Amur Gadzhiev, head of the Center for the Study of Modern Turkey, has suggested that Ankara may be about to change its approach to the Black Sea initiative, and focus on a package approach to the protection of Russia’s interests and the terms of the deal itself. In other words, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hakan Fidan will make an effort to persuade their western colleagues and the UN to respect Russia’s interests in order to revive the “grain deal.”
Amur Gadzhiev, it seems, knows what he is talking about, and his comments accurately describe Turkey’s new tactics. Admittedly, as an impartial observer and reader in this regard, the present writer finds it rather strange that Ankara took this position only after Russia withdrew from (or suspended its participation in) the “grain deal” a year and four months after it was signed. So, what has changed? Can it be that the West’s politicians have really come to their senses and now intend to respect Russia’s interests? In such a case, there is no need for Turkey to make any special effort, as the West knows how to approach Moscow directly. For example, the USA does not need the services of an intermediary in order for it to announce that it has changed its position on the grain issue, rather than continuing to shirk its responsibilities (for example by blaming Russia for the increases in grain prices).
Turkey had plenty of opportunities to show its support in its dealings with the UN and the West for Russia’s position while the “grain deal” was in effect, rather than just enjoying the financial dividends from Ukrainian grain exports in the hope that Russia would accept the situation indefinitely. But, as they say, “better late than never.”
Turkey is trying to tie up the export of Russian grain to needy countries in Africa. Is this the comprehensive approach to organizing grain exports (from both Ukraine and Russia)? However, Moscow has already offered to discuss this issue without the involvement of the West. Russia therefore has no plans to link the “transit route to Africa” and the “Ukrainian grain” issues. Erdoğan, a highly experienced politician, is also aware of the improving relations between Russia and Egypt, with the Egyptian President Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi emerging as a key figure in Moscow’s Middle-Eastern strategy.
Turkey has previously maintained its role as a mediator in resolving the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Commenting on current trends, Turkish politicians and experts have noted that Ankara is stepping up its involvement in attempts to end hostilities between Russia and Ukraine so that their relations can be regulated in a peaceful manner. Hakan Fidan, the Turkish Foreign Minister, also, quite rightly, claims that progress towards the peaceful settlement of relations between Russia and Ukraine will provide a solid basis for extending the “grain deal.”
In the meantime, here in Russia we are seeing more signs of diplomatic activities by various centers and forces, both in the West and in the East, aimed at resolving the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. In particular, there were the recent summits in Copenhagen and Jeddah. While just 10 countries sent participated in the Copenhagen forum, more than 40 countries sent representatives to Saudi Arabia. However, in neither case did the organizers (Washington and Riyadh, respectively) invite any representatives from Russia, and while peace talks without Russian involvement may result in plans and dreams, they will not have any real-life effect.
What can Turkey propose in order to achieve peace between Russia and Ukraine, if it does not take into account the situation on the ground? If Erdoğan can persuade his partners in Kyiv, Washington and London to accept a new “grain deal” that takes into account Moscow’s interests, then hats off to him. But if he gives Russia vague assurances while arming Ukraine and recognizing that Crimea is part of Ukraine, then it will be difficult to persuade Russia that Turkey can be an effective and impartial mediator.
In reality, given the failure of the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive and the uncertainty concerning a new offensive by the Russian army, NATO is forced to look for different options to end this “hot conflict” in Europe, and to sound out Moscow’s opinion. This author believes that Turkey may serve as a forum for serious negotiations (as the British and US intelligence services demonstrated during the Second World War with Germany), but Russia will not accept it as an arbiter.
Of course, a lot of water has flown through the Black Sea straits since the end of WW2, and Turkey itself has changed. Erdoğan is now one of the world’s leading politicians, whose flexible yet committed policies have raised Turkey’s status on the global stage, and he is dreaming of a coming “golden age” for the Turkish nation and people. But, despite all its achievements, modern Turkey has not been able to join the club of major world powers, a group to which Russia still belongs.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.