Turkey’s drones win friends from Azerbaijan to the UAE

Frankie Vetch


Turkey delivered 120 Bayraktar drones to the UAE last week, despite a history of tension between the two countries. The move is an example of how the technology is a powerful diplomatic tool for President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s regime.

The UAE and Turkey have fought proxy wars against each other in Libya, Egypt, and the Horn of Africa. Notably, the UAE had supported one side of the 2019 to 2020 Libya war with Chinese drones, while Turkey had provided the other side with Bayraktar drones.

The Turkish state has also previously accused the UAE of participating in a 2016 coup attempt to overthrow it. But relations have been improving in the last year, and the sale of the drones could mark a key turning point in that shift.

The UAE has been harboring a Turkish mafia boss, Sedat Peker, who has made a number of explosive videos unveiling alleged corruption within Erdogan’s government. Last month, Peker released a video that led to two Erdogan aides resigning. Reports indicate that the authorities in the UAE gave Peker a recent warning to curtail his online activities. The fact that the delivery of the drones came in the wake of this action has led to some speculation that the two events could be connected.

If this were true, it would be further evidence of how the sought-after drones have given Turkey a particularly strong bargaining chip as it sets about achieving its diplomatic goals. The Bayraktar has now likely been sold to twenty four countries, including Ukraine.

While a lot of these sales have in the past raised eyebrows, the war in Ukraine has reformed the image of the Bayraktar for many, as we have reported before. The weapon has an almost mythical status in Ukraine, where popular songs have been produced about it and pets named after it. Earlier this month, the love affair deepened as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced plans to build a Baykar (the company that produces the Bayraktar drone) factory in Ukraine.

Henri Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, says it is unclear at this stage whether Turkey seeks to gain anything specific from its sale of Bayraktar drones to the UAE. It might just be general goodwill Turkey is after. As, Barkey says, “Turkey is trying to take advantage of the good press Bayraktar drones have gotten, especially in the Ukraine conflict. The more they sell the more attention they get and the more money they make”, says Barkey.

A week after Zelenskiy’s announcement, videos emerged online showing the Turkish drones being used by Azerbaijani forces to bomb Armenian targets. The bombings were part of recent attacks conducted by Azerbaijani forces within Armenian borders. The drones played a vital role in helping Azerbaijan defeat Armenia in a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2020, overturning a twenty year military advantage held by the latter over the former. The effectiveness of the drones in battle hugely enhanced Ankara’s influence and status in the region.

Critics point out that at the same time that the Bayrakter is being praised for helping to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine, the drones are aiding Azerbaijan’s infringement on the sovereignty of Armenia. This flexibility in who Turkey sells its drones to is another reason why the weapons are proving such an effective foreign policy tool; it enables Turkey to transcend geopolitics and make friends from all corners of the world. 

Joe Dyke, head of investigations at Airwars, which tracks civilian casualties caused by airstrikes typical of international military interventions, says that the Bayraktar “has given Turkey a soft power that it didn’t have in the munitions field.” It has had, he adds, a “major impact” in helping Turkish-backed militaries and militias achieve victories in conflicts in Northern Syria, Libya, and the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. But he also says that these were conflicts fought against Russian-backed forces and it is yet to be seen how the drones would fare against more sophisticated militaries.

For now, though, Turkey is successfully flexing its muscles on the international stage, providing technology that less militarily advanced countries cannot resist.


San Francisco lawmakers have approved a controversial new law that is poised to expand police surveillance. Privacy advocates are sounding the alarm about the policy, which was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week, and will allow police officers to monitor the live footage of thousands of private security cameras without a search warrant, as long as the businesses and individuals that own the cameras grant the police permission. 

According to the legislation, cops will be able to monitor the cameras for crime investigations and “significant events with public safety concerns.” Critics argue that the policy is overly broad and gives law enforcement a blank check for widespread surveillance, including the monitoring of political protests under the umbrella of “public safety concerns.” A supervisor who argued unsuccessfully against the plan said “it feels like we’re yet again giving away more power to the police department to surveil our activities when we’re expressing our opinion against the government. That’s becoming a scarier and scarier thing to do in this country.”

Biometric data collection is coming soon to Morocco’s land border with the EU. The Spanish government recently announced plans to deploy a new “entry and exit” policy along the Tarjal border, which separates Morocco from Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city in the North African country. The crossing, one of the European Union’s only two land borders with Africa, is one of the world’s most fortified, lined with multiple layers of towering chain-link fence, barbed wire, and video surveillance. Now, add biometric data collection to the list. Spain’s newly announced “border control” program, which is part of the European Commission’s “smart border” package, will collect the biometric data of anyone traveling from Morocco to Ceuta. Madrid’s announcement comes just a few months after Tarjal reopened following two years of closure because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve reported extensively on the expansion of surveillance along borders. For more, you can check out pieces here and here.

Call it the Instagram-to-prison pipeline. A teenage Russian beauty influencer is facing six years in prison over her activity on the social media platform. While Instagram has been blocked in the country since March, scores of Russians still access the app via virtual private networks, or VPNs. It’s unclear why police have targeted the 18-year-old beauty and fashion influencer, Veronika Loginova. In a statement posted on Instagram, Loginova said police officers showed up at her apartment and threatened her with a six-year prison sentence. Her crime? “Taking actions to attract users to Facebook and Instagram,” according to Russia’s state communications regulator, which “can be considered as a form of participation in the activities of an extremist organization.” “Now for maintaining Instagram I face a prison term of 6 years,” she wrote. “Me? 18-year-old girl, a fashion blogger? A person who posts about mental health support and never touched a political agenda on this blog? This is not normal.” 

This week’s newsletter is curated by Coda’s staff reporter Erica Hellerstein. Rebekah Robinson and Rayan El Amine contributed to this edition.

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