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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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A new Turkish-Russian gambit

On August 5, the second recent meeting between the Presidents of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, and the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, took place. Against the background of Russian aggression, Turkey has taken an ambiguous position and traditionally tries to gain benefits for itself, contrary to the expectations of its NATO partners and Ukraine itself. On the one hand, Erdogan did not allow Russian amphibious ships to cross the Bosphorus, the Turkish company Baykar supplies Bayraktar UAVs, which have become an effective tool for detection and destruction, on the other - the state has not joined sanctions against the Russian Federation, became a haven for Russian capital and intensified economic cooperation with the aggressor-state.

The joint statement released after the meeting was rather brief, without detailing agreements reached. In the context of issues directly related to Ukraine, the grain corridor, the importance of trust relations between Turkey and Russia for regional stability, as well as the intention to develop bilateral cooperation are mentioned. In the provisions, it is also worth paying attention to the wording: "the leaders of both countries agreed to meet the expectations of the opposite side in the fields of economy and energy." This formula shows that Turkey is ready to continue economic cooperation with the Russian Federation, most likely in violation of Western sanctions, in exchange for a stable supply of Russian energy carriers. The states announced the expansion of trade and energy ties and deepening cooperation in such sectors as transport, industry, finance and construction. Turkey also agreed to pay for gas partly in rubles.

It is quite likely that the Russian president is ready to surrender strategic areas important to Erdogan, where Russia's position is already greatly undermined due to the loss of military and economic resources in exchange for Turkey's economic support. First of all, this applies to Karabakh and Syria.[1] At the beginning of August, Azerbaijani troops occupied the heights in Karabakh, in the zone that was assigned to Russian "peacekeepers". There was no reaction from Russia to this actions. Also, Erdogan, apparently with the consent of V. Putin, began an operation in northern Syria, a satellite of the Russian Federation. According to Andrii Piontkovskyi, Erdogan intends to take back Aleppo, a city destroyed by Russian aircraft, which was Turkey's second most important city after Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire.

To understand the motives of Recep Erdogan, it is important to remember that his foreign policy decisions are greatly influenced by the fact presidential and parliamentary elections will be held next year. Against the backdrop of an economic downturn within the state, the rating of the ruling party fell to a record low in 20 years. The opposition, which consists of 6 parties, is the favorite in the election race, so the current Turkish president is looking for ways to overcome economic problems and is likely to look for foreign policy victories. Erdogan has enough economic problems: inflation is almost 80%, in particular, there is an increase in fuel and food prices, the devaluation of the lira, a deterioration in the business climate within the state due to an increase in the discount rate, a decrease in foreign exchange reserves and a burden on the budget because of 5 million Syrian refugees settled in country. According to Bloomberg estimates, since the beginning of the year, the Turkish government has spent about $66 billion to support the rate of lira. The Turkish Central Bank published information on the current account deficit - 6.47 billion dollars, which is 3.15 billion more than the previous year.[2]

The ambiguous policy in which the state, on the one hand, helps Ukraine, and on the other hand, cooperates with the Russian Federation, allows Turkey to look for an opportunity to become a mediator in Russian-Ukrainian negotiations. Erdogan's attempt to persuade V.Zelensky to sit down at the negotiating table with V.Putin and thus "end the war in a diplomatic way" is obviously his price for V.Putin's concessions in Syria and the South Caucasus. A kind of "Turkish-Russian gambit". At the same time, in the context of the long-term assistance of Ukraine's partner countries, the readiness of the Ukrainian people to resist and the invariable desire of the Russian Federation to occupy Ukraine, which is supported by fascist sentiments and an inadequate assessment of the state of affairs by the Russian leadership, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have no prospects. Ukraine will not agree to a freeze of the conflict and even to a partial occupation.

Turkey's position has shown that at the present stage it will not be able to become a reliable partner for Ukraine and European states. The important geographical position of the state and its military power is counterposed by attempts to balance and achieve their own national interests and readiness to enter into confrontation with NATO partners. Sanctions due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced the world to redirect oil sales and provoked an outflow of multinational companies from Russia. But as Bloomberg points out, "One country is openly boasting of a boom in trade with Russia - Turkey." Turkish exports to Russia hit an eight-year high of $2.91 billion in the first half of the year, according to TurkStat, the state statistical service. 

Perhaps, from the point of view of the Turkish authorities, such an "independent", multi-vector policy is a confirmation of the subjectivity of its state, but it can undermine the perception of Turkey as a credible ally by NATO partner countries. According to Bloomberg, Turkey's NATO allies in the US and Europe are disappointed with the country's actions. It is quite clear that the countries of the North Atlantic space expect unity in decision-making, for which these same states also pay the price. Turkey’s economic support for Russia comes at the expense of the United States and EU countries, which were previously dissatisfied with the state of human rights in Turkey, however, having no leverage of influence, continued cooperation in places of mutual interest, such as Libya and Syria. Turkey's leader is currently in a precarious position and this time balancing will be more difficult.

On the one hand, such a policy can reinforce Turkey's desire to strengthen its authority among the third world countries. In recent years, Turkey has been actively promoting the policy of neo-Ottomanism and pan-Turkism, opening up new opportunities for itself in the countries that were once colonies of the Ottoman Empire, as well as in the Turkic states. It is carried out through economic, political interaction, the development of cultural ties, as well as cooperation in the military-industrial complex. However, on the other hand, given the priority of countering Russia for European countries, neglect of their interests could be fatal for Erdogan. Some European officials are already talking about possible sanctions against Turkey for its cooperation with Russia. The EU is Turkey's largest import and export partner and its main source of investment. In 2020, 33.4% of Turkey's imports and 41.3% of its exports came from the EU.[3] Actions of the EU and the US before the elections in Turkey can be crucial, given the already difficult economic situation in the country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan could join the NATO allies and prove himself as a credible partner. A likely scenario would be closer cooperation in military-technical sphere, and if not a further return to the F-35 fighter program along with the abandonment of the Russian S-400, then at least the provision of American F-16s to the country. Now the policy of "equidistance" cannot be considered neutral, because it fuels Russia's ability to continue its aggression against Ukraine and harms both EU and the US. European officials are considering imposing sanctions on Turkey, but first they requested consultations with Istanbul to get more details on the nature of the Russian-Turkish partnership, since some of the agreements were apparently not covered in the Joint Statement following the Sochi meeting.

The best option for Turkey is to work more closely with NATO partners, strengthen communications and coordinate joint actions to create more predictable relationships with partners. However, it seems that the personality of Recep Erdogan and his desire to consolidate Turkey's status as a regional power will not change his policy. If Turkey goes too far in flirting with the Russian Federation, Western sanctions could be one of the factors that will end the era of Recep Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party. However, it seems that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is betting on the traditional balancing policy, contrary to the interests of allies, as well as on attempts to boost his rating through geopolitical victories.


1. Андрій Піонтковський, Чого Ердоган домагається від Путіна, 13.08.2022, 
2. Євгенія Габер, Зустріч Путіна і Ердогана: чи є небезпека для України, 10.08.2022,
3. EU trade relations with Turkey. Facts, figures and latest developments,