How Did Ankara Succeed in Luring Moscow into Mediation with Ukraine?

Resumption of Russian-Ukrainian Talks Represent Attempt to Revive Turkish Role in Region

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) shake hands after a press conference in Sochi, Russia, where they agreed on the ten points of the Russian-Turkish memorandum on northeast Syria/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) shake hands after a press conference in Sochi, Russia, where they agreed on the ten points of the Russian-Turkish memorandum on northeast Syria/AP

How Did Ankara Succeed in Luring Moscow into Mediation with Ukraine?

Offers of political mediation between Russia and Ukraine have not stopped since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 and the tragic events that followed, reaching their climax these days, with the world following the events of a "ferocious war," which Moscow calls a "military operation" for which no one can predict a date for its end.

The Istanbul talks revealed "signs of light at the end of the tunnel." These offers came from different eastern and western countries, and varied in accordance with the relations of these countries with the two conflicting parties.

These countries include China and Kazakhstan in the east, Turkey, France, Germany and Poland in the west. Along with them, there are many other countries, including Israel, which declared itself a potential mediator, with a Ukrainian blessing as revealed by President Vladimir Zelensky in his appeal to the Israeli Knesset and his appeal to the "Jews of the world," which he made in the early days of the war Ukrainian Russian.

Ankara seeks friendship and cooperation from Moscow. At the same time it supplies Kiev with drones, and trains its armed forces, in addition to the modern weapons and equipment that flowed to it from NATO countries in support and for motivation in its confrontation with Russia.

Here, Turkey is back again to confirm that it seems more appropriate to take over the task of preparing the appropriate site for mediation between the Russian and Ukrainian sides, and that it remains in the most appropriate position and role for resuming the joint talks between them, which may be more feasible on similar grounds.

Although President Vladimir Putin has not yet revealed his agreement to sit at the negotiating table face-to-face with his Ukrainian counterpart, Zelensky, he has expressed his readiness to negotiate, without specifying who should be the participants and before achieving what might be an appropriate introduction to the desired results.

After ups and downs, quarrels and mutual accusations, the Russian and Ukrainian sides began their talks in Belarus, which hosted the first three rounds of these talks, before turning to their negotiations via video conferencing. This was before their acceptance of Turkey's offer, and had brought together the foreign ministers of the two Russian countries, Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart Ukrainian Dmytro Kuleba in Antalya in early March.

Four Ukrainian and five Russian representatives gathered at the negotiating table in Belarus on Monday. Among them were Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov (second from left), young Russian Defense Minister Alexander Fomin (second from right) and new Foreign Minister Andrei Rodenko (right). Photo: Maxim Gocek/AFP


This also came before returning to resume what I had previously mentioned about the mediation proposals between Russia and Ukraine over the past few years since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, by hosting the last talks that took place in Istanbul on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The offers were many, including what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced from Kiev during his recent visit to the Ukrainian capital in early February, and came in the wake of other offers that had previously been met with a categorical rejection by the Kremlin.

Some attributed that to "muffled anger” towards the Turkish leadership. As for the reasons for this anger and protest, sometimes unspoken, and at other times blatant, some of them are due to the policies of cooperation between Ankara and Kiev in various fields, including the military, an extension of a common history, and based on many economic and humanitarian ties that have always brought the two countries together since the years of the Ottoman Empire.

During his last visit to Kiev, before the outbreak of the military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, Turkish President Erdogan revealed his invitation to hold a tripartite meeting with Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Zelensky in Turkey, which Zelensky was quick to accept, expressing his thanks for the mediation of his Turkish counterpart "on the path of efforts aimed to end the war, for the sake of peace in Ukraine, and affirmed his readiness to do everything possible on all platforms and in all forms.”

However, this alone, and according to many indicators, cannot be the only motivation for Turkey's interest in neighboring Ukraine over the past few years.

The recent history reflects that Turkey was one of the first countries to criticize the annexation of Crimea to Russia, and to this day it refuses to recognize it as part of the Russian territory, while it does not explicitly declare Crimea as a Ukrainian territory, in anticipation of a day when it might be declared a Turkish territory.

The Ottoman Empire was forced to cede it as a result of the Second Crimean War between the Russian and Ottoman Empires in the 1870s, during the reign of Empress Yekaterina II.

The past years revealed the escalation of the ambitions of the Turkish leadership towards restoring the glories of the Ottoman Empire, and the accompanying fears among Russian political and social circles towards the renewal of plans aimed at restoring the glories of the empire. These plans were not limited only to the area of Central Asia and the adjacent regions, but were also aimed towards a number of the regions of the North and South Caucasus, including Crimea, as well as other lands in the depths of Russian territory, including the Altay province, which appeared on the maps of the "hoped" expansions by Turkey.

Observers recall the events and battles that took place between neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the effort and support offered by Turkey to Azerbaijan, with which it has many historical ties and common assets.

This came in a timely manner in line with what Ankara revealed of its ambitions towards restoring the “glories” of the Ottoman Empire, linking it to historical ties with the countries of the Turanian dynasty.


Evacuees walk on a makeshift pathway to cross a river next to a destroyed bridge as they flee the city of Irpin/ Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP


Despite Moscow’s previous rejection of many mediation offers, which came from many sources, including Ankara, as we mentioned earlier, it returned to accepting a limited role represented by Antalya hosting the first direct talks at the level of the foreign ministers of the two countries, Lavrov and Kuleba, under the auspices of their counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in early March.

It did not take much time for Turkish President Erdogan to return to his previous contacts with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who surprised the world by announcing his acceptance of Erdogan's proposal for Istanbul to host the recent talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations as an alternative to Belarus, which had previously hosted the first three rounds of these negotiations.

This was the prelude to Erdogan's declaration that his country "will continue to promote peace between Russia and Ukraine." Turkish official sources quoted Erdogan as saying that he "stressed the need to establish a truce and peace between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible, as well as to improve the humanitarian situation in the region."   "Turkey will continue to contribute to this process," he added.

As for the reasons, which official Moscow-related sources said are behind accepting Turkey's choice as a platform for the meeting, they were summed up as it is "not included in the Russian list of unfriendly countries, in addition to the fact that it did not impose sanctions on Russia."

Komsomolskaya Pravda, the most widely read Russian newspaper, quoted Marat Bashirov, who is responsible for the Politjoystick Telegram channel and the former Prime Minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying that: "One can say that this is permissible for France or Switzerland, for example, but they are among the countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia. Therefore, it would not make sense to conduct negotiations on the territory of these countries.”

However, from the beginning of this process, Turkey announced that it was ready to become a negotiator. This despite the fact that they continue to sell arms to Ukraine.

It helps the prospects for success that the Turks will have an influence on the Ukrainians. It is interesting in this regard that Bashirov, the former prime minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic, indicated that the recent direct negotiations may be the result of a common feeling that there could be a way to make some progress.

Bashirov added that it may also be an expression of the will reached by the parties concerned after US President Joe Biden's visit to the European Union. "I think they have been given wider avenues for negotiations," he added.

The political expert went further, declaring that "wide corridors" are an opportunity to discuss issues that were not previously trusted. This applies not only to issues of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including issues related to the cessation of hostilities and the surrender of some armed formations in the east. However, despite its importance in terms of timing and content, all of this remains just an addition to the context of the relations of the parties concerned at all levels.

In this regard, the sources refer to Turkey's imports from Ukraine in the fields of coal, iron and steel, as well as products of the chemical industry, in addition to its exports of industrial products, textiles and foodstuffs. Ukraine is home to many Turkish companies, restaurants and shops.

There are those who point to the active military cooperation that jumps to the fore in bilateral relations, represented in joint naval maneuvers, and Turkey’s supply of 48 Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine, to which the two parties agreed in September last year.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Ankara/REUTERS.


Besides, there is the joint production of cruisers and military transport aircraft An-178, as well as the possibility of opening a plant in Ukraine for the production of unmanned aircraft.

In addition, Ankara shows through its “exaggerated” confident statements that, despite its aspirations to be a global power, it is not fully aware of the extent and dimensions of such responsibility. “The first is with its desires, aspirations and goals, and not with good intentions of cooperation,” according to many Russian estimates. Perhaps that is what was expressed in statements issued by many Ukrainian and Russian sources saying that the agreement is still far away, even though the "light at the end of the tunnel" heralds the possibilities of reaching such an agreement.

Turkish President Erdogan has revealed that "four out of six major issues have been agreed upon between Ukraine and Russia," including what was announced in particular about "the abandonment of NATO membership and the recognition of Russian as the second official language of the state."

It is remarkable in this regard that the Ukrainian side anticipated the recent talks in Istanbul through which it admitted the falsehood of the positions of many international powers that continue their attempts to prolong the confrontation with Russia in order to drain it and take advantage of the current situation to serve their own interests.

According to a Ukrainian website, Ilya Kosa, an expert in international politics at the Analytical Center of the Ukrainian Future Institute, accused the United States of its continued attempts to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the reorganization of the oil and gas market, in order to turn into the largest exporter of liquefied gas to Europe by 2024.

He said: "I see that they want to weaken Russia in the long term. They aim to make this process long, extending for some time."

From the American point of view, the longer Russia is involved in the war in Ukraine, is subject to sanctions, or loses money, for example, as a result of a reduced role in the oil and gas markets, the more it increases the long-term interests of the United States, and hastens Russia's gradual exit from the ranks of geopolitical competitors.

As for the Turkish mediation, Kosa said: “There are two mediators who are actively trying to organize negotiations between Russia and Ukraine - Israel and Turkey. These are the most active brokers. France still has attempts, but according to the statements of French President Emmanuel Macron, they did not agree on anything significant with Putin during the phone marathon.”


The Ukrainian expert went on to add, "It is clear that the success of negotiations does not depend on the location or atmosphere of this place or anything else. The key is what the parties will agree on, and what concessions they will or will not be willing to make.


“The mediator only plays a role in organizing these negotiations." Here, Turkey is considered one of the natural mediators, because it has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia and good relations on a personal level between Erdogan and Zelensky and between Erdogan and Putin.


There are those who say in the same regard that “Turkey may be half a step away from taking an initiative to establish an alliance similar to the formation of the alliance that was announced between Ukraine, Poland and Britain for military-political cooperation.

“In fact, there were expectations that also speak of the possibilities of joining a number of countries in the Black Sea region to such an alliance.”

They said, “It is possible to move from a free trade agreement to a military alliance. And creating a small bloc would also deter Russia from further aggression,” they said.

On the role played by Turkish President Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, head of the public relations department in the Turkish presidential office, said that Erdogan "offered mediation between Russia and Ukraine as we have strong relations with the two countries." According to him, Ankara "did everything in its power at the diplomatic level to prevent the current situation."

“Our calls for reform of the UN system were ignored and we saw the dire consequences of that in the last crisis. This war could have been avoided had our calls been heeded. We have repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution, but now the war is confronting us as a reality. The lack of unity of the international community in a number of regional and global issues was as serious a problem as it was during the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.”

The Turkish official referred to the tragedies the world is facing, of which he referred to as being two in number, the first related to the human dimension of the conflict.

He said that his country would do everything necessary to address it, as was the case during the years of other regional conflicts.

As for the second tragedy, he said, it is related to the media abuses and falsification of facts. He commented by saying: "These are relentless attacks on the truth. We are also aware that we are working to confront disinformation campaigns and misinformation in this media war, and we will defend the truth regardless of its source.”

Fahrettin Altun added: "There are many speculations and comments about Turkey's policy and its diplomatic moves," before concluding by saying, "Turkey believes in the constructive and creative power of diplomacy and tries to make the most of all diplomatic opportunities in every crisis."

There is a summary of the objectives and content of what Ankara has done and is doing over the long years during which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held power in Turkey. That increases the importance of Erdogan's intervention to achieve the maximum possible personal gains at the public and private levels.

Arguably, there are goals that Erdoğan seeks without any overt declaration, that can be included in the list of "self-interests." This implies arranging domestic conditions from the perspective of his growing popularity in light of the escalation of hostilities near the Turkish border.  In turn, this increases the importance of Erdoğan's intervention to achieve the maximum possible personal gains on the public and private levels.

The results of the first day of the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul came to serve these interests indirectly with the results they achieved being close to positive, which was announced by Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation in these talks. “Moscow has taken two steps towards rapprochement with Ukraine," Medinsky said, indicating that they concern the political and military aspects.

In reviewing the political aspect, the Russian official confirmed the possibility of holding a meeting between President Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Zelensky, not after reaching an agreement between the two countries in all its details, but in conjunction with the initial agreements signed by the two countries' foreign ministers.

As for the military aspect, the other member of the Russian delegation, Alexander Fomin, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, announced the decision to “drastically” reduce military activity in the Kiev and Chernihiv axes (northern Ukraine) with the aim of strengthening mutual trust and creating the appropriate conditions for continuing negotiations and reaching the desired agreement.

Medinsky also revealed that the Ukrainian side submitted written proposals confirming Ukraine's quest to be a neutral and nuclear-free state, while abandoning the production and deployment of all types of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and bacteriological, in addition to banning the presence of foreign military bases and foreign forces in its territory. On the other hand, the website for "Russia Today: Arabic-language channel" published a "package of written proposals," which Medinsky said he had obtained from the Ukrainian delegation during the negotiations, including the following:


1. Declaring Ukraine a neutral, non-nuclear state outside of any alliances on a permanent basis under international legal safeguards, and a list of guarantor states will be presented.


2. Security guarantees do not apply to the territory of Crimea and Donbas, that is, Ukraine abandons the attempt to restore it by military means. Here, Medinsky indicated that this proposition reflects Kiev's position and does not correspond to Moscow's position, given that it does not consider Crimea and Donbass to be part of Ukrainian territory in the first place.


3. Ukraine refuses to join military alliances, deploy foreign military bases and units and host military exercises without the consent of the guarantor states, including Russia.


4. Russia does not oppose Ukraine's accession to the European Union.


5. Ukraine requests that the decision be finalized in a meeting between the presidents of the two countries.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hold a joint press conference after their meeting on Feb. 3, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. - Chris McGrath/Getty Images


Despite the tinge of hope and optimism that may appear behind Medinsky's statements and clarifications, they may appear to be contrary to what was issued by the Ukrainian side and its interpretations.

This was expressed by Sergey Kapitsa, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN Security Council, when he said that “an agreement on security guarantees for Ukraine can only be signed after the return of Russian forces to their previous positions on February 23, 2022.

Kapitsa stressed that the two sides of the Russian-Ukrainian talks will continue consultations on preparing an agreement on providing security guarantees to Ukraine, noting that this is related to "the mechanism for implementing the ceasefire regime, the withdrawal of forces and other armed formations, the safe operation of humanitarian corridors on an ongoing basis, as well as the exchange of dead, release of prisoners of war, and civilians."

The Ukrainian permanent representative concluded that "there is still a long way to go towards a sustainable ceasefire and a comprehensive de-escalation."

Despite all this, the results reached by the two sides remain buildable, as they may be a prelude to a phase of conciliation and agreement. Also, there are those who indicate that Presidents Putin and Zelensky are called upon to define its features and the timing of its implementation.

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