Mediator with his own agenda: Putin’s war puts Erdogan in serious trouble

The first high-level talks between Ukraine and Russia tomorrow – mediated by Turkey. Its President Erdogan maintains relations with all sides in Moscow, Kiev and NATO. But Erdogan’s handling of Russian President Putin is tricky.

Turkey is in a quandary. With every support or non-support of Ukraine in Russia’s war of aggression, without every intervention or interference, Ankara hurts an important ally. Turkey continues to maintain good relations with both Moscow and Kiev. As a NATO member, it will have obligations to the West during an alliance. It is therefore important that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintain himself without losing touch with this triangular team. However, it’s not just good relationships that are at risk – it’s about preventing an economic disaster in your own country and protecting your own borders.

“The war in Ukraine has become a threat to Ankara’s own security because Turkey sees itself in Russia’s control,” Rasim Mars explained in an interview with ntv.de. Russian troops were already approaching her from southern Syria, now, through the Crimean base of Sevastopol north of the Black Sea. Mars is a historian and publicist on the history of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. He says: “If the Black Sea becomes the Russian waters after the war, it will be a very bad situation for Turkey.” Because every Russian expansion in the south has traditionally tense the country – and has been for more than a century.

The shock of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the continuing threat of the Tsarist Empire are still there. In the late 1880s, Mars recalled, “Russian troops were 30 kilometers from Istanbul and were about to capture the capital.” “The Turks can’t forget it.” In principle, Turkey is in a similar situation to the Baltic states. “They want to avoid direct Russian occupation at any cost.”

Issuance of war drones to Ukraine

Ankara did not want to annoy Moscow, but as the war intensified it became difficult for Erdogan to sustain the initial recession. So that is relevant After initial reluctance, a few days after the war began, he finally took office schloss Turkish Strait at Tortanelles and Phosphorus for foreign warships for the first time since World War II. While Ankara is blocking the only access to the Black Sea where Russian war ports are located, it is trying to keep the balancing act going. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quick to assure that the siege was not specifically targeted at Russia, only the implementation of international law Montreux agreement.

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Sending Turkish war drones to Ukraine would only make Turkish-Russian relations worse than closing the strait. Turkish manufacturer Bayraktar’s drone is celebrated online as a miracle weapon – many videos of successful drone operations against Russian convoys or supply trucks are distributed. The Ukrainian embassy in Turkey also posted similar videos on Twitter praising the weapon with the words “Mashalla director DP2”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky also stressed that his country had benefited from the drones. Tasks cannot be proven independently.

However, it is certain that Ukraine has Turkish war drones. They were already used in the struggle against Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine before the war of aggression, which is why Putin has already warned Erdogan. Erdogan dismissed the threats And defended deliveries, which continued even after the start of the war. “New pilots have already arrived in Ukraine and entered the service,” Defense Minister Oleksi Resnikov wrote on Facebook on Tuesday after the start of the war.

Crimea has “historical significance” for Ankara

Turkish expert Mars says that Turkey feels obligated to Ukraine as a Black Sea neighbor because it has become a key partner in the region. “Trade between countries increased, especially after the annexation of Crimea.” Last year it was more than five billion dollars. A few weeks before the war, Erdogan and Selensky signed a free trade agreement and said armed cooperation should be strengthened. In addition, Turkey is the largest foreign investor in Ukraine.

“Good trade relations with Ukraine are also driven by the fact that Ankara wants to have a non-EU member on its side,” Mars explains. This will be an opportunity to build a strong economic connection with Europe. This has been difficult in the past due to EU sanctions on Turkey. In addition to economic interests, Mars says, “one must not forget the historical significance of Ukraine and Crimea in this conflict.” “For more than 300 years, Crimea was part of the Ottoman Empire, thus defending its dominance in the Black Sea.” Ankara is also responsible for the minority Crimean Tatars living in Ukraine.

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During the conflict in Crimea, Erdogan called on Putin to ensure peaceful coexistence between Ukrainians, Russians and Tatars. After the merger, he condemned Moscow’s actions but did not support Western sanctions. The situation is the same today: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemns Russia’s war of aggression, but does not participate in sanctions and “does not want to do that,” Foreign Minister Gavzoklu made clear on Turkish television.

Economically dependent on Moscow

As for Turkey, it is economically at risk: it receives 44 percent of its gas and oil from Russia, as does Germany. Two-thirds of all wheat supplies come from trading partners in the East, and the Russian state-owned company Rosatam builds the first nuclear power plant in Turkey. The continued departure and landing of Russian airlines at Turkish airports may also be the reason why Russia plays a key role in Turkish tourism: Last year, the Russians were the largest group of foreign holidaymakers in the country. If trade relations with Moscow deteriorate, the Turkish economy will take it all in stride – and it is already reeling from the currency crisis.

So what to do? Only for its own benefit, Ankara is keen to defuse the conflict as soon as possible. Even before the war, Erdogan had established himself as a mediator. Ahead of a phone call between him and Putin last weekend, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin again spoke of Ankara as a “neutral mediator” in the Ukraine conflict. After the West “burned the bridges,” someone else had to talk to Russia. “It is important to have a relationship that Moscow believes in,” he said.

In fact, Turkey is one of the few NATO members with good relations with both Moscow and Kiev. Ankara and Moscow are more common than pure Trade relationship. Despite strong criticism from NATO partners, Turkey acquired the Russian air defense system. “Western criticism also unites states,” says Mars. “President Erdogan has repeatedly accused European leaders of not speaking out in unison over the conflict in Ukraine.” The president now wants to use his weaknesses to establish himself as a mediator. He is already somewhat successful. The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine will hold talks in Turkey on Thursday. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter that the meeting between Sergei Lavrov and Dimitrov Kuleba would take place on the sidelines of a conference in Antalya.

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“Ankara is not equal”

However, Frank Sauer says in an interview with ntv.de that one should not expect much from this meeting. “I hope Russia will continue to insist on its maximum demand.” According to an expert from the German Armed Forces University in Munich, Russia “demands full self-reliance on policy” and talks have stalled as Ukraine fights again. Turkish expert Mars does not believe that the Turkish president of all people can do much about this. Turkey “sees Russia as the heir to an equally great power and capable of achieving greater success as a mediator than the EU.” However, this does not apply in any other way. “Moscow does not see Turkey as equal,” explains the historian. When she sees herself as a world power since Soviet times, “Turkey is only a regional power in her view.”

In addition, the relationship between President Erdogan and President Putin should not be overestimated, the expert warns. “From a Turkish point of view, there is no friendship with Moscow.” Mars recalled the events of the past few years, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on its border with Syria and Moscow responded with severe sanctions until Erdogan publicly apologized. “The relationship between the two leaders is a shared role of interests,” Mars said. In order to avoid conflicts, the balance of power in Syria and Libya was clearly defined, where Russia and Turkey supported different parties to the conflict. The link can be described as a “crisis-proof work relationship,” says the expert. Above all, he insists, “Turkey still sees Russia as a historical enemy.”

Although mediation efforts in the Ukraine war have not been fruitful, Erdogan could pursue other interests with them. “Turkey seeks closer integration into NATO through its mediating role,” Mars says. He wants to regain the confidence of his allies who have lost in recent years. With all the interests that Turkey pursues in this conflict, this is the most important thing – “Now the conflict is in a corner.”

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