According to a statement released by the Kremlin on March 4, “Both sides expressed confidence that in spite of the aggressive actions by radical and extremist Maidan [the central square in Kiev] forces, interethnic and interfaith peace and order will be ensured in Crimea.”
The statement by the Kremlin also highlighted that the phone conversation between the two leaders was initiated by the Turkish side and that Putin and Erdoğan had a detailed discussion of the “acute crisis situation in Ukraine, particularly the latest developments in Crimea.”
“Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to maintain communication on this matter at various levels,” the statement said.
According to a statement made by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s office on March 4, however, Erdoğan said all sides should respect international law in order to overcome the crisis in Ukraine. “During his phone conversation with Russian President Putin, Prime Minister Erdoğan emphasized that it is important to maintain Ukraine’s political unity and territorial integrity and to reduce the tension in Crimea immediately.”
There was no mention of “aggressive actions by radical and extremist forces” in Ankara’s statement, as in the Kremlin’s version of the talks.
Erdoğan told Putin it is up to the Ukrainians to find a solution to the crisis, adding that the instability in Ukraine would negatively affect the whole region, according to sources close to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Anadolu news agency reported on March 4.
As Ukraine faces the risk of separation due to ongoing political turmoil, Turkey has opted to follow a balanced policy between Russia and the West.
Since the beginning of the unrest in Ukraine, Ankara has underlined the importance of preserving Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, a sign of its opposition to the secession of Crimea, but has refrained from directly confronting Moscow, calling instead for dialogue for a resolution to the crisis.
Crimea’s lawmakers approved a declaration of independence on Tuesday, which the Kiev government said is illegal. The declaration says Crimea will ask to join Russia if this is approved during the referendum to be held on Sunday. Western nations have said they will not recognize the referendum as legitimate.
Crimea lies only 278 kilometers away from the Turkish coastline, across the Black Sea, and is home to a community of Turkic Tatars, who are ethnic and linguistic kin of Anatolian Turks and oppose potential Russian annexation of the peninsula.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has to follow a balanced policy as it does not want to jeopardize its relations with Russia due to its dependence on the country for about half of its natural gas imports. Turkey also has close ties to Ukraine and places importance on Ukraine’s political unity and territorial integrity.
This is not the first time a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office has differed from that of another country. Erdoğan was accused by the White House of misrepresenting the content of his phone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Feb. 19 regarding the extradition of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.
Erdoğan had claimed on a TV program that Obama had looked favorably at the suggestion, which prompted a White House statement saying, “The response attributed to President Obama with regard to Mr. Gulen is not accurate.” The statement marks a first in Turkish-American relations in terms of a denial of the Turkish prime minister’s version of events.