The presidents of Turkey and Russia met this Friday in Sochi. How Erdogan manages to maintain relations with Moscow and at the same time help Ukraine in the war? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin this Friday (05/08) in the Russian town of Sochi. Among other topics, they discussed the war in Ukraine and the resumption of grain exports across the Black Sea, made possible by a deal Turkey helped broker.
Shortly before the meeting between the heads of state, DW interviewed Maryna Vorotnyuk, an expert on the Black Sea region at the Royal United Services Institute in London, about Ankara’s mediation role and how Erdogan is managing to maintain his political balance. between Russia and Ukraine. .
DW: Is it fair to say that the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports is primarily a success for Turkey, as a mediating nation, and for Erdogan?
Maryna Vorotnyuk: First of all, Turkey’s position towards Ukraine and Russia is quite complex and ambiguous. Although Turkey is a member of NATO, it has always sought to position itself as a bridge between the West and Russia. Turkey has its own strategic national interests and it is not in its interest to take an openly pro-NATO or pro-Russia, or pro-Ukraine stance. The fact that she was able to play the role of mediator between Ukraine and Russia in the wheat deal is probably proof that Russia also considers Turkey’s role quite useful to Russian interests and, of course, in this way. it tries to extract some diplomatic and political dividends for itself. The lifting of the blockade on Ukrainian ports is a very important event and Turkey’s role in this is truly significant.
What is Erdogan’s secret? How does he manage to put himself in both positions? On the one hand, Turkey supplies Bayraktar drones to Ukraine and at the same time positions itself as a mediator. On the other hand, Turkey has not imposed sanctions on Russia and is helping Russia to obtain Western sanctioned goods.
This position reflects Turkey’s strategic culture. Turkey has its own strategic interests, and it is by following these interests that it plays the role of an equidistant partner for Russia and Ukraine. This means that for Turkey there is no contradiction in supplying Bayraktar drones to Ukraine; or, for example, Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which to some extent also clashes with Russian interests; or, on the other hand, in supporting Russia’s opponents in Syria or Libya, by also purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems, allowing the Russian company Rosatom to build a nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, Turkey, or by purchasing Russian gas .
Therefore, there are a number of factors that, at first glance, seem to contradict each other. But Turkey is managing to maintain that balance between Russia and the West. You asked what Erdogan’s secret is. It is often said that Erdogan and Putin have a good understanding: two authoritarian leaders, who have a specific leadership style and are able to resolve certain conflicts in high-level contacts – often, it is believed, on the basis of trust. However, it is clear to us that it is not really about trust, but about a certain respect for mutual interests. And that respect allows them to share spheres of influence in the region, including the Black Sea.
Many people had predicted that, sooner or later, Turkey’s open support for Ukraine would cross the red line for Russia and lead to a direct confrontation between Russia and Turkey. We are not yet seeing open comparisons.
You spoke on a red line. Where does Russia draw this line in its cooperation with Turkey?
Turkey is being very careful not to cross these red lines. This means: yes, the supply of Bayraktars is a sore point in Russian-Turkish relations. Turkey at this point is stepping on Russia’s toes. But at the same time, it’s doing everything it can to make sure it doesn’t hurt too much, and it’s trying to make up for it by making concessions in other strategic areas. For example, by trying to respond very cautiously to Russian policy towards the Black Sea. Even though Turkey is an extremely important player in the Black Sea region, we still see that it allows Russia to dominate the Black Sea.
Turkey is trying to offer Russia some dividends as it has not adhered to the imposition of sanctions, has not closed its airspace to Russian planes after February 24 – thus allowing Russian planes to fly internationally – and continues to receive Russian tourists.
To what extent does Erdogan act independently in the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine? Do you coordinate your approach with the United States?
It’s hard to say. The fact is that the Turkish-American dialogue has been overshadowed in recent years by very serious conflicts. When Joe Biden became president, there was hope that he would try to resume dialogue with Turkey, as he is aware of Turkey’s strategic importance. At the moment, we are not seeing any significant improvement in these relationships. So I would not say that there is specific coordination on a routine basis regarding Russia. It doesn’t seem possible to me. But of course each takes into account the interests of the other.
Several rounds of talks between Russia and Ukraine have already taken place in Turkey. To what extent can Turkey try to exert pressure on Ukraine in the coming weeks or months to resume negotiations with Russia, for example for a ceasefire?
I am very pessimistic about it. To what extent can a mediator play a constructive role if the aggressor state is unwilling to cease its armed activities? I think we need to be clear about the limits of Turkey’s position on this. As for Turkey’s attempts to push Ukraine into some sort of deal, we are already seeing that. If you look at Erdogan’s vocabulary, and at that of other Turkish representatives, they say it is very important to achieve peace, and then carefully try to circumvent the question of who is the main obstacle to peace. What Russia is doing now is just an attempt to buy time. It is an attempt to present itself as a trusted partner who cares to feed the world but who actually continues to pursue its military goals in Ukraine. And if Turkey is trying to present the wheat deal as a way to a [novo] agreement, this seems to me somewhat illusory, because in Russia’s strategic calculations it is certainly possible that these two factors, these two political orientations, coexist.