Erdogan and Putin: Complicated Relations With Mutual Benefits

BRUSSELS – Turkey’s nimble president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is struggling politically ahead of next year’s elections, with an economy in recession, a central bank nearly depleted of foreign exchange and inflation. volcanism at about 80% annually.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has his own problems, with the war in Ukraine bogged down and tough economic sanctions affecting Russia’s industry and broader economy.

Mutual challenges have brought the two closer than ever. They’ve met twice in the past three weeks, most recently last weekend in SochiErdogan said Russia hopes to reduce its vulnerabilities by expanding partnerships and agreeing on economic cooperation that he hopes will total $100 billion.

It is a relationship that has deepened the rift of Erdogan’s NATO allies, as he has left Putin with a huge hole in the dam of sanctions that the West has tried to build in an attempt to prevent it. Putin’s war in Ukraine. Some questions where is Erdogan’s real allegiance?beyond self-interest.

There is little doubt that, for now, the relationship is proving to be mutually beneficial, as details of their negotiations emerge later. For Mr. Putin, the interests include energy and arms sales, investment and close links with a member of NATO that 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 on Russia. It is looking to work with sanctioned Russian banks and accept payments via Russian credit cards. Russian gas flows through the TurkStream pipeline unimpeded. It is also reported that Russia is seeking Turkey’s help in providing “subsystems” for its weapons, which can no longer directly supply Western components.

For Mr. Erdogan, the benefits are related to cash transfers to the central bank, cheap energy, global importance, large export markets, renewed Russian tourism and, importantly, Russia’s express approval of his popular political efforts to crush Kurdish separatism in Syria, where Russia supports the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

But the two leaders remained arch-enemies, each thorny strongman who had gathered extraordinary strength for himself and kept his own advice. When they met in Tehran last month, Mr. Erdogan left Putin alone for nearly a minute, while the Russian leader, known for his waiting trick, moved uncomfortably in front of the camera.

The move is interpreted as a subtle reminder of the shifting balance of power between the two – Putin has kept Mr. Erdogan waiting before – as they work together, even while trying to maintain supremacy. Day by day, the relationship between the two countries is getting worse and worse. Discussions between the two autocrats are also closely held, with the Turkish Foreign Ministry, let alone the public, largely kept in the dark.

“Turkey’s foreign policy has entered a very dangerous phase,” said Ilhan Uzgel, a political scientist who taught international relations at Ankara University before being fired by the president. know. “The two leaders came together and made a negotiation. But only the two leaders sitting in the palace with a few others, a very small group, knew the contents of these negotiations.”

Mr. Erdogan bought sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles that undermine NATO’s security and single-handedly moved to block NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. lift his objections nowbut with the expectation that there will be more drama before the Turkish Parliament votes on whether to ratify their accession this fall.

Obstructionism can only please Mr Putin, who has long warned against the Nordic nations joining the alliance.

Washington is watching carefully, official statement 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 noted that Turkey supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that Mr. Erdogan called Russia’s invasion “unacceptable.”

In fact, Turkey has protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, blocking Russian warships from entering the Black Sea, and selling weapons to Kyiv, including the sophisticated drones that helped kill Russian soldiers. .

For the West, Erdogan’s ability to deal with Putin is not bad. Turkey has kept close diplomatic ties with Moscow and is acting as the main mediator between Russia and Ukraine over grain supplies and possible peace talks. Erdogan or his top aides talk to Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky several times a week.

Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO, said: “Erdogan is leaving all his options open, which is what countries tend to do when they only think of their own interests, that is not what what allies do. “He’s found a way to play his game, but he’s doing it at the expense of an alliance, which is key to his own safety.”

Daalder added: “Having a NATO ally who has good lines of communication with Putin, “as long as he says the right things, tries to solve the problems that are consistent with the goals of the alliance and doesn’t disrupt it,” he added. destroy it”.

Turkish analysts agree that Erdogan’s main goal is his own re-election and that he is seeking help with both the economy and his efforts to combat what he sees as terrorism. Kurds in Syria and at home.

“The goal of the Erdogan government is not to mitigate Putin, but to create the right conditions for itself on the road to the election,” Professor Uzgel said.

“Erdogan has three worries,” he said. “One, tell the West that he can do business with Putin. Second, he expects cash from Russia to temporarily lower the currency rate. Third, he wants to be on the same page as Russia on a possible incursion that he wants to make inside Syria.”

Mr. Erdogan is doing poorly in opinion polls with elections due in June next year. His main vulnerabilities stem from the declining economy and from the exhaustion of its people and resentment at the millions of refugees it takes in.

“On both issues, Putin holds 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 just a few Russian bombing runs over northern Syria could send another two million refugees across the border. to Turkey.

Regional security threats, including a tentative peace settlement in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh – Turkey backs Azerbaijan, while Russia intervenes to save Armenia – means any political Every Turkish government wants a balanced working relationship with Russia, said Sinan Ulgen, director of EDAM, a Turkish research institution.

“Turkey needs to have a diplomatic partnership with Russia in our vicinity, in the context of crisis areas like Syria or Nagorno-Karabakh, so they don’t need to be isolated,” Ulgen said. Russia”.

Erdogan’s ability to bring the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers together and broker a deal to get Ukrainian (and Russian) grain out of the blockaded Black Sea “validates Turkey’s balanced approach Turkey vs Russia”. Mr. Ulgen said. “Turkey is pro-Ukrainian but not anti-Russian.”

Turkish officials, he said, are “also aware of the thin line between not implementing sanctions and presenting or acting as a country that helps Russia evade sanctions.”

The Putin-Erdogan relationship is an odd one, with both countries “collaborating openly but also against proxy wars” in Syria and Libya, while Turkey needs Russia’s approval. to pursue the Kurds in Syria and maintain a prolonged ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said. Mrs. Aydintasbas.

“Nobody in Ankara is happy that Russia is controlling parts of Turkey’s northern flank on the Black Sea and parts of its southern flank with Syria, but they understand that they have to negotiate relations with Russia,” she said. and set up a vivendi method”. “The only alternative is to fight.”

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

“The mutual understanding that we have built with Putin is based on trust and respect that guarantees our relationship,” he added.

Reporting contributed by Carlotta Gall in Kyiv, Ukraine and Nimet Kirac in Istanbul.

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