Erdogan’s secret. How Turkey benefits from the war in Ukraine


Sell ​​”Bayraktary” to Ukraine and help Russia mitigate the effect of Western sanctions? In an interview with DW, expert Maryna Vorotniuk explained how President Erdogan manages to sit on two chairs.

Against the backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine, a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Turkey – Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – is scheduled for August 5 in Sochi. DW spoke with Ukrainian expert Maryna Vorotnyuk, associate scientist of the British think tank RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) about Ankara’s mediation in the export of Ukrainian grain and how Turkey manages to balance between Kyiv and Moscow.

DW: What are your expectations from Erdogan’s visit to Putin? How would you describe their personal relationship and how did it change after Russia’s open invasion of Ukraine?

Maryna Vorotniuk: We do not see any particular changes. You can try, say, to read veiled signals. For example, how much during the last meeting Erdogan made Putin wait for him in front of the cameras (case at the summit in Tehran – ed.). We see that the agreement on the export of Ukrainian grain, which Turkey helped to conclude between Ukraine and Russia, has begun to work. This is a brilliant opportunity for both Russia and Turkey to try to present the significant role they played in the negotiation process. There will be questions about the nuclear power plant that “Rosatom” is building in Turkey, there will be questions about energy, about the supply of natural gas, of course there will be questions about the Crimean Tatars, etc.

Is the recovery of Ukrainian grain exports a success primarily for Turkey?

The position of Turkey in relation to Ukraine and Russia is quite complex and ambiguous. Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, has always tried to play the role of a bridge between the West and Russia. Turkey has its own strategic national interests, and it is not in its interests to take an openly pro-Native or pro-Russian position, as well as a pro-Ukrainian position. And, in principle, the fact that it managed to play the role of mediator between Ukraine and Russia in this grain agreement is probably an indication that Russia also sees the role of Turkey as quite useful for Russian interests and is trying to get its diplomatic and political dividends .

Unblocking Ukrainian ports is a very important event, Turkey’s role here is really significant.

What is Erdogan’s secret? How does he manage to sit on two chairs? On the one hand, Turkey supplies Ukraine with Bayraktar drones and at the same time positions itself as an intermediary. And at the same time, Turkey does not introduce sanctions against Russia – on the contrary, it obviously helps Russia to get some goods that the West does not supply due to sanctions.

This position is a reflection of Turkey’s strategic culture. Turkey has its own strategic interests, and these interests include playing the role of an equidistant partner for both Russia and Ukraine. That is, there is no contradiction for Turkey in the fact that it supplies “Bayraktars” to Ukraine or, for example, to Azerbaijan in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, where there are also certain clashes with Russian interests; or supports parties opposed to Russia in Syria or Libya and at the same time buys Russian S-400s; allows the Russian company “Rosatom” to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey and buys Russian gas.

There are a number of factors that, at first glance, would seem to contradict each other. But Turkey manages to continue this balancing act between Russia and the West. What is Erdogan’s secret, you asked? Many people very often talk about some kind of personal “chemistry” between him and Putin: two authoritarian leaders who have a certain management style and can resolve some conflicting issues at the highest level, as they say, very often trustingly. But we understand that, probably, it is not a question of trust, but rather that there is a certain respect for each other’s interests. And this respect allows them to share spheres of influence in the region, particularly in the Black Sea.

Many predicted that Turkey’s open support for Ukraine would sooner or later become a “red line” for Russia and lead to a direct clash between Russia and Turkey. We still do not see an open confrontation.

You mentioned the “red line”. And where does it take place for Russia in cooperation with Turkey?

Turkey is very careful not to cross these “red lines”. That is, the supply of “Bayraktars” – yes, this is an exposed nerve in relations between Russia and Turkey. This is a Russian corn on which Turkey is attacking, but at the same time Turkey is doing everything to make it not too painful, trying to compensate for it with concessions in other strategic areas. For example, trying to react very cautiously to Russian policy in the Black Sea. Despite the fact that Turkey is the most important player in the Black Sea, we see that it allows Russia to dominate the Black Sea.

Turkey is trying to offer some sort of dividend to Russia by not joining the sanctions, by not closing its airspace to Russian aircraft after February 24, by allowing Russian aircraft to fly internationally and by inviting Russian tourists.

Can we say that Turkey benefits from Russia’s war with Ukraine, makes money from it – politically and financially?

So. It, without openly challenging Russia, allows it to find loopholes to try to “dilute” the sanctions, because Turkey is an important player. Let’s not say that it is an economic player of the first league, but it is an important regional player – both from a strategic point of view and from a security point of view. If Turkey questions the appropriateness of sanctions, that is, a number of states and a number of population groups, in particular in Western countries, Western societies, who will hear this narrative, and who will also say, “why should we freeze in winter because of the fact that the United States has unleashed an aggressive war on Ukrainian soil against Russia. Russia was provoked and is reacting.”

I have now voiced a narrative that is very popular, particularly in Turkey. There is a certain objective tendency – anti-Americanism, anti-Nation sentiments. On the other hand, Turkey sympathizes with Ukrainian injuries. Of course, all these videos and photos from Ukraine do not leave the Turkish population indifferent.

Several rounds of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have already taken place in Turkey. To what extent can Ankara in the coming weeks try to gently push Ukraine to resume negotiations with Russia regarding the ceasefire?

I am very pessimistic about this issue. To what extent can the mediator play a constructive role if the aggressor state is not ready to stop its armed actions? I think we should understand the limitations of Turkey’s position on this issue.

As for Turkey’s attempts to push Ukraine to some kind of agreement, we can already see it, it is already happening. If you follow the vocabulary of Erdogan and other Turkish officials, they say that it is very important to make peace and try very gently to avoid the question of who is the main obstacle on the way to peace. What Russia is doing now is simply an attempt to buy time. An attempt to present itself as a benevolent partner who cares deeply about global food security, but in fact continues to pursue its military goals in Ukraine. And when Turkey tries to present an agreement (regarding grain – ed.) as a way to settlement, it seems to me that this is a certain illusion.

Source: Ukrainian service DW

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