Erdogan’s Mediating Diplomacy to be Truly Tested

The fact that the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine have sent their congratulations symbolizes the unique position of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is hoped that he will make the most of his strengths and achieve results to realize peace.

In a runoff in Turkey’s presidential election, the incumbent Erdogan was reelected, defeating the united opposition candidate. His long-term administration, which has lasted a total of 20 years including his time as prime minister, will continue for another five years.

The focus will now be on Erdogan’s foreign policy regarding the situation in Ukraine.

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S.-European alliance. In that sense, it is a member of the West, and has supported Ukraine by providing drones.

On the other hand, Erdogan touts amicable relations with Russia and China. In addition to importing energy resources from Russia, Turkey has even introduced an air defense system from Russia in spite of opposition from the United States. Turkey also has not joined sanctions against Russia over its aggression in Ukraine.

Erdogan’s diplomacy is characterized by the way he maneuvers in a shrewd and firm manner between the United States and Europe, and China and Russia, to enhance his country’s presence.

His biggest diplomatic achievement was the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, which had been halted due to Russian obstruction, by working with the United Nations to mediate between the two countries.

Erdogan also emphasized Turkey’s role as a mediator during the election campaign, indicating his willingness to embark on peace negotiations over the Ukrainian issue. If so, Erdogan needs to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that the cessation of the Russia’s military offensive and its withdrawal from Ukraine are preconditions for peace.

The issue of Sweden’s NATO membership is a touchstone in the future relationship between Turkey and the West.

Sweden has applied to join NATO in response to the growing threat from Russia, but Turkey did not give its approval and membership has been postponed. The perception gap over the issue between Turkey and other countries that have already given their approval, such as Britain, France and Germany, is significant. Erdogan should pay attention to maintaining NATO’s unity.

Erdogan won previous elections by large margins, but this time the race was close. Criticism of his rule with an iron fist and suppression of free speech is strong, and the good showing by the opposition candidate highlights how serious the divisions in Turkey are.

The country faces a mountain of domestic challenges, including rapidly rising prices, a weak currency and reconstruction following a major earthquake in February. Erdogan also must listen to the criticism of the opposition and work for national reconciliation.

Turkey is traditionally pro-Japanese. Japan must also actively encourage Erdogan to maintain close cooperation with the United States and Europe, rather than leaning toward authoritarianism like China and Russia.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 1, 2023)