts claim that Turkey has sold more UAVs to Ukraine than announced.
Under a new agreement signed during Erdoğan’s official visit to Kyiv in February 2022, Ukraine would allocate land for the Bayraktar TB2 UAV production facility for 49 years and provide a number of incentives. Parts and materials used in the production of the UAVs will be exempted from customs duties. All financial and personnel information regarding the new facility would be kept confidential.
In addition to the UAV factory, a training center will also be built. Baykar will be exempt from income tax for 10 years due to its investments. The expiration of the agreement is January 1, 2035.
For Baykar, which currently uses engines from Ukrainian companies Ivchenko-Progress and Motor Sich in the military drones they produce, the production facility in Ukraine would also provide convenience in terms of logistics and time.
How the agreement will be implemented due to the war conditions is still unclear at the moment.