MERSIN, Turkey — The Ukrainian Navy has accepted delivery of the first Bayraktar TB2 drone from Turkish defense company Baykar, according to Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.

The ministry announced the delivery on July 15 through its official Twitter account. After completing acceptance tests, the drone, along with mobile control terminals and spare parts, will be deployed at the Ukrainian Navy’s 10th Naval Aviation Brigade in Mykolaiv.

Baykar announced in 2019 that it won a $69 million contract to sell six TB2 combat UAVs to Ukraine. Turkish officials at the time said the deal included ammunition for the armed drones.

The Ukrainian Navy’s chief of staff, Oleksiy Neizhpapa, previously said the combat UAVs are expected to be delivered by the end of 2021. “This year, the Navy will receive the first set of the Bayraktar unmanned complex, which surface forces and marines will use both in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov,” Neizhpapa said May 12 during the All-Ukrainian Forum “Ukraine 30.″

In recent years, Turkey and Ukraine have strengthened their military bonds. But Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and annexed it in March 2014, has pushed back at the growing defense relationship.

“We strongly advise our Turkish colleagues to carefully assess the situation and refrain from fueling Kyiv’s militaristic sentiment,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying in Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on May 24.

In October 2020, Turkey and Ukraine signed an agreement under which the former would build corvettes and drones for the latter, while Ukraine would provide gas turbines to Turkey. In a July 4 speech celebrating Ukraine’s Navy Day, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Turkey has begun construction of the first Ada-class corvette for the service and plans to deliver it by 2023.

Turkish Aerospace Industries also signed a contract with Ukrainian defense firm Motor Sich to supply engines for Turkey’s T129 Atak helicopters. The helicopter program has been riddled with delays due to export license problems.

In addition, there are plans to equip Turkey’s I-class frigates with Ukrainian-made gas turbine engines. Turkey wanted to equip the frigates with General Electric LM2500 gas turbines, but the plan was scrapped due to U.S. sanctions. Now Turkey is to equip the warships with gas turbines manufactured by Ukraine’s Zorya-Mashproekt.

Mehmet Cem Demirci, a political analyst based in Turkey, told Defense News that new leadership in the United States is helping to drive Turkey-Ukraine relations. Both the U.S. and Turkey are NATO allies, and Ukraine has expressed interest in joining the coalition.

“Despite Russia, Turkey has engaged with Ukraine under its foreign policy objectives and arms industry priorities, which are also consistent with Biden’s policies,” Demirci said. “The effects of Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections on the international system, as well as the adoption of the 2030 document that guides NATO’s future vision, ushered in a new era in relations between NATO, the United States and Russia because Russia was explicitly mentioned as a threat to NATO in this document.”

The annexation of Crimea as well as separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine have raised security concerns among NATO members, particularly those in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. One effort, the Three Seas Initiative, launched by the United States with the participation of NATO and the European Union, aims to connect the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas on a north-south axis while also economically isolating regional countries from Russia.

But the U.S. and Turkey have also butted heads over the latter’s acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Russia as well as its close cooperation with Russia in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars.

“However, given their shared historical background and strategic objectives, it would be fair to say that Russia-Turkey relations are both temporal and tactical. As a result, the rapprochement between Ukraine and Turkey, particularly in the field of arms production, must be assessed in this context,” Demirci said.

Tayfun Ozberk is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News.

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