Erdogan and Putin: a complicated relationship with mutual benefit

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BRUSSELS — Turkey’s business president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in political trouble ahead of next year’s elections, his economy exploding, a central bank nearly out of foreign exchange and volcano inflation running nearly 80 percent a year.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has his own troubles, a war has broken out in Ukraine, and Russia’s industry and broader economy are facing tough economic sanctions.

Mutual challenges have brought the two men closer than ever. They have met twice in the last three weeks, Most recent last weekend in SochiRussia, hoping to reduce its vulnerabilities by expanding its partnership and agreeing, Mr. Erdogan said on economic cooperation that he expects to total $100 billion.

It is a relationship that raises the hackles of Mr. Erdogan’s NATO allies, as he offers Mr. Putin a huge hole in the dam of sanctions that the West has to build in its effort to stop Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine. Have worked hard. some surprise Where Mr. Erdogan’s True Loyalty Liesbeyond selfishness.

There is no doubt that, for now, the bond is proving to be mutually beneficial, as the details of their conversation emerge later. For Mr. Putin, the benefits include energy and arms sales, investments and close ties with a member of NATO, which is trying to isolate him and help Ukraine defeat its invading army.

Turkey, which is not a member of the European Union, has refused to impose Western sanctions against Russia. It is exploring ways to work with otherwise approved Russian banks and accept payments via Russian credit cards. Russian gas flows seamlessly through the Turkstream pipeline. There are also reports that Russia is seeking Turkey’s help in providing a “subsystem” for its weapons, which can no longer directly source Western components.

For Mr. Erdogan, the benefits include cash investments in the central bank, cheap energy, global importance, a large export market, the renewal of Russian tourism and, crucially, his politically popular efforts to crush Kurdish separatism in Syria. Russian sanctions, where Russia supports the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

But the two leaders remain first-class enemies, each a prickly strongman who has amassed extraordinary powers for himself and wields his own advice. When they met in Tehran last month, Mr. Erdogan left Mr. Putin alone for about a minute as the Russian leader, himself notorious for waiting-game tricks, awkwardly shifts in front of whistling cameras. Have become.

The move was interpreted as a subtle reminder of the changing balance of power between the two men – with Mr Putin keeping Mr Erdogan waiting at first – as they work together while still trying to maintain the upper hand. Increasingly, the ties between the two countries diminish in relations between them. Discussions between the two autocrats also take place closely, with the Turkish Foreign Ministry, let alone the public, being largely kept in the dark.

“Turkey’s foreign policy has entered a very dangerous period,” said Ilhan Uzgel, a political scientist who taught international relations at Ankara University before being fired by presidential decree. “Both the leaders come together and hold talks. But only the two leaders sitting in the palace with a few others, a very small group, know the content of these talks. ,

Mr. Erdogan has purchased sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles that undermine NATO security and were single-handedly transferred to Sweden and Finland to block NATO membership, Raising your objections for nowBut with hopes that there are more dramas to come before Turkey’s parliament votes to ratify their merger sometime this autumn.

Interventionism can only please Mr Putin, who has long warned against joining the coalition of Nordic states.

Washington is watching carefully, officially stating That “we have urged Turkey not to become a safe haven for illegal Russian assets or transactions,” and urged Turkey to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. The statement also said Turkey supports Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that Mr Erdogan called the Russian aggression “unacceptable”.

Indeed, Turkey has resisted the Russian invasion of Ukraine, barred Russian warships from entering the Black Sea and sold weapons to Kyiv, including sophisticated drones that helped kill Russian soldiers.

For the West, Mr. Erdogan’s ability to deal with Mr. Putin hasn’t been entirely bad. Turkey maintains close diplomatic relations with Moscow and is acting as the main mediator for grain distribution and possible peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Erdogan or his top aide talks to Mr. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky several times a week.

“Erdogan is keeping all his options open, which countries think only of their own interests, which allies do not,” said former US envoy to NATO, Ivo Dalder. “He’s figured out a way to play his game, but he’s doing it at the expense of a coalition that’s important to his own security.”

It’s a good thing to have a NATO ally with good lines of communication with Putin, Dalder said, “as long as he’s saying the right things, trying to solve issues consistent with the goals of the coalition and trying to solve it.” Not reducing.”

Mr. Erdogan’s main target, Turkish analysts believe, is his own re-election, and he is seeking help for both the economy and his effort to fight Kurdish terrorism in Syria and at home.

“The purpose of the Erdogan government is not to give relief to Putin, it is to create the right conditions for itself on the way to the elections,” said Professor Uzel.

“Erdogan has three concerns,” he said. “One, to let the West know that it can do business with Putin. Second, he is expecting cash coming from Russia to temporarily relieve currency rates. Third, he is looking for potential inside Syria.” Wants to be on the same page with Russia for infiltration.”

Mr Erdogan is doing poorly in opinion polls with elections due in June next year. Their major weaknesses stem from a ruined economy and popular exhaustion and resentment with millions of refugees.

On both issues, Putin wields enormous leverage over Erdogan, said Asli Aydintasbas of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Russia is a source of hard currency, cheap energy and jobs, she said, while it would take only a few Russian bombing runs to flood two million refugees across the border into Turkey over northern Syria.

Regional security threats, which include a temporary peace agreement in the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh – Turkey supports Azerbaijan, while Russia intervenes to save Armenia – means that any Turkish government will work with Russia in a balanced way. ties, said Sinan Ulgen, director of EDAM, a Turkish research institute.

“Turkey needs a diplomatic partnership with Russia in our neighbourhood, given the troubled areas like Syria or Nagorno-Karabakh, so it doesn’t have the luxury of isolating Russia,” Mr Ulgen said.

Mr. Erdogan’s ability to bring Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers together and mediate a deal to get Ukrainian (and Russian) grain out of the blocked Black Sea “validates Turkey’s balanced approach to Russia,” Mr Ulgen said. “Turkey has been pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russian.”

Turkish officials, he said, “are also aware of the thin line between not enforcing sanctions and perceiving or acting as a country helping Russia evade sanctions.”

The Putin-Erdogan relationship is a strange one, with the two countries “cooperating openly but also fighting proxy wars” in Syria and Libya, while allowing Turkey to go after the Syrian Kurds and preserve a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian approval is required to do so. Ms. Aydintasbas.

“Nobody in Ankara is happy that Russia is controlling parts of Turkey’s northern side on the Black Sea and parts of its southern side with Syria, but they understand that they have to negotiate relations with Russia. And a modus vivendi has to be established.” “The only option is fighting.”

Returning on Friday from his meeting with Mr. Putin in Sochi, Mr. Erdogan told reporters: “Mr. Putin has a fair attitude towards Turkey.”

He added: “The mutual understanding we have built on trust and respect with Mr Putin reassures our relationship.”

Reporting was contributed by Carlota Gal in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Nemet Kirak in Istanbul.

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