Erdogan holds key to guiding Russia to stop invasion

Turkey maintains good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Ankara is urged to use its role as a mediator to put together an agreement to resume grain exports and encourage Russia to halt its invasion and to agree to a ceasefire as soon as possible.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia to exhibit his close relations with the Russian president. Putin expressed gratitude for the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine through the mediation of the United Nations and Turkey.

If the grain, which had been held up by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, can continue to be transported smoothly to such regions as the Middle East and Africa, the global food crisis can be halted. It is important to steadily implement the agreement.

Turkey’s presence has been felt because of Erdogan’s shrewd bargaining between the West and Russia.

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the basis of its diplomacy and security is cooperation with the United States and Europe. Turkey condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and had exported attack drones to Ukraine even before the invasion started.

At the same time, Ankara has close relations with Moscow. It has introduced Russia-made S400 missile defense systems in defiance of U.S. objections and is importing Russian natural gas. It is building a nuclear power plant with Russia’s cooperation and has not joined the sanctions against Russia imposed by the United States, Europe and Japan.

On the issue of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, while all other NATO countries are in favor of membership for the two northern European countries, Erdogan was the only one to express opposition at one point. Until the Turkish parliament approves membership, however, there is no room for optimism.

Putin sees the importance of Turkey, probably because the Russian leader believes he can use Turkey as a foothold from which to shake off NATO and evade the sanctions.

It remains to be seen whether Erdogan will be able to produce diplomatic results without falling prey to Putin’s tricks.

Consumer prices in Turkey in July were up about 80% from a year ago. Many argue that Erdogan’s economic policies have failed, and there is also deep-rooted criticism of the country’s authoritarian political approach. With a presidential election coming up next year, Erdogan may be even more determined to find a way to make the most of diplomacy.

Erdogan is one of the few Western leaders who can have substantive discussions with Putin. Unlike Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Turkish president has not put forth his full support for Russia, and he is in a unique position.

It is insufficient that Erdogan’s latest talks with Putin did not extend to the ceasefire issue. As a traditional friend of Turkey, Japan should encourage and support Erdogan to play a constructive role.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9, 2022)