Turkish defence minister says Turkey favours peaceful end to Ukraine-Russia tension

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that his country would like to see a peaceful end to the heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday. 

"As we've always said, we're in favor of a peaceful end to the tension between Russia and Ukraine respecting territorial integrity within the framework of international law," said Hulusi Akar in a video conference with senior military staff.

Akar underlined that Ukraine is considered a strategic ally of Turkey and that it would provide "all kinds of support to solving this issue with peaceful means through ensuring dialogue.” 

The defence minister also repeated statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who met with Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelensky on Saturday in Istanbul on Turkey's support for Ukrainian sovereignty. 

“We, as the state, made our declarations on the security, territorial integrity and peace of them (Ukraine). We said we closely follow the future and presence of Crimean Tatars there,” Akar said, according to the pro-government Daily Sabah

Russia has been building up the size of its military forces along Ukraine's borders in recent weeks. There are now over 80,000 soldiers stationed opposite the contested Donbas region and 42,000 on the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine and its allies in the West, including the United States, have demanded Russia draw down its forces. 

At a NATO summit in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance's support for Ukraine and called Russia's troop movements “unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning.” Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on the same day that its military exercises would go on for another two weeks and that the build-up was in response to what it saw as NATO's threats to its western borders. 

Turkey has rejected Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, but declined to join Western sanctions against Russia at time. Ankara and Kyiv have deepened their defence relationship in recent years, a development that has irked the Kremlin. 

On Monday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised Turkish military support for Ukraine as "encouraging" what it saw as Ukrainian aggression against the pro-Russia separatists in the Donbas.