Atalayar spoke with Mexico's ambassador to Ankara to analyse the role of Turkey on the current geopolitical chessboard

José Luis Martínez y Hernández: "Turkey is an essential partner for the EU"

José Luis Martínez y Hernández, embajador de México en Turquía
photo_camera José Luis Martínez y Hernández, Mexican Ambassador to Turkey

The historic NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital, has just concluded. Turkey, with President Recep Tayipp Erdogan, has once again stolen the limelight after giving the go-ahead for Sweden to join the Atlantic Alliance. Erdogan has been a key player in the allies' bid to bring Finland and Sweden into their ranks, thus strengthening NATO's strategic and defensive role. 

In recent years, the Ankara government has demonstrated Turkey's intensely active role in many key international issues to sustain a geostrategic and regional counterweight. 

Above all, however, it has been a stalwart in the face of the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, not only because it was the first country interested in bringing Ukrainians and Russians to the peace negotiating table last year, but also because through diplomatic efforts it managed to mediate an agreement in favour of the exit of grain and cereals from Ukrainian ports to African countries dependent on these imports, which the heat of the war blocked because the Russians control the ports on the Azov and Black Seas.

Turkey, says José Luis Martínez y Hernández, has demonstrated an enormous capacity for dialogue with the north, the south, the east and the west; with the right flank as well as the left flank.

The Mexican ambassador to Turkey highlights President Erdogan's ability to receive his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymir Zelenski, in Istanbul (7 July) and, at the same time, invite the Russian dignitary, Vladimir Putin, for an official state visit in August; and then travel to Vilnius and become the protagonist of the NATO Summit.

"The summit in Lithuania was very important and Turkey's preponderant role in this geopolitical zone was very clear, as a fundamental piece in the accession first of Finland and then of Sweden," said the diplomat. 

Martínez y Hernández, speaking exclusively to Atalayar, recalls that Turkey first obtained at least a verbal commitment from the United States to provide it with F-16 aircraft, and secondly, the issue of Turkey's accession process to the European Union (EU) being reviewed. 

"The issue of the fighter jets goes back a long way, both with the F-16 and the F-35. In fact, Turkey put up the money, participated in the design and construction process of the fighter-bombers, and then was denied their use. And all this controversy is about the Russian S-400 missile defence system, which Turkey cannot operate because the Russians did not give them the manual on how to operate it; I have it on very good authority," he says with knowledge of the facts.  

According to White House sources, last May, after Erdogan won the elections again, President Joe Biden called him to congratulate him and remind him that he would only get the 40 F-16 fighter jets and 80 kits to modernise Ankara's existing US fighter fleet if he lifted Sweden's veto on NATO membership. Erdogan is not satisfied because he really wants the F-35s that Washington keeps denying him, or else the 1.4 billion dollars Turkey gave to the Pentagon for the F-35s. 

With regard to the news confirmed by the Anadolu News Agency that Putin will visit the Ankara government next August, although the date has not yet been specified, Atalayar asked the Mexican diplomat what would happen with the arrest warrant announced on 17 March by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Kremlin leader. 

"Turkey is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC so nothing will happen. Putin will be able to carry out his visit within the framework of the bilateral Turkey-Russia meeting without any problem," the Mexican diplomat said. 

Precisely in August, the BRICS Summit (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) will also take place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August.

Unlike Turkey, the South African government is a member of the International Criminal Court and would be obliged to arrest Putin to comply with the ICC. Since the announcement, the South African authorities have been in a dilemma with their Russian counterparts, requesting on more than one occasion that Putin not attend the summit and instead send his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In fact, South Africa has even asked the Beijing government to host the summit in extremis.

Martínez y Hernández adds that Turkey's relations with Russia are cordial, although the Mexican ambassador recalls that it has not been free of historical friction between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire.  

"Nor can it be ignored that when the events in Crimea took place in 2014, the Ankara government was very concerned because there is quite a large population of Turkish origin there, and they are not exactly well treated," he points out.

Martínez y Hernández, who has an outstanding professional and diplomatic career that has been decorated with various awards, brings up the success in negotiating the export of Ukrainian grain: "The situation is tense and Turkey saw the need to negotiate when the grain crisis broke out because Africa, above all, is very dependent on Ukrainian and Russian grain. It was important that the UN also joined in, and this is the only way this four-way agreement was possible: Turkey, the UN, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, which allows the export of this grain, cereals and fertilisers; and, it is true, it is under constant review and will have to be reviewed and implemented again these days; nothing more than Russia is now asking for the unblocking of a Russian agricultural bank that cannot operate because it is suspended by the Swift System and needs to be operational to finance its agricultural operations". Although Russia has recently suspended the grain export agreement. 

And then there are the Bayraktar TB2 drones, a technology used by Ukraine to bomb Russian tank columns and Russian soldiers... 

-Yes, during President Zelenski's visit, what we could see is that President Erdogan treated him very well; he told him that he would give him more weapons, economic aid and, well, he gave them to Ukrainian soldiers, although Russia was very angry about it. The Bayraktar TB2 drones have a very precise technology, I have seen them and they are very effective, they are manufactured by President Erdogan's son-in-law and, in fact, the company has received awards and recognition for these drones not only from the Ukrainian government but also from Azerbaijan.  

Martínez y Hernández points out that he has had the opportunity to see the Bayraktar TB2 at an Armament Fair and they are not small, they are a transport vehicle used for bombing, but they are the size of a small to medium-sized propeller-driven aircraft.  

It's a bit surreal, but then you see that Erdogan and Putin are on very good terms, and that doesn't stop them from doing business, for example, what do you think about that? 

-Erdogan has cordial relations with Russia in spite of everything. In fact, last April, a nuclear power plant was inaugurated in Akkuyu, which is very important for the south of the country and which was built by the Russian consortium Rosatom. It is the largest joint investment between Turkey and Russia, worth 20 billion dollars.  

Martínez y Hernández goes on to explain: "It is an important investment because it will provide more than 10% of the electricity in the south of Turkey and it is clean energy. Personally, I am in favour of nuclear energy as a source of energy in the face of climate change because it is clean and cheap". 

Earthquakes and Reconstruction 

On 6 February, both Turkey and Syria were hit by a series of devastating earthquakes, causing extensive damage to human life and the collapse of buildings.  

In the case of Turkey, the Mexican ambassador in Ankara told Atalayar that more than 5,700 buildings collapsed in the affected areas, mainly near the epicentre in the district of Pazarcik, in the Turkish province of Kahramanmaras, 60 kilometres from the Syrian border, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead under the rubble.  

The World Bank alone estimated the damage caused by the earthquakes at 34 billion dollars and anticipated that reconstruction could cost twice as much. Data from this international organisation warns that at least 1.25 million people were left homeless by the collapse of their homes.  

Of this sad episode, Martínez y Hernández highlighted the international solidarity: "Spain and Mexico were among the first countries to send aid. I myself received the 150 rescuers from the Ministry of Defence, the Navy and the Red Cross, on the one hand; and on the other, there were around 80 rescuers from the independent organisations of these groups of the Topos, and there was a special group from the Sephardic community of Mexico. There was great solidarity. 

The diplomat recalled the huge field hospital set up by Spain and the contingents of firefighters from Spain and many other countries, a little over ninety, who sent aid in various forms to the Ankara government. 

"There are now many initiatives to rebuild and temporary camps have been set up for all those affected. The most regrettable thing is the number of orphaned children, many of whom are of Syrian origin, and there are others whose origins are unknown because they are so young," he says, dismayed. 

Regarding the aid to the children affected by the earthquakes, the Mexican ambassador added that his wife, Mediha Nami-Osmanoglu de Martínez, is the president of the wives and husbands of ambassadors respectively, and they are involved in providing aid to a group of Syrian children in Ankara who are organised with a foundation that also coordinates with the mayor's office.  

"Recently, President Erdogan gave an award to all the people who helped, there were more than eighty people representing our respective countries. There were countries that helped Turkey, such as Armenia, which do not have a good relationship, and yet they were at the award ceremony, and Erdogan decorated us and greeted us all," Martínez y Hernández points out.  

Turkey is Europe 

In the mid-1980s there was a predominantly Eurocentric discourse that saw Turkey as part of Asia rather than Europe; recent years have seen the important role that the Ottoman nation plays for the rest of Europe, for example in the handling of the refugee crisis.  

Turkey wants to be a leading player not only in Europe, but also within the EU, how do you see this?  

-Turkey is Europe. Europe is not only the EU, and Turkey aspires to be a member of the EU. It is not easy, of course, because there is the issue of visas, and the agricultural issue is complicated. But it is unquestionable that it has very valuable people; we must not forget that in terms of the BioNTech vaccine, those who developed it are German children of Turkish migrants, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus with highly advanced technology.

With regard to the stumbling blocks in free trade negotiations, in the case of Mexico, Martínez y Hernández explained that the free trade agreement with Turkey has been under discussion since 2014 and the two problems are agribusiness and the textile sector: "Turkey is afraid of Mexican agribusiness and Mexico is afraid of the Turkish textile industry, and until this is resolved, we will not be able to have our free trade agreement". 

There is currently pressure to push ahead with all the trade agreements that have been stalled for some time now, and China continues to make progress around the world, what is your perception? 

We now have the EU-CELAC Summit on 17-18 July in Brussels, and it is very relevant because it includes all of Latin America and the Caribbean together with Venezuela and Cuba, for example, which are not in the OAS.  And, furthermore, without a decade of meetings, it will be very good to finally get it back on track because China is a powerful investor in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also in Africa and Asia.  The New Silk Road has impressive slopes from the Indian Ocean to Africa or across Kazakhstan to Turkey and from there to the rest of Europe.      

Recently, adds Martínez y Hernández, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited several African countries in an attempt to recapture some of what China has already consolidated in the region.      

"It is not only China, but also Russia's presence in Africa because the Wagner Group has spread, especially in countries where there are conflicts; we see it in Sudan and Mali, but they are in more territories," he points out.  

Regarding Mexico-Turkey relations, the diplomat affirmed that they are going through the best moment: "We have an alliance as if they were the BRICS, but with Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, South Korea and Australia, it is called MIKTA and it is a flexible space for dialogue and collaboration that was established in 2013, with countries from different continents and the objective is to promote international cooperation and contribute to global governance". 

The diplomat, who holds a degree in economics from the UNAM, said that it is a relevant concept for bringing positions closer together in multilateral forums and as a mechanism for international cooperation at times to strengthen alliances. 

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