Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to Kiev on Thursday to try to mediate between his Ukrainian ally and powerful Russia in order to avoid a conflict that could also harm his country.
Mr. Erdogan must meet with his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country is threatened by some 100,000 Russian troops massed on its borders, without offending Vladimir Putin.
In power for nearly 20 years, but in difficulty domestically due to a severe economic crisis, the strongman of Turkey asserts his membership of NATO and his good relations with Kiev, Ankara’s trading partner , to attempt a mediation in which he hopes to associate the master of the Kremlin.
“As a member of NATO, we do not want a war between Russia and Ukraine, it would be a bad omen for the region”, insisted this weekend the Turkish president, pleading for a “peaceful solution “to the crisis.
Mr. Erdogan renewed his offers of service last week, arguing that by “bringing the two leaders together in our country, we can pave the way for the return of peace”.
For the time being, Mr. Putin thanked his Turkish counterpart for his invitation, but indicated that he would respond “when the pandemic and his agenda allow it”.
Ukraine is one of the sensitive issues between Moscow and Ankara, which supports Kiev’s NATO membership and strongly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, in the name of protecting of its Turkish-speaking Tatar minority.
Tensions escalated further recently after Mr Putin blamed his Turkish counterpart for supplying Kiev with armed drones used against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
– “Provocations” –
The master of the Kremlin warned the Turkish president in December against the “provocations” of Kiev which, according to him, was trying to disrupt the peace agreement between the two countries by military actions using in particular Turkish combat drones.
The same who recently played a decisive role for the benefit of Turkey’s Azerbaijani allies in Nagorny-Karabakh as well as in Libya.
While Western visitors flock to Kiev to support the Ukrainian president, the latter said on Wednesday that he only wanted “peace”, while advancing his right to defend himself against the risk of Russian invasion.
The Ukrainian government also fears that rumors of an imminent invasion will shower investors whose national economy urgently needs.
Mr. Erdogan is officially expected in Kiev to participate in an economic forum during which the two leaders are expected to announce a free trade agreement, while trade relations between the two countries have reached 6 billion dollars in the first eleven months of 2021.
For his part, Mr. Erdogan also needs to deploy himself in the diplomatic field to overcome the bad patch in which his government is plunged less than eighteen months from the next presidential term, in 2023.
“Ankara seeks to maintain close relations with Moscow and Kyiv,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told AFP. “In the current context, Erdogan is falling back on what his government knows how to do: offering mediation,” he adds.
Especially since Turkey has been marginalized within NATO since it acquired the Russian S-400 missile system.
Erdogan tried to show he heard the “reasonable concerns” expressed by Russia about an expansion of the borders of the Atlantic Alliance since the fall of the Soviet empire.
But for analysts, Moscow is not interested in Turkish mediation, Putin wishing above all to be treated as equals by Washington.