Throughout Russia’s five-month war in Ukraine, the government of Turkey has largely remained on the sidelines, declining to press sanctions against Moscow in key areas such as aviation and presenting itself as a neutral mediator between the two sides.
However, Turkey’s Baykar drone manufacturer, best known for its manufacture and export of the TB-2 Bayraktar drone, clearly placed itself on one side of the conflict on Monday after its CEO claimed that the company would “never” do business with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in late February.
“We have not delivered or supplied them with anything,” Haluk Bayraktar, the company’s CEO and the son of its co-founder, told CNN in an interview. “We will as well never do such a thing because we support Ukraine, support its sovereignty, its resistance for its independence.”
Bayraktar added that he found it “very touching” that his eponymous drone, which only costs around $5 million per unit and has regularly destroyed far more valuable ground targets throughout the conflict, had been transformed into a symbol of Ukrainian defiance. Bayraktar praised the “years of cooperation” Ukraine had enjoyed with Turkey and his firm, underscoring that the “strong bonds” that had formed would remain throughout the conflict.
In recent weeks, Baykar announced that it would donate several of the drones to Ukraine’s armed forces for free after several countries, including Lithuania and Poland, engaged in crowdfunding campaigns intended to purchase the drones. After each country had raised more than $5 million, Baykar donated the drones to Ukraine for free and instructed the crowdfunding projects to commit the money to humanitarian relief in Ukraine. Baykar later reached an agreement with Lithuania specifying that roughly $1.5 million of the $6 million raised altogether would be spent on purchasing munitions for the drone, but the rest would go to humanitarian causes. Bayraktar also claimed that the company had donated to several of the campaigns itself and had already delivered the systems it had promised from the crowdfunding campaigns to Ukraine.
Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov claimed in June that the country had received fifty of the drones from Baykar since the beginning of the war, in addition to the twenty it owned beforehand and an additional sixteen purchased on January 27, less than a month before the Russian invasion began. It is unclear how many of the drones continue to operate, as Russia is documented to have shot down several of the aircraft and Ukraine’s defense ministry has carefully guarded the number still active.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.