Amanda Paul is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Europe in the World Programme at the European Policy Centre (EPC). She has well-established expertise on issues related to Turkish foreign and domestic policy, Ukraine, security and conflict resolution in the Black Sea region, Russian foreign policy in the former Soviet space, EU enlargement and foreign policy in its Eastern neighbourhood. Amanda leads the EPC’s Ukraine’s European Future and Global Türkiye projects. She is also Senior Associate Research Fellow at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she contributes to research and events related to Ukraine and the broader region. She is also a Senior Advisor on issues related to the Eurasia region for “Stober, Poltavets and Associates”. For some 10 years, she was a columnist in the Turkish media covering issues related to Turkey and the broader region. Prior to joining the EPC, Amanda worked at the Centre for European Policy Studies, the European Commission, and German multinational Henkel. She has published widely on her areas of expertise in numerous external publications, including academic journals, books, and in the media. Amanda Paul holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Staffordshire (UK).

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Hello to everyone, this is Unlock Ukraine, and today we host Amanda Paul, the expert of the European Policy Centre. Welcome, Amanda!

AMANDA PAUL: Good morning Marta! Thanks for the invitation!

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: A few years ago, we had an interview for another journal, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to interview you again, this time for a video. The questions will revolve around your expertise. Could you kindly share with our audience what your area of expertise is and what your role entails at the European Policy Centre?

AMANDA PAUL: At the EPC, I work as a Senior Analyst in the Europe in the World Programme. My focus is on the Eastern flank, so that is Ukraine, Moldova, the South Caucasus, Black Sea security, and Turkey-related matters.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: We will come back to Turkey, Turkey is a very important country to talk about, and I think it is your first area of expertise. Let’s talk about Ukraine first. When was the first time that you encountered the Ukrainian issue? When did the file on Ukraine arrive at your table?

AMANDA PAUL: If my memory serves me right, it was during the Orange Revolution, so that was you know a long time ago. And Ukraine was evidently a different country at that time. However, the Orange Revolution set in motion a process that has continued to this day. From my perspective, it was when Civil Society truly emerged as a significant player in Ukraine. It was a moment when people awakened and demanded change, seeking to eradicate corruption, establish the rule of law, and challenge politicians who were influenced by the Kremlin. They aimed to reject Russian interference in their country. That marked the beginning of the process, making it an excellent time to commence working on Ukraine.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: You remember the Orange Revolution, right! And do you remember the intention of the Ukrainian nation to become a member of the European Union? How was it perceived in the EU, the Revolution, and the European path of Ukraine?

AMANDA PAUL: I believe the Orange Revolution served as a starting point for Ukrainians to aspire to greater engagement and integration with Europe, with the potential goal of becoming a member in the future. However, it was not necessarily the main driving force. In my opinion, that role emerged later during the Euromaidan Revolution and events surrounding the Association Agreement. Nonetheless, the Orange Revolution did mark a significant beginning. It was a time when Ukrainians became more aware of their own identity and rejected Russia’s influence. We all remember President Putin’s infamous visit during that time, campaigning for Victor Yanukovych. Looking back, it seems implausible, but it did happen. Yanukovych was essentially Putin’s candidate.

Ukrainians strongly objected and asserted, “No, we do not accept this anymore. This is our country. We are not part of Russia. We are an independent Ukrainian state.” They rallied behind Victor Yushchenko, the originally elected pro-European figure who had experienced poisoning and other incidents. It was a battle where Ukrainians succeeded and achieved what they wanted.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: But after a few years they lost it…

AMANDA PAUL: Yes, that is it! I mean that is an interesting point. After the Orange Revolution, Victor Yanukovych was re-elected, and we are well aware of the subsequent events that unfolded. One can only speculate about the reasoning behind their decision to re-elect Yanukovych. However, we know about the problems that existed between Victor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko during that time, resulting in a lack of progress, reforms, and Atlantic integration. It appeared that both of them were more focused on their own self-interests rather than the future of the country and its Atlantic integration.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: But looking back, this re-election took place after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Ukrainians and even Europe did not pay much attention to it.

AMANDA PAUL: Well, Europe certainly did not pay much attention to the invasion of Georgia. If we recall, there was a moment when the U.S. Administration presented Russia with a “reset button.” President Obama personally met with President Putin and offered him that button, which, ironically, had a misspelled word in Russian on it. It was as if they were rewarding Russia for the invasion, disregarding the fact that they had occupied almost 20% of Georgian territory, the occupation that continues today with ongoing boundary adjustments. At that time, there seemed to be a perception that the West should not provoke or escalate things with Russia. The focus was on maintaining a constructive dialogue and relationship with them because of their perceived importance. Perhaps it was a mistaken approach, even in Ukraine. Maybe Georgia was considered distant and irrelevant to some. However, in hindsight, it was a mistake. The Western response, or rather the lack of a stronger response, might have played a role in Russia’s subsequent full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and even the annexation of Crimea. Had there been a different response, the outcome could have been different.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Ukraine has been a candidate member of the EU for almost a year now. Do you believe that Ukraine has a chance of becoming an EU member before 2029?

AMANDA PAUL: I think Ukraine has a chance to become a member of the EU. I think it would be difficult to do so within a short time frame. No country has had a speedy accession to the EU. However, if there is determination within Ukraine to carry out the necessary reforms, which is obviously challenging due to the ongoing war, I believe the process can progress well once the accession talks actually begin. That should be the primary goal for Ukraine. Ukraine needs to fully comply with the conditions set by the commission, the seven steps, in order to initiate the accession process. This is not always straightforward as the conditions can be interpreted in different ways, and it remains to be seen how Ukraine will navigate this.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: What could Ukraine do better today to accelerate the process? Is there anything that Ukraine is doing really wrong?

AMANDA PAUL: They are (Ukraine – editor’s note) not doing anything wrong, which is a positive aspect, and they have already made significant progress or are well on their way. My colleague Svetlana and I at the EPC recently conducted an analysis on this. However, there are key issues related to judiciary reform, including constitutional court reform and the special commission established to review candidates. Finalizing these steps is crucial to ensure a transparent process for vetting candidates and prevent the blocking of certain candidates. Additionally, the law on dialogue organisation is another important issue that Ukraine needs to address in order to make real progress.

Let’s be frank, Ukraine has had historical problems with oligarchs. They have been a challenge since the beginning, so to speak. However, significant changes have already taken place, even before the war. President Zelenskyy has taken steps to reduce the influence of oligarchs, but it is a process that cannot be accomplished overnight. Oligarchs and wealthy businesspeople have a wide range of interests and have long had influence over Ukraine’s governance institutions. It is essential to properly address this issue and ultimately eliminate the presence of oligarchs in the country. The EU recognises the importance of this process.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Ukraine is currently a candidate member to the EU, and Ukraine also wants to become a member of NATO. Recently, NATO raised the Finnish flag, let’s say because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In your opinion, how do you view Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO? Would it be a simultaneous process with EU membership, or should Ukraine join NATO before or after becoming an EU member? Alternatively, should Ukraine aim for NATO membership once the war is resolved? How would you evaluate the progress of transatlantic integration?

AMANDA PAUL: Personally, I would accept Ukraine into NATO tomorrow. However, I am not situated at NATO headquarters, so I cannot provide an authoritative response. Realistically, Ukraine’s NATO membership is likely to face significant challenges. When President Zelenskyy submitted the application to join NATO, the response was met with silence – an unsettling lack of clarity on the way forward. Despite the commitment made at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, where both Georgia and Ukraine were promised a seat at NATO’s table – a de facto commitment to membership – some countries within the NATO alliance appear less enthusiastic about Ukraine’s inclusion. It is unlikely that these two processes will progress simultaneously.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Which countries are not happy with Ukraine being in NATO?

AMANDA PAUL: It might be deemed undiplomatic to mention specific countries, but it is worth noting that traditionally opposed nations include France, Germany, and even the United States and the United Kingdom. The Ukrainian side, along with various actors within Ukrainian civil society, must undertake significant efforts to promote this matter. The NATO Summit, scheduled for July in Lithuania, presents an opportunity for NATO to potentially clarify its stance on Ukraine. Lithuanians are excellent friends of Ukraine, so I believe this presents a good opportunity for NATO to clarify their position regarding Ukraine. They may or may not do so, and it is likely they will state that it is a lengthy process. However, it is important to note that NATO membership is not an immediate prospect. There are still concerns within NATO about Russia’s response, which is somewhat surprising considering we are one year into the war, and the West is still worrying about the response of Russia. But it is a fact that they actually are.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: You mentioned several points that opened my eyes, especially regarding the U.S. role. When it comes to Ukrainian Civil Society, what more could they do or improve upon to prepare for Ukraine’s NATO membership? What could Ukrainian Civil Society do?

AMANDA PAUL: It revolves around advocacy and lobbying in member states. From my perspective, it is a non-issue. Ukraine should unquestionably be a part of NATO. It has every right to be included, given its location in northern Europe and its compatibility with the alliance. In my personal opinion, NATO membership is the sole guarantee for Ukraine’s security. Alternatives are challenging to identify. There have been ongoing discussions about security guarantees for Ukraine since the war’s inception, but no concrete clarifications have been provided. Perhaps bilateral security agreements or a similar relationship to the United States’ guarantee of Israel’s security, which involves arms supply and protection, or even a situation akin to Japan. However, there is no clear clarification on this matter. NATO membership would be the ideal solution for Ukraine. There is no valid reason why it could not be granted during the war, except for the obvious reason that Russia opposes it. This is the explicit rationale behind Ukraine’s exclusion, as well as the reason Georgia did not gain membership despite being more prepared than some Western Balkan countries that have joined NATO, again due to Russian influence.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: If Ukraine were to become a member of NATO now, would NATO invoke Article 5 to defend Ukraine immediately, or would there be a temporary pause in negotiations or an agreement not to involve all NATO countries in a collective defence effort against Russia?

AMANDA PAUL: NATO should have accepted Ukraine before the war, as it may have prevented the current situation. However, the decision at the time was influenced by the concern of a clash with Russia. Today, Ukraine joining NATO is not feasible due to the apprehensions expressed by many. This reluctance is likely to persist in the future, as accepting Ukraine could potentially lead to another incident invoking Article 5. Once again, it all comes back to Russia. Decisions continue to be influenced by the threat posed by the Kremlin.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: What would happen to Russia if Ukraine becomes a member of NATO? What would a complete defeat of Russia look like in that situation?

AMANDA PAUL: It is a challenging question to answer because the complete defeat of Russia is not clearly defined. It is often discussed in terms of removing Putin from power or defeating Russian troops in Ukraine, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of Russia as a whole. The perspective on this issue varies, as there is no guarantee that a successor to Putin would be any better. Unfortunately, I do not see any promising candidates, which is quite disheartening. Realistically, whoever leads Russia in the medium term to many decades is likely to be an authoritarian figure who shares Putin’s view of Ukraine as part of Russia. This imperialistic policy and narrative are not unique to Putin; it is embraced by a significant portion of the Russian population. Therefore, I believe this outlook will persist in the future. What is more important at this stage is for the West, including the EU, to consider their policy towards Russia and how they will engage with the country after Ukraine’s victory, as it will not be a straightforward process.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: So, Ukraine’s victory does not necessarily mean the complete defeat of Russia?

AMANDA PAUL: I do not think it should be said at all because the Russians, who are still mourning the collapse of the Soviet Union, seem to be in a perpetual state of depression. Putin, in particular, continues to mourn the loss of the Soviet Union, even decades later. If they were to be defeated in Ukraine and once again be the losers, it would only deepen this sense of grief. The Russians will need to find a way to cope with this as a nation and as a society, and it will not be an easy task. They will likely continue to attribute their loss in this war to the direct actions of the West, perpetuating the narrative that the West is trying to invade and disintegrate Russia. While we know that this narrative is false, if you look at the Russian media, it is all about the US or the West’s alleged efforts to break up Russia. Putin often claims that “back in the day, the West wanted our country to completely disintegrate. They were pleased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they also wanted the remaining part of Russia to break up into small independent states. This is their second attempt to do so.” This is their narrative.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Wouldn’t it be the case that if there is a full disintegration of the Russian Federation, then there would be no threat to Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries in the future? Wouldn’t that be considered a full defeat of Russia?

AMANDA PAUL: You can perceive it in that way, but the consequences of such disintegration would be significant and lead to widespread turmoil in the entire region surrounding Russia’s borders. To be frank, Europe simply wants the war to be over. The prospect of Russia disintegrating is a major concern because it is a vast country, and the repercussions would extend far beyond its borders. The emergence of uprisings and conflicts within Russia involving numerous states – such as Chechnya, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and many others – potentially fragmenting Russia into tiny fragments, is a scenario that raises apprehension. Consequently, I am not certain that this concept finds widespread support in the West.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Europe wants the war to be over. When do you think the world could run out of patience, considering both the timeframe and the necessary conditions?

AMANDA PAUL: Europe wants the war be over, but it is essential for it to conclude with Ukraine in a strong position and achieving victory. Personally, I do not expect the war to be over before the end of 2024, which is already a significant amount of time. The reason being, there are several crucial elections, including the U.S. presidential elections, taking place in 2024. Enduring another year and a half of fighting is undoubtedly difficult to accept, and I comprehend that it is exhausting for Ukraine, its people, and the military. However, it is likely that there is a clear understanding that the year 2024 will serve as a crucial turning point, regardless of the outcome. From the Russian perspective, they can fight forever.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: They have a lot of people…

AMANDA PAUL: Let me express it in this manner: For Russia, one year is a brief period when considering the wars they have fought. They hold no regard for human life; it is as if people are mere machines. They recruit individuals, send them to the front lines, treating them as cannon fodder. That is my opinion anyway that the Russians are experiencing losses. In my opinion, they have been unsuccessful in achieving their objectives. The recent offensive can be considered a failure as they failed to acquire significant portions of territory. They may have gained a few meters here and there, but that was not their primary aim. However, this does not imply that the Russians will surrender and admit defeat. Such an outcome is unlikely. Additionally, these conflicts have become deeply personal for President Putin. He clearly despises President Zelenskyy, and the feeling is mutual. This personal animosity adds another layer to the situation. As I mentioned before, I believe the Russians are prepared to continue fighting indefinitely. And it becomes even more critical for the West to speed up the delivery of arms and provide Ukraine with the necessary weaponry. Ukraine still has not been able to launch its new counter-offensive due to the insufficient arms deliveries received from the West.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Ukraine still has not got there…

AMANDA PAUL: It is too slow.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Would you criticize the West?

AMANDA PAUL: I always criticize the West. Ukraine should have possessed the essential military equipment to defend itself even before the war erupted. This miscalculation was a significant error. However, it goes back to the same point of not wanting to escalate tensions with Russia. If Ukraine had been equipped with the necessary weapons on the ground prior to the war, the situation could have been different. Unfortunately, it always takes an extended period to move from identifying what is needed to actually delivering it. Presently, there is a concern regarding ammunition shortages. The EU and the U.S. industrial base, as we know, have had to accelerate munitions production. This is also a time-consuming process.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: You are evaluating this situation from today’s point of view. Did you also hold this position a year ago? Did you believe that Putin would invade Ukraine and that Ukraine needed to be better equipped?

AMANDA PAUL: I believe that Russia was capable of invading Ukraine. This war did not start last year; it began in 2014. However, back in 2014, the West did not perceive it as a significant security threat to Europe. If Russia had only invaded eastern Ukraine, as most people predicted, the response from the West would have likely been milder. They might not have provided the same level of military equipment, and there would have been fewer sanctions or less unity. However, because it was a full-scale invasion, a stronger action had to be taken. After Russia annexed Crimea, there should have been a much more assertive response. Many analysts, including myself, along with individuals from the Baltic States, Poland, and others, strongly recommended this at the time and in the subsequent years. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. As a result, Russia continued to strengthen its position in the Black Sea and Crimea, leading to incidents in the Sea of Azov, which also received a weak response. This allowed Russia to feel emboldened and act with impunity. While the strength of the Ukrainian response was unexpected, I do not think Russia anticipated the same level of response from the West either. However, the direct impact of the war in Ukraine on European security, as well as the potential spillover effect into EU member states, played a significant role in the strong response from the EU and others.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: And what about the role of Turkey in the war between Russia and Ukraine and the sanctions? Turkey is the country where sanctions could be evaded by different companies. How would Turkey be placed in these geopolitical circumstances?

AMANDA PAUL: Turkey has positioned itself in the middle of the road. It has a foot in either camp. Turkey did not join the EU and US sanctions, but that is not surprising because Turkey rarely joins any sort of sanctions unless they are UN sanctions. However, Turkey has maintained good relations with Russia. The relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin is strong, and they have a good understanding of each other due to their previous collaborations in other regions like Syria and the South Caucasus. For Turkey, there was no question of alienating Russia, as Russia is not an important partner for Turkey.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: But Turkey helps Ukraine, also with drones, the grain deal, and other things.

AMANDA PAUL: I was just about to come to this. On the other hand, for Turkey, regional security holds significance in the Black Sea and other areas. Ukraine has also been a long-term partner of Turkey, with Turkey supporting Ukraine’s NATO membership for many years. Their cooperation extends beyond economic ties, encompassing security and defence cooperation as well. Turkey’s unique relationship with both Russia and Ukraine has allowed them to play a distinctive role since the beginning of the war. Initially criticised by the West, Turkey provided drones and other equipment to Ukraine, which proved to be highly valuable. Additionally, Turkey, along with the United Nations, played a key role in mediating the grain deal between the two parties, ensuring its establishment and continuity.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: What will happen after the May elections in Turkey?

AMANDA PAUL: After the elections in Turkey, if President Erdogan is re-elected, he will continue to pursue the same policy, at least when it comes to Ukraine, maintaining a presence in both camps. However, if the opposition comes to power, their foreign policy goals would differ as they aim to normalise relations with the West. Under Erdogan, relations with the United States and the EU have become increasingly difficult, partly due to democratic setbacks and human rights violations in Turkey. Additionally, Turkey’s frozen EU accession process has led to resentment in Ankara and among the population. If the opposition takes charge, we can expect a more Western-oriented approach with a stronger focus on normalization with the West, while maintaining good relations with Russia, albeit to a lesser extent than the current state of affairs. Erdogan has facilitated sanctioned goods and trade to pass through Turkey to Russia, benefiting from affordable energy imports. The import-export statistics have shown significant improvement, which has been helpful to the Turkish economy, because prior to the war the Turkish economy was in a very bad state. It is still in dire straits, but it is improved a bit as a consequence of the war, and it is not displayed well that Turkey has played this role. However, that will end with the opposition entry into power as they (opposition leaders – editor’s note) will not play such games.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: What are the chances for the opposition to end in power?

AMANDA PAUL: The chances of the opposition have significantly increased following the tragic earthquake in Turkey on the 6th of February, as seen in the news. Eleven Turkish regions were devastated, and over 50,000 people were killed. Buildings collapsed due to builders not following regulations, and the government allowed them to do so by merely imposing fines. It was a massive violation of construction rules and regulations. The affected area is a significant base for President Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). However, after the earthquake, the voting pattern in that region is likely to change to some extent. While it is unlikely that every single person affected by the earthquake will not vote for the AKP or Erdogan, there is a great deal of anger, resentment, and even hatred towards Erdogan, who is held personally responsible for the tragic loss of life and homes. Tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Turkey make it unclear where they will vote. This will definitely be represented in favour of the opposition alliance at the ballot boxes. The opposition presidential candidate needs to make the most of this opportunity and run a dynamic campaign, but Erdogan is an extremely skilled campaigner and will do whatever it takes to win the election. Moreover, the playing field is not fair, as the media is largely controlled by the ruling party, and social media has become challenging to navigate in Turkey, with many platforms being closed down or restricted. It will be an uphill battle, and the outcome is too close to call.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Are you a columnist, or have you been a columnist for Turkish newspapers? Do you still write?

AMANDA PAUL: I do not currently write for any Turkish newspaper, but I still write about Turkey.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Will you travel to Turkey for the elections? Will you be an election observer?

AMANDA PAUL: Turkey does not actually have international election observers; they do not really have international observers. However, they do have a robust and strong civil society in Turkey that observes elections. The civil society in Turkey, including young people from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been observing the ballot boxes for many years. This year, there could potentially be a higher risk of election fraud. Despite President Erdogan’s authoritarian trend, Turkey has generally had free and fair elections for many years. Hopefully, this year will be the same as there will be both presidential and parliamentary elections. Since Turkey is now a presidential system, the presidential polls hold significant importance as the president controls almost every aspect. However, the parliamentary elections do have some importance because to pass some legislation, even if it has been greenlighted by the president, you need to have a majority in the parliament.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Are you in contact with the Turkish Civil Society? Do you obtain first-hand information from them for your analysis?

AMANDA PAUL: Turkish civil society is large at every level, just like in Ukraine. From grassroots to local, regional, and national levels, there are amazingly strong people who often put their lives at risk to do their work.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: And how do they see the moves of Erdogan? A discussion about Turkish civil society’s opinion on the ongoing situation and Turkey’s past as an EU candidate. How did the Civil Society perceive the moves to block Finland and Sweden from NATO membership? What about the Cyprus issue?

AMANDA PAUL: I mean, when it comes to the Cyprus issue, it is a long story. From a Turkish perspective, when Turkey was in the process of becoming an accession country, it was told to change its policy towards Cyprus. The ruling party, under the then-prime minister, changed Turkey’s policy and accepted the bi-communal solution negotiated by the UN, which had been on the table for many years. Turkey’s position on Cyprus underwent a complete revolution. In 2004, there was a famous referendum on the Annan Plan, held in the south and north of the island. The northern part is where the Turkish Cypriots traditionally live, and the southern part is where the Greek Cypriots live. Since 1974, the island has been divided by the UN Green Line. After Turkey started accession talks, the barriers were lifted, allowing population transfers and Greek and Turkish Cypriots to interact.

However, the 2004 referendum resulted in the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey voting “yes,” while the Greek Cypriots voted “no.”

The Greek Cypriot leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, even asked Greek Cypriots to vote “no” on the Annan Plan, which he himself had negotiated. Later, the Crown’s Montana format, which could have led to a solution, failed because the Greek Cypriots refused to be flexible enough and continue the negotiations so that Cyprus could be reunified. After that, Turkey shifted back to supporting a two-state solution.

An important point to note is that Cyprus became a full member of the EU without the condition of reunification, which, in retrospect, was probably the worst foreign policy decision in EU history. As an EU member, Cyprus could block Turkey’s progress and complicate finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Now, Turkey is being asked to change its policy once again, which seems strange considering they already made changes 20 years ago, while the problem still lies with the Greek Cypriots.

And it is still the Greek Cypriots. Actually, it is the Greek Cypriots that also need to be asked to change their policy. It takes two to tangle, right? So, you need to have a separate change of policy as well as a Turkish change, a second change, if you are going to resolve the decades-old Cyprus problem. I am sorry, that was a complicated explanation, but it is a topic for an entire discussion in itself.

When it comes to the accession of Finland and Sweden, I think there is a tendency in Europe and elsewhere to just view Turkey as behaving badly and being difficult. However, if you look at it from a Turkish perspective and the perspective of the average Turkish person, it is seen rather differently. There is significant support in Turkey for the government’s position, particularly regarding Sweden. The issue was never about Finland; Turkey does not have a problem with Finland, and it never had. It has always been more about Sweden. Historically, Sweden has allowed the representatives of the PKK, a recognized terrorist organization by the EU and the United States, to seek asylum in Sweden. This has been a longstanding problem between Turkey and Sweden. President Erdogan has used this issue as leverage to gain domestic support in the upcoming election campaign.

However, an agreement was reached between Sweden and Turkey at last year’s NATO Summit. Sweden committed to meeting certain criteria, including extraditing wanted terrorists and making changes to their terrorism laws, among other things. Once these steps were taken, Turkey would ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO. As far as I am aware, many of those steps have already been taken by Sweden, but Turkey is still pushing for more. However, this is more related to domestic Turkish politics rather than Turkey’s position on NATO enlargement. Traditionally, Turkey has been a strong supporter of NATO enlargement and has been an important ally. Hopefully, once the elections are over and done with, Sweden’s accession will be greenlighted, even if President Erdogan remains in power. However, it certainly will not happen beforehand. So, they are leveraging this issue for domestic purposes but also to gain something from the United States.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: We discussed Turkey’s role as a player in the war between Ukraine and Russia, as well as its position as a key player that offers assistance and acts as a neutral platform between the two countries. Turkey has hosted Ukrainian soldiers who were captured by Russia, emphasizing its neutrality. However, what about Turkey’s involvement in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Does Turkey take a side as a supporter, and how is this perceived by the West?

AMANDA PAUL: Turkey is not neutral in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It has a security alliance with Azerbaijan, considering each other as brothers. Turkey has a longstanding strategic alliance with Azerbaijan, providing them with drones and other weapons, which were effectively utilized in the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. These weapons allowed Azerbaijan to reclaim much of the territory occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s. However, Turkey is also engaged in a gradual process of normalisation with Armenia, which began over a year or two years ago. The goal is to reach a final peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the sake of security, stability, and economic prosperity in the South Caucasus region. Nevertheless, achieving this agreement is not a straightforward task, given the lingering animosity between the two countries and Russia’s ongoing interference. Russia has always considered the South Caucasus as its exclusive sphere of influence and is displeased with the increasing presence of Turkey and the EU in the region. Despite Russia’s engagement in the war in Ukraine, it remains attentive to safeguarding its interests in the South Caucasus.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: But still, Russia does not support Azerbaijan’s side in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and its influence. Russia shows its support for Armenia, but it is not very expressive in this support.

AMANDA PAUL: Russia is a poor ally for Armenia. Armenia is a member of the CSTO and has a special security and military alliance with Russia. Russia maintains two military bases in Armenia, and for many years, Russian agents controlled the border with Turkey and conducted passport checks upon arrival in Armenia. However, the problem arises when Armenia’s security is threatened, such as during the 2020 war, and they request Russian assistance as stipulated in the CSTO treaty. In such cases, Russia fails to provide the necessary support. In reality, Russia proves to be a useless security ally for Armenia, and this has been the case all along. Russia’s primary interest lies in maintaining its dominant influence over Armenia, not only in the security sector but also in the economic sector, where Russia has exerted significant control over the Armenian economy for an extended period.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: If Erdogan gets reelected, is there a chance that he will reinforce the autocratic regimes of Russia, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia? Would he join that club?

AMANDA PAUL: No, he is not going to join that club. Turkey does not really join any club, and it is doubtful that they would even be wanted. Turkey is a member of NATO, which anchors them to the West, and that is a good thing. NATO provides a platform for Turkey to engage with its Western partners, and that is the only platform Erdogan will continue to utilize. Turkey is increasingly becoming an important middle power against the backdrop of global upheaval. We are transitioning to a more fragmented world, moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the United States to a multi-polar world due to factors like the rise of China. This geopolitical shift makes Turkey, along with some other countries, more geographically and geopolitically significant.

Turkey’s unique position as a frontier between the West and the East, in the Middle East and Central Asia, means it will become a crucial interlocutor on many issues. Turkey will leverage this position to its advantage. It is truly remarkable for someone like myself, who has worked and lived in Turkey for two decades, to witness the evolution of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey used to closely align with EU foreign policy, almost to the extent of 80% at one point. It is incredible to believe that now it is only about 7% at maximum, as Turkey has pursued an autonomous and more strategically independent foreign policy. This shift is a result of deteriorating relations with the West, which was a mistake on the part of the EU. The EU allowed the relationship to become problematic, blocking the accession process and creating numerous obstacles and barriers to closer integration, leading Turkey to explore other avenues. As a result, Turkey now holds an extremely influential position vis-à-vis its neighborhood.

In the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and Syria, Turkey has a significant presence. Turkey is now extensively involved in large parts of Africa, which was previously unheard of. Additionally, Turkey has expanded its influence in the Far East. As a result, Turkey has emerged as a global player, capable of engaging with Western partners through NATO and other institutions, as well as with authoritarian actors worldwide. This positions Turkey uniquely.

If Erdogan is re-elected, this tendency will likely grow, making Turkey a major player in various regions. Given the fragmentation of the international order, it is crucial, from my perspective, for the West to strengthen its relationship with Turkey. Regardless of personal opinions about Erdogan, Turkey has gained influence and serves as a vital interlocutor on numerous global issues and challenges, particularly in neighbouring regions such as the Western Balkans, Syria, and Africa. The grain deal serves as an example of this.

Although many people in the EU may be annoyed by Erdogan’s actions, it was made possible due to Turkey’s more autonomous and independent foreign policy. While this is advantageous for Erdogan, it is also a response to a situation where Turkey was denied requests by the Americans and other Western partners, such as upgrading their F-16s. This denial was a consequence of Turkey’s controversial purchase of the S-400 defence system from Russia. Turkey has contemplated this problematic situation and decided to reduce its reliance on traditional Western allies. This shift may be seen as a negative development for Turkey, but it is also a step towards greater self-reliance. It is partially a response to Turkish foreign policy and has prompted Turkey to focus significantly on strengthening its defence sector and industrial base, enabling the development of its own weapons and systems, including drones, but not only.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Is Turkish independence in this term for Ukraine good news or bad news?

AMANDA PAUL: Well, I believe Turkey has played a positive role in relation to Ukraine, although it could have done better. It must be frustrating for Ukraine’s leadership to see Turkey conducting business as usual with Russia, trading with them and hosting a significant number of Russians residing in Turkey. This influx of Russians has driven up real estate prices in Istanbul, Antalya, Bodrum, and other areas. While I personally do not enjoy being surrounded by many Russians, especially on Turkish airline flights, I recognize that Turkey’s unique relationship with Putin has allowed it to achieve certain benefits. Ideally, Turkey would have taken a more pro-Ukrainian stance, joining sanctions and other measures. However, I can acknowledge that Turkey has been able to leverage its relationship with Russia to achieve certain outcomes. The public display of closeness between Putin and Erdogan may not be ideal optics, but it serves both countries’ interests. Turkey gains from the relationship, and Ukraine has also benefited, such as with the grain deal and the return of prisoners of war. Turkey’s diplomacy often operates behind the scenes, and we only become aware of its actions after they have taken place. I believe the grain deal will continue, as Turkey holds sufficient leverage over Russia, and even if Russia were to withdraw, there is no reason why the deal could not continue without them.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Amanda, may I ask a personal question? You are well-informed and read extensively. You moderate and participate in various events. When do you find time for your private life?

AMANDA PAUL: I believe everyone has time for their private life. I tend to prioritise my evenings for my personal life and spending time with my children. I still have to go home and cook dinner. Even though they are in their 20s, they still ask me what’s for dinner. I still have to wash their clothes out, do the house workout and see my friends.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: As a woman in the Brussels bubble, do you feel that you had any particular challenges to overcome to become a known and respected person to listen to?

AMANDA PAUL: Honestly, I cannot say that I have encountered any significant challenges. Perhaps I have been fortunate, as I know that is not always the case. However, I do believe that there is a need for women to have a stronger voice and better representation, especially in high-ranking positions within EU institutions, the European Parliament, and other organisations. There are still too many events where men outnumber women, particularly in areas like security and defence. Personally, I have not experienced any issues in that regard. I have always been invited to various discussions and events, both here and elsewhere.

When organising events at the EPC, I make a concerted effort to ensure gender balance among the panels and discussions. This is also a policy of the EPC. I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunities I have had over the years, especially to work on Ukraine and the entire Eastern Partnership. Many people would appreciate the chance to work on Ukraine because it is a great country; it offers great career prospects and contributes significantly. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to support Ukraine and work on its affairs, particularly during this critical time when every effort matters. Even small contributions can make a difference. It is crucial to maintain long-term support for Ukraine.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: A few years ago, you shared with me a story about a former Ambassador Edison. He asked you, “Ever sometimes, he called you and he asked, “Amanda, what did you do for Ukraine today?” And you sometimes woke up with such thoughts.

AMANDA PAUL: I believe many people wake up with that mindset now. However, back in those days, during the first phase of the war, the Ambassador was a very strong voice, and a very sharp tongue, as well. He urged us to wake up and think about what we could do for Ukraine each day. That sentiment still resonates with me, to be honest. Not a day goes by when I do not wake up and consider Ukraine. I believe the same applies to many analysts working on the region. Ukraine holds a significant place in my portfolio, and I think about it every single day. I contemplate what more can be done, what new publications can be released, and what events can be organised to better assist Ukraine in achieving victory and moving towards a brighter future as part of the European Union.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Is there anything you would like to say to Ukrainians or our audience, especially Europeans who will be watching this podcast? Anything in particular?

AMANDA PAUL: Maybe, just to reiterate, it is important that we continue to support Ukraine until the end of this brutal war, ensuring that we stand on the right side of history. We must not forget the atrocities that Russia has committed against the Ukrainian people. European leaders need to maintain the momentum and continue to explain to their populations why it is crucial to keep supporting Ukraine, despite the challenges faced and those that lie ahead. This fight is not just about Ukraine; it encompasses the entire European continent, defending sovereignty, independence of states, and our own security and stability against a significant aggressor.

DR. MARTA BARANDIY: Amanda, thank you very much for the insightful interview. I hope we can talk again in six months, this time to celebrate the victory. This has been Unlock Ukraine with Amanda Paul, an expert of European Policy Centre. Do not forget to subscribe for more insightful interviews and podcasts!

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