How did the Ukraine war help Erdogan expand his influence?

The phone calls that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin went parallel to the course of the war that Moscow launched against Kyiv, nine months ago. Although they are not new, their number has increased steadily, at a time when the scene of events witnessed a series of developments.

Since last February (the date of the start of the Russian war against Ukraine) this wireless line has not stopped, on the contrary, the two leaders have continued to communicate by phone many times.

The last communication stations were two days ago, after Moscow announced the suspension of its participation in the grain transfer agreement, only to retract it hours later, following a call between Erdogan and Putin, while observers believe that there are reasons that lead to something further than that.

Months before that, the outputs of previous phone contacts between the two presidents led to developments on the level of the war between Moscow and Kiev, including the one that took place last March, which led to the gathering of the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, for the first time since the start of the war.

In addition to the call that included Ankara’s offer to mediate over the “Zaporozhye nuclear plant”, as well as other telephones regarding the continuation of the grain agreement’s work, and discussing mechanisms for transporting Russian gas to Europe through the Turkish station, a step that is still being studied and researched.

And this path that Erdogan and Putin took in a remarkable and remarkable way was reflected in Putin’s decisions at different times, while in parallel there was another line that the Turkish president committed to with his Ukrainian counterpart, with the same mechanism and time context.

This came within the framework of the “mediation”, which Ankara began to play, since the start of the Russian war against Ukraine, and the subsequent engagement with the United Nations in ensuring the transportation of grain through its ports, up to its repeated talk about the need to stop the fighting in a “peaceful way.”

On Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that six ships had left Ukrainian ports after the grain deal resumed, explaining that “the number of ships that left the ports is 426 with more than 9.7 million tons of grain.”

He added, “Ankara’s sincere wishes that the conflict between Moscow and Kiev ends by peaceful means,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow is happy to sign “Kyiv’s written guarantees on the grain deal at Ankara’s initiative.”

Lavrov added, “The Kremlin commends the efforts made by Turkey, and personally by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to resume the grain deal.”

Why did Putin back down?

So far, the reasons that prompted Putin to reverse the decision to suspend his country’s participation in the grain agreement are not known, while the Guardian newspaper considered, Thursday, that the decision, and then retracting it within days, clearly means that Moscow lacks a specific “plan”.

She also said that what happened was a “humiliating turn” made by Putin after consultations with Erdogan, while the “only claim” was that there were “written guarantees” from Kyiv.

The newspaper quoted Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the analytical institution “R.Politech” as saying that after the suspension of the grain export agreement, it became unclear to Moscow how to implement this, it was impossible except by using military means, and that “it was not part of the plans.” Russian”.

In turn, Anton Mardasov, a non-resident Russian researcher at the Middle East Institute, believes that “the talks between the Russian and Turkish defense ministers did not play a major role in Russia’s decision to resume the grain deal.”

In an interview with Al-Hurra, he said, “The problem is that Moscow suspended its participation in the deal, but the grain continued to be exported anyway.”

“Russia could have prevented this either with a major scandal that has consequences for relations between Moscow and Ankara, for which the grain deal is considered an achievement, or by military means.”

“That is why Russia ultimately chose to return to the deal, even though Turkish diplomacy clearly played a positive role,” Mardasov adds.

‘Needs for Turkey’

Turkey is a member of NATO, which stands in the Ukrainian corner against the Russian escalation, and while it has good relations and major military agreements with Kyiv, it also enjoys “relatively good” relations with Moscow.

These “relatively good” relations, observers believe, have grown in an unprecedented manner during the past months, whether in terms of coordination of mediation mechanisms or files announced in parallel, including turning Turkey into a center for gas transportation to Europe.

The researcher on Turkish affairs, Mahmoud Alloush, believes that “there are several reasons that prompted Putin to back off from suspending his participation in the grain agreement.”

One of the reasons is related to “international pressures exerted on Moscow, while Turkey plays the role of mediator in the deal and that it constitutes a diplomatic success for it, and reversing the decision would put pressure on Russian-Turkish relations.”

The researcher told Al-Hurra: “I think that Putin is trying on one side to accommodate Turkey’s needs with regard to preserving the agreement, whether the export of grain through the Black Sea or the deal’s role as a sign of the effectiveness of Ankara’s balanced role.”

Moreover, Alloush adds, “Russia wanted to send some messages by exploiting the military escalation in Crimea to suspend the agreement in order to impose greater conditions in the process of intensifying negotiations.”

“If Moscow returns to the agreement, it does not mean that it will continue with it. It has only 3 weeks left. There is a renewal due, and this requires a lot of negotiations.”

Moscow had put forward conditions, including removing obstacles to its exports through the Black Sea, and ensuring that grain would reach poor countries.

On the other hand, the researcher explains that “Moscow wants to take advantage of the agreement, in order to establish a new situation in the Black Sea, and to restrain Ukraine’s ability to move militarily, with the gateway that any escalation will expose the safe passage in the Black to dangers.”

Erdogan announced on Friday morning that he had agreed with Putin during a phone call to deliver grain to needy countries free of charge, and said that he would meet him in Bali, Indonesia, within about 10 days, to discuss “the issue of transferring grain to needy countries.”

This planned meeting will be the second of its kind between Erdogan and Putin, as they met earlier in Sochi, in early August.

The Turkish president added: “Putin told me that he wants to deliver grain to developing countries free of charge, and I agree with him on this issue.”

The grain deal allows for Ukrainian agricultural products to be shipped from Odessa under the supervision of the United Nations, where every incoming and outgoing cargo ship is checked along with Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish delegations to satisfy all parties.

The agreement is due to expire on November 18, but UN and Turkish officials hope to extend it.

As for Erdogan, Putin’s regional rival, he appeared as a major party during the recent period “in the smoke of the battles”, “he played a prominent role in the prisoner exchanges, when Russia released the besieged Ukrainians from the steel plant in Azovstal in Mariupol, after Moscow had previously threatened to execute them.” in a military court,” according to the Guardian.

“As Russia’s isolation grows, both diplomatically and economically, Turkey’s influence is clearly increasing,” she added.

In turn, a senior Ukrainian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that Moscow’s decision to resume its participation in the grain agreement was mainly the result of “Turkish pressure.”

“I mentioned that Ankara could have the last word here, but I didn’t expect it to have that much of an influence on Putin,” Andrei Sizov, head of agricultural market research firm Sov-Econ, wrote.

Where are the relationships going?

Regarding the relations between Ankara and Moscow at the present time and the context in which they are running within the equation of the war against Ukraine, the Russian researcher Mardasov believes that what is happening in this regard now “is a unique case, based on the personal relationship between Erdogan and Putin, and the barter deals that have already taken place.”

Turkey and Russia have quite a few economically profitable projects that depend on political moments, such as extending cross-border aid to the Syrian province of Idlib, through the United Nations.

For example, Mardasov explains: “Turkey can launch an operation in Syria even if Moscow continues to insist that the time is not right to do so. On the other hand, Russia may also refuse to provide cross-border aid to Idlib.”

“All in all, all the tracks are strongly interconnected. Besides, Turkey can act on behalf of NATO in the negotiations, and this enhances its mediation mission.”

In the case of Ukraine, Turkey will be the player through which Russia and Ukraine will continue to negotiate, including the status quo in the future, but so far neither side has a significant advantage on the battlefield.

Therefore, according to the researcher, “Turkish mediation is a tool that will be important from time to time, but I do not expect any penetration solutions from it.” He continued, “The important thing is that there is this tool, and it is more effective than the Russian-Saudi machine, for example, or the Russian-Emirati machine.”

For his part, researcher Mahmoud Alloush believes that “Turkish-Russian relations are good,” and that this partnership “gained momentum after the Russian war on Ukraine.”

He says, “We are talking about great coordination on geopolitical issues and the Western-Russian conflict. Relations between Moscow and Ankara are not facing pressures as they were in the past, I think.”

Turkey, a NATO member and ally of Ukraine, is trying to facilitate mediation between Moscow and Kiev, and has so far refused to join Western sanctions against Russia.

Turkey twice hosted direct negotiations between the two parties on March 10 at the ministerial level in Antalya and on March 29 in Istanbul. Since then, Erdogan has said on several occasions that he wants to host a meeting in Istanbul between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, which has not yet taken place.

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