Turkey, balancing Russia ties, says drones to Ukraine are sales not aid -Sabah

A Turkish flag flies next to NATO logo at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels
A Turkish flag flies next to NATO logo at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

ANKARA, March 3 (Reuters) - Turkey's drone shipments to Ukraine are not military aid but rather private sales, a deputy Turkish foreign minister was quoted as saying on Thursday, underscoring Ankara's effort to avoid offending Moscow amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

NATO member Turkey, which shares a maritime border with Russia and Ukraine and has good ties with both, has criticised the invasion as unacceptable but avoided the harsher rhetoric of other alliance members and opposes their use of sanctions.

Turkey cooperates closely with Russia in energy, trade and defence. It has also sold Bayraktar TB-2 drones to Kyiv and signed a deal to co-produce more during a visit there last month by President Tayyip Erdogan, angering Moscow. read more

On Wednesday, Ukraine's defence minister said it received a fresh shipment of the armed drones, which have proven effective in recent years against Russian forces and their allies in conflicts in Syria and Libya. read more

In an interview with pro-government newspaper Sabah, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran said Kyiv had purchased the drones from Baykar, a private Turkish defence company, stressing this did not represent an agreement between the nations.

"Ukraine wanted to buy this product from our firm, and they made a strong deal among themselves," Kiran said, according to Sabah.

"This is not help from Turkey. These are products Ukraine bought from a Turkish company. Of course, we are proud of these products," he added.

The comments come as Western nations ramp up sanctions on Russia and military aid for Ukraine as it fights to fend off a slew of Russian attacks. read more

Since Russia launched its invasion a week ago, the Ukrainian Embassy in Ankara has posted several videos of what they say are Turkish-made drones hitting Russian targets. Sabah called this manipulation meant to cause Turkey-Russia friction.

Russia had previously raised concerns with Turkey over Ukraine's use of the drones in the country's east, but Ankara says it is not responsible for what buyers do. Cheaper than U.S. and Chinese rivals, Turkish drones have attracted buyers from Europe, Africa and Asia. read more

Turkey - also heavily reliant on Russian tourists - this week closed its straits linking the Mediterranean and Black Seas to all military traffic under a 1936 pact, allowing it to limit passage of some Russian warships.

Highlighting its tough balance, Turkey abstained from a vote to suspend Moscow's membership in the Council of Europe. Yet on Monday at the U.N. General Assembly it slammed Russia's invasion and called for countries to defend Ukrainian people.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer

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