Why is Ankara playing to Putin’s fiddle?
It’s painful to watch the Turks trying to negotiate with Russia to create some kind of grain export corridor out of Ukrainian ports.
In reality, surely Moscow has little interest in allowing any such corridor unless:
a) By forcing Ukraine to de-mine its ports, like Odesa, this gives Moscow the opportunity to launch new amphibious landings to take more of Ukraine’s coastline and complete its mission to make Ukraine landlocked.
b) It gets Western sanction moderation on its exports as the price of any deal. Indeed, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu seemed to suggest in talks today that that was a reasonable demand.
c) This could well just be a big PR game from Moscow. It knows a) and b) are just not going to happen, but by pretending to negotiate with Turkey and to be seen as reasonable it can pin the blame on Ukraine for no deal and then the global food price crisis.
But it is simply remarkable that Turkey thinks it can negotiate here without Ukraine at the table.
It shows again a real naivety from the Turkish diplomatic stance that we also saw on the Istanbul and Antalya peace talks. They have showed zero understanding of the Ukrainian position.
The question is why Turkey is adopting such an approach when they must understand the risks of bowing to the Russian bear given their own regional knowledge, as they share a long history of regional rivalry with Russia.
I sense here that what is driving this is President Recep Erdogan’s own precarious domestic political position – with low poll ratings, elections due in a year and with the economy in a desperately poor position. Erdogan cannot afford, politically, for this war to go on and keep energy and food import prices so high. He is desperate for a deal, but unfortunately I don’t think the Ukrainians are willing to pay the price.
Though Turkey has provided support to Ukraine by providing the celebrated Bayraktar drones, beyond that Ankara has proven less than supportive, appearing too eager to force Ukraine to concede to Russian demands in peace talks and again, over this grain export corridor, appearing to want to profit from Western sanctions by providing a conduit for Russian capital trying to exit.
Furthermore, and not joining Western sanctions despite being a NATO member, blocking Sweden and Finland’s NATO entry (albeit for understandable concerns over its own security and the Kurdish issue).
Turkey cannot have its cake and eat it.
It’s either supporting Ukraine, with its NATO partners, or it isn’t.
At the moment, it appears duplicitous in Moscow’s PR games and is providing a PR platform for Putin and Lavrov when, in all seriousness, there seems to be little chance of a deal being reached over food and grain corridors.
Timothy Ash at timothyash.substack.com