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Turkey and Ukraine to cooperate on building satellites

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 20 January 2016. Photograph courtesy of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 20 January 2016. Photograph courtesy of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

In a clear reaction to collapsed relations with the Russian Federation, both Turkey and Ukraine have announced their intention to cooperate with each other in the development and manufacture of satellites, as well as collaboration on other strategic technologies.

The announcement has come as a surprise to analysts, many of whom claim that apart from an obvious geopolitical agenda to counter Russian strategic dominance and influence in the Black Sea and Caucasus, there seems little industrial and technological foundations for the proposed relationship to succeed.

According to US defense publication, Defense News, one anonymous Turkish official said that, “We are pleased to observe that Ukraine is keen to share and develop technology with a NATO member state. We think we can efficiently cooperate in developing international [NATO] standard systems.”

The agreement is based on a Memorandum of Understanding between Turkish software company Havelsan, a state-owned entity that serves that Turkish armed forces, and Ukrainian weapons systems company Ukroboronprom. The MoU states each company’s intention to jointly develop and manufacture satellites and other, unnamed, aerospace systems further in the future.

This development seems to be the result of burgeoning strategic relations between Ankara and Kiev over the past several months that saw Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visit his Ukrainian counterpart in Kiev on 15 February 2016. It is believed that defence and procurement officials from both countries began discussions about strategic cooperation in the sidelines of that high-level visit.

Official Russian reaction to the agreement has been muted, but some Russian media outlets have expressed their derision about Turkish-Ukrainian ambitions.

Both Turkey and Ukraine have reasons to seek ways to counter Russia. For several years Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed militias in the eastern part of its country, and saw the Crimea seized from them by Moscow in 2014.

For Turkey, relations with Russia have rapidly worsened since it shot down a Russian Air Force jet near its border on 24 November 2015, claiming that Russia had violated its sovereign airspace despite repeated warnings. Russia’s diplomatic and economic reaction to Turkey’s actions was swift and emphatic.

Further, Russia has built-up and modernized its Black Sea naval fleet, and a number of Turkish and Western analysts fear that Moscow is seeking to make the Black Sea a strategic bastion from which it can deliver conventional and nuclear armed ballistic and cruise missiles to targets throughout Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.

The strategic agreement between Turkey and Ukraine is an attempt to try and diminish Russian power and influence in the Black Sea.

The challenge is that Turkey has little experience building satellites, though it has big ambitions to become a regional space power. Ukraine, on the other hand, has some experience building space systems, but these systems have a poor reputation.

Further, Yuzhnoye, the largest space manufacturing company in Ukraine is going through a troubled period, having just recently divested itself of its Russian subcontractors and other links, as well as allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Other than Yuzhnoye, there are few, if any, other companies in Ukraine capable of developing and building satellites.

There is also uncertainty about how satellites alone, as well as the other unknown strategic technologies that both countries intend to cooperate on, will actually contribute to countering Russian strategic superiority in the Black Sea.

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