Putin and Erdogan meeting: New era in Turkish-Russian relations

Putin and Erdogan meeting: New era in Turkish-Russian relations
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Erdogan's recent meeting with Putin revealed the reflections of the recent cooling of Turkish-Russian relations and the new balances that have emerged in the wake of political changes.

by Can Burgaz

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia on September 4. The two had met many times in recent years and maintained close contact. This time, however, Erdogan made moves that Russia did not like, such as adopting a pro-Western stance after the elections, paving the way for Sweden's NATO membership, and handing over the commanders of the Azov Battalion to Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader who visited him.

The most important issue discussed at the summit was the Grain Corridor Agreement, from which Russia withdrew. No progress was made on this issue. Apart from this, talks were held on topics such as energy exchange, trade between the two countries in local currencies, and the nuclear power plant planned to be built by Russia in Sinope. The summit also repaired the relationship between the two leaders, which had been cold in the last few months.

Why is it such a hot topic?

Putin and Erdogan are two leaders who meet each other very often. In 2017 and 2018, the two leaders met in person seven times each. Putin and Erdogan have held 29 face-to-face meetings in the last seven years, the most recent on October 13 in Kazakhstan.

As Turkey heads towards presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023, Russia has deferred the debts of Turkey's natural gas operator BOTAŞ. This significant boost strengthened Erdogan's hand and gave him an advantage in the elections. After Erdogan won the elections, relations between the two countries and the two leaders seemed normal.

After the elections, however, Erdogan took some new steps in foreign policy. He gave the green light to Sweden's NATO membership and declared that Ukraine deserved to be a NATO member. In addition, Erdogan handed over the commander of the 5 Azov Battalion in Turkey to the visiting Ukrainian President Zelensky, which drew the reaction of Russia. In addition, the decision to open a Turkish UCAV factory in Ukraine was also perceived as a step toward Russia. Russia also noted Erdogan's moderate stance during the Wagner uprising.

The frosty relations that developed considering all these developments were also reflected in the meeting traffic. It was discussed for a long time when Putin's meeting with Erdogan would take place. First, it was said that Putin would visit Turkey, but this did not materialize, and the meeting was delayed. It was interpreted that the coldness between the two leaders postponed the meeting. The meeting could not take place because of Turkey's turning towards the West and away from Russia.

Highlights of the summit

The most prominent topic of the meeting was the Grain Agreement. Erdogan tried to persuade Putin to rejoin the Grain Agreement but failed. Putin claimed that Western countries were defrauding them. Erdogan told reporters that Russia had two demands, one of which was the return of the Russian agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank to the SWIFT system, and the other was to pave the way for the insurance of ships.

In addition, Russia's request to send 1 million tons of grain to African countries was brought to the table with a different formula by Turkey. The grain would come to Turkey, be processed into flour in Turkey, and then sent to African countries. The financing of this work was to be undertaken by Qatar. Putin gave positive signals on this issue.

Energy was also one of the prominent topics. At the press conference, Putin said they would soon take the necessary steps on gas and other areas. Putin said, "Russia will always be Turkey's responsible and biggest partner in natural gas. We can say that we will also ship natural gas to third countries. In the future, we will continue to supply the Turkish economy with this cheap and effective fuel. That is why we have proposed the establishment of a natural gas distribution center in Turkey."

Reminding that construction is underway at the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Putin said, "Turkey has now literally become a member of the international club of nuclear states after the delivery of the first batch of Russian nuclear fuel to Akkuyu."

In Syria, Turkey, which wanted to establish contact with the Damascus regime, did not get what it wanted. "Syria's sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity must be preserved. It is the Syrian people who will decide on the future of their country, with no external imposition," Putin said.

Using local currencies between the two countries was also on the agenda. "We reaffirmed our determination to use domestic currency in mutual trade. We agreed to use the dollar and the euro less," Putin said.

Future of Relations

Erdogan and Putin, who have built a unique model of bilateral diplomatic relations, have overcome the coldness of the last months with this summit. Although there was no progress, especially on the Grain Deal and Syria, and Erdogan did not get what he wanted from the summit, it was an important meeting to put the bilateral relationship back on track. Observers believe Erdogan benefits politically from strengthening this relationship and acting as a liaison between the West and Russia.

Gulru Gezer, a foreign policy analyst and former diplomat, believes that Russia will not progress on any issue since the West has not softened its stance towards Russia. "I see Russia's withdrawal from the grain deal as a separate front line, as a card that Russia is playing against the West," Gezer said.

Gezer reminded that the UN presented its latest plan for the grain deal last week, and Moscow's response is awaited. "My understanding from today's press conference is that the UN package does not meet Russia's current sensitivities or needs," Gezer said.

Russia expert Aydin Sezer points out that Russia has 6-7 conditions to return to the original grain agreement, but it can produce even if the first two are fulfilled. Sezer lists these two conditions as the entry of Rosselkhozbank into the SWIFT system and the release of assets of Russian agricultural enterprises. Sezer says that Ukraine no longer has as much grain as it did at the beginning of the war because of the lost territories and the ongoing conflicts, adding that Kyiv's need to renew this agreement is less than Moscow's.

According to academic and columnist Mensur Akgun, Turkey has been one country that has benefited politically, if not economically, from the war in Ukraine and reinforced its importance in world politics thanks to its policies. It made a difference by not getting carried away by the US- and UK-led sanctions, resisting pressure, and standing pragmatic but principled.

Journalist Fehmi Koru, the lack of progress is expected. "It was normal to avoid controversial issues, but in Moscow's eyes, Ankara has been in a different place than before for some time. President Erdogan must have tested this new situation during his meeting with Putin. From now on, Turkey may adopt a policy in line with this new situation."

Columnist Zeynep Gurcanlı points out that Erdogan cannot get his demands accepted. "Putin's greeting Erdogan at the gates and seeing him off might be evaluated from this perspective. When Putin could not meet Ankara's demands behind closed doors, neither in Syria nor in the Black Sea, he tried to save face with sincere poses in front of photographers to avoid offending Erdogan, who is of critical importance to him."

The Russian press reported that Erdogan's efforts were in vain. The economy oriented Kommersant newspaper said, "Everything was obvious. There is no deal, and there will be no deal. Because no one will fulfill Russia's conditions." The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets also noted that "Erdogan failed to convince Vladimir Putin to return to the grain deal with Ukraine."

Political scientist Alexei Makarkin also commented on news.ru:

"After the presidential elections in May, Erdogan turned towards the West. He felt that the previous balance was tilted in favor of Russia. I think Erdogan will continue to maintain the balance between Russia and Europe. But the old relations with Russia may no longer exist. The problem of lack of trust has become more urgent. Whether Erdogan and Putin can agree is a big question mark."