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Ankara and Moscow, partners despite themselves

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New negotiations began on Tuesday, March 29, in Istanbul to try to end the war that has been raging in Ukraine for more than a month. Since the beginning of the conflict, Ankara has positioned itself as an essential interlocutor. “Erdogan dreams of bringing together Zelensky and Putin around the signing of a peace agreement that would consolidate his position at the domestic level and give him international stature”, analyzes Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences Po Grenoble. Especially since the leader of the AKP feels a real legitimacy.

→ EXPLANATION. War in Ukraine: do the peace talks in Istanbul have a chance of succeeding?

For three reasons, analysis Aurélien Denizeau, researcher in international relations, specialist in Turkey and the Mediterranean. It maintains good relations with both the Russians and the Ukrainians; the AKP has a recurring practice of mediation since it came to power and, finally, geographically; Turkey is central in this conflict since it controls the opening of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. »

Standing out from the positions of the West and NATO, the Turkish president went to Ukraine in early February, when tension was high, to sign a military agreement with kyiv, to which he sold drones. After the Russian military invasion of February 24, Turkey organised, on March 10, a tripartite meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, and Ukraine, Dmytro Kouleba, on the sidelines of a forum diplomatic, in Antalya. With an ambitious agenda: “An immediate ceasefire, improvement of the humanitarian situation in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy, Volnovakha and other Ukrainian cities, withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. » Unrealistic for a start.

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“Between themselves, without intervention from the West”

For Turkey, a member of NATO, mediation is an opportunity, which however requires caution. Thus, Ankara denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine (as it had done for Crimea in 2014), and human rights abuses, but without applying sanctions against Moscow. Although an ally of Ukraine, it is careful to maintain its relations with Russia – from whom it has purchased S-400 defense systems – and on which its tourism sector and its wheat and gas supplies are closely dependent. Not to mention the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in southern Turkey, built by the Russian Rosatom.

→ UNDERSTAND. War in Ukraine: Turkey on a crest line

“There is a form of pragmatism in relations between Moscow and Ankaraobserves Aurélien Denizeau. Even if they disagree on several grounds – Syria, Caucasus, Libya – they agree to settle them so that they do not degenerate into direct confrontation. And they prefer to manage them among themselves, without the intervention of Westerners. »

→ EDITORIAL. The possibility of a truce

Present on the same grounds of conflict, Erdogan and Putin support often opposing camps. In Libya, Ankara is alongside the Tripoli government, while Moscow supports General Haftar. In Syria, the Turks are still occupying Afrin, in the northwest of the country, and part of Rojava, in the east, to prevent the formation of a Kurdish zone on its border. They also hold the Idleb area as an interposition force. A subject of tension with the Syrian regime and Russia who, in the long term, want his departure, while Ankara wants to stay there. Finally, Turkey welcomed the military success achieved by its Turkish-speaking ally, Azerbaijan, against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020. But its growing influence in the Caucasus does not please Russia. , who considers this territory as his preserve.

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Coax Russian Bear

Relations between the two countries have never been very good, except in the interwar period, supports Jean Marcou. For Moscow, Ankara is the obstacle to going around in circles. And in Turkey, Russia still arouses fear and concern. So Ankara tries to appease the Russian bear by agreeing on certain issues. But in the fundamentals between the two countries, the relationship is unbalanced. »

Russians and Turks nevertheless seek, by all means, to avoid direct confrontation. This sometimes involves long negotiations between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Two leaders who find themselves in the field of rhetoric, with the same often very harsh tone against the West. They need each other, they use each other. Putin can congratulate himself on attracting a NATO country to him, and Erdogan can always threaten the West, if they don’t respect his interests, to go see Moscow.

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