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Erdogan eyes mediator role with Putin after Ukraine grain deal

Aug. 5, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 5, 2022 at 9:25 p.m.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference at the G-20 summit in Rome on Oct. 31, 2021.  (Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg)
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference at the G-20 summit in Rome on Oct. 31, 2021. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg)
By Washington Post

By Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin began talks with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, as Ankara pushes for a mediating role to try to help end the war in Ukraine following the breakthrough deal on grain exports.

Erdogan is seen in Moscow as a potential go-between in the conflict, said two people familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking, asking not to be identified because the matter is sensitive. Still, Russia isn’t softening its terms for any end to the fighting and stalled peace talks with Ukraine are unlikely to resume unless there’s a major shift in the military balance in Putin’s favor, the people said.

While Turkey has long pushed for a role in brokering a peace settlement in Ukraine, Russia has so far been cool to the idea. Soon after the Turkish leader arrived in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin thanked him for his efforts on the grain issue.

Ahead of their summit, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he hoped the July 22 agreement on Ukrainian grain exports – shipments this week were the first to leave Odessa since the war began – could “form the basis of a broader cease-fire and peace plan.”

Like other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey has said it is opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and sent weapons including highly effective drones to the government in Kyiv to help counter Putin’s army. At the same time, Turkey has refrained from joining U.S. and European sanctions on Russia over the war.

It has continued to import energy from Russia, which provided a quarter of Turkey’s crude oil imports and around 45% of its natural-gas purchases last year. Russia has also provided much needed foreign-exchange liquidity to Turkey by transferring billions of dollars to a Turkey-based subsidiary of Rosatom for completion of a nuclear power plant’s construction on the Mediterranean coast.

Turkey concluded that penalizing Russia would hurt Ankara’s economic and political interests, according to a senior Turkish official, who cited a $35 billion hit from higher energy costs and the impact on tourism. That’s a key driver for Turkey to try to end the war, and a mediating role would boost Erdogan’s international standing as he wrestles with inflation approaching 80% at home less than a year from presidential elections.

The talks between Putin and Erdogan are “a good opportunity to synchronize watches” on the effectiveness of the grain-export agreement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday. The two leaders also plan to discuss expanding trade and economic ties, and energy projects, according to a Kremlin statement Thursday.

Syria will also be high on the agenda after Putin and Erdogan failed to reach agreement at three-way talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran last month. Erdogan is seeking Putin’s acceptance of Turkish plans for a military incursion into Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria.

The Turkish leader said then that he expected Russia and Iran to support Turkey “in its fight against terrorist organizations.” Ankara regards the Syrian Kurdish PYD party and its YPG armed wing as affiliated with a Kurdish separatist group on its own territory.

Erdogan said Friday in Sochi that he planned to talk about Syria and he hoped his discussion with Putin would ease the situation in the region.

Putin may give the nod to a Turkish incursion that’s opposed by his ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because ties with Erdogan are important for the Kremlin amid US and European efforts to isolate Russia, said Alexey Malashenko, an expert at the state-funded Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.

If Russia “stands in Erdogan’s way, it will lose an awful lot,” Malashenko said.

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