Turkey is still keen to join the European Union, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister has said, pointedly telling the bloc: “You need us”. Meanwhile Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has hinted at the possibility of direct flights between Russia and Northern Cyprus in a move which would likely raise concerns in Brussels.
Faruk Kaymakci claimed Russia would not have invaded Ukraine had his country been a member-state.
Mr Kaymakci, the Turkish Government’s director of EU affairs, was speaking to Austrian reporters on the sidelines of the Alpbach European Forum.
Emphasising Turkey’s aspirations, he said: “For us, it is a question of identity and belonging.
“We belong to the West. EU membership will complete this process.”
Nearly four in five Turks wanted to join the bloc, Mr Kaymakci claimed, adding: “Europe needs Turkey’s membership.
“If Turkey had been in the EU, the war in Ukraine could have been prevented.
“Because Turkey makes a difference to the security and defence policy balance.”
Unlike many current member of the EU27, Turkey is a Muslim-majority country.
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“The clearer the EU perspective, the more reforms you will see. It was the same with other EU enlargements.”
He also took a swipe at both Greece and the Greek Cypriots, blaming them for the deterioration in relations with Turkey, with disputes including borders in the Aegean Sea, and the ongoing wrangle with Cyprus over the northern part of the island and mineral resources in the sea.
Mr Kaymakci accused the two nations of abusing their right of veto in the EU and holding the bloc hostage with their “maximalist demands”.
He said: “Most people in the EU tell us that accepting the Greek Cypriots into the EU before the conflict is resolved was the biggest mistake.”
Mr Erdogan was quoted by broadcaster NTV on Thursday as saying that he discussed the start of direct flights from Russia to northern Cyprus with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The breakaway Turkish state on the northern side of the divided island is only recognised by Ankara. Flights from Russia would provide support for the economy there, given the potential tourism income, Mr Erdogan said.
He explained: “If direct flights start from Russia to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, we will of course be pleased.”
The rise in tourism would lead to a “serious leap regarding the economy”, he added.
Turkish media reported the Turkish Cypriot transport minister as saying two Russian airlines were interested in starting flights to the new Ercan Airport, which will be opened on November 15.
Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Since then, Cyprus has been run by a Greek Cypriot administration in the south which Ankara does not recognise.
(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)