08.05.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey resumes peacekeeping efforts on Ukraine

Turkish President Recep Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Erdoğan is expected to pay an official visit to the United States in early May this year, with a full agenda of talks with President Joseph Biden. One of the key issues on the Turkish-American agenda will be the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and options of settlement. What can the summit in Washington shed light on?

It is well known that Turkey at first officially took the position of a peacemaker in the situation in Ukraine, demonstrated mediation efforts and in 2022 initiated the Istanbul Platform of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, which led to regular prisoner exchanges, the conclusion of a “grain deal” and options for a ceasefire with a draft peace treaty. However, as the Turkish side later noted, the West, represented primarily by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the United States, was opposed to the Istanbul peace project between Russia and Ukraine. As a result, hostilities continue to this day, posing a major security threat in the European and Black Sea theatres.

What has changed two years after the intensive talks in Istanbul? As we recall, the head of the Kiev regime, V. Zelenskyy, by his decision forbade the continuation of peace negotiations with the current Russian authorities led by President Vladimir Putin. It is true that the course of hostilities over time has not only depleted Ukraine’s arsenal, but has also resulted in serious territorial losses to Russia. The US, immersed in the main domestic political issue of the upcoming presidential elections in November this year, found itself in a state of acute inter-party rivalry. In particular, the Republicans, who have won a majority in Congress, have been torpedoing all attempts by the Democrats to obtain approval for further arms deliveries to the Kiev regime since the autumn of 2023, deepening the financial crisis in America itself.

Ukraine’s mistake, as President Putin notes, is that at one point Kiev arrogantly believed it could defeat Russia militarily. But Russia cannot be defeated. What is left, if not the choice between capitulation and an attempt to conclude a peace treaty with a “freeze on the conflict”? Moreover, Zelenskyy himself admits that Ukraine faces a serious defeat if the United States continues to refuse to supply arms.

Under the current circumstances, Erdoğan, who has a strong sense of political reality, is trying to make the right choice and bet on peace. On 11 April, the media leaked information with details of a draft document on the settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, which seems to be an achievement of the Istanbul 2022 negotiating platform and an initiative of President Erdoğan himself. Is it a coincidence that such a leak occurred on the eve of the Washington summit? Could Ankara be testing the reaction of interested parties and the world community to the proposals of Turkish diplomacy? Of course, such “scanning” of external reactions should not be ruled out. But what is Turkey’s peace initiative?

Officially, it is the text of the Istanbul draft:

Firstly, it does not propose capitulation to Ukraine, which is suffering defeat on the battlefields of the special military operation, but peace under certain conditions;

Second, the main thesis of the document is the proposal to exclude the use of nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia under any conditions and to resume the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on the condition that unilateral withdrawal from it is impossible in the future;

Third, a freeze of hostilities along the existing front line;

Fourth, obligatory referendums in 2040 in Ukraine and the lost (although the Turks call them “occupied”) territories under international control (we are talking about the all-Ukrainian referendum on the foreign policy course and referendums in the territories liberated by Russia on their fate);

Fifth, security guarantees of Ukraine’s non-aligned status until 2040;

Sixth, Russia’s agreement to Ukraine’s European integration (EU membership) without joining NATO;

Seventh, an exchange of prisoners on the principle of “all for all”.

What is there to say? Of course, this option cannot fully satisfy either side of the conflict, if we assume maximalist approaches. Russia does not want to freeze the conflict with the threat of its resumption, neither in 2040 nor in the following years. Moscow cannot be satisfied with the qualification of “occupied” and “annexed” territories, because all these former subjects of Ukraine, in their majority, wanted union with Russia and were liberated in the course of the ongoing special military operation. If Ukraine becomes part of the EU by 2040, what will happen after the all-Ukrainian referendum on the NATO bloc?

If the Turks hope that by 2040 the leaders of the main participants in the conflict and the mediators will change for natural reasons, and with them, perhaps, a new generation and “new thinking”, different from the previous mutual distrust, the Turkish leader is most likely mistaken. It is known that many people abroad attribute the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis to a subjective factor (they say that if Putin had not been at the head of the Russian Federation or Zelenskyy had not been such an ignoramus in politics, the conflict itself could have been avoided). However, such an opinion is somewhat mistaken, because the nature of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in 2022 was more systemic than individual.

And it was laid down in the writings of the famous American geopolitical planner Zbigniew Brzezinski and in the policy of subsequent US presidential administrations to separate Ukraine from Russia’s influence and alliance, and to promote NATO in the post-Soviet East. Unfortunately, Ukrainian society accepted these Anglo-Saxon ideas as the way to democracy and a “bright future” in a community with fickle Europe, and allowed narrow-minded anti-Ukrainian and anti-Russian Nazis to come to power, for whom Ukraine has become a testing ground for conflict with Russia. The people of Donbass cannot forgive the Kiev regime’s aggression and mass crimes. Such things are never forgotten.

What does not suit the Russian Federation in the above-mentioned Istanbul project suits the Kiev regime. However, the content of diplomacy against the background of an open military conflict is determined not only by the wishes of the negotiators, but also by the real balance of forces on the battlefield.

Will Joe Biden accept the Istanbul plan for a cessation of hostilities and a freeze on the conflict? The US is now less concerned with the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict than with the possibility of the Middle East crisis spilling over into an unpredictable Iranian-Israeli conflict. Russia has already adapted to the situation of the Western coalition in favour of Ukraine, modernising its defence industry and macroeconomy in general. What will the US do in the event of a major conflagration in the Middle East, and how can the democrat Biden expect to win a battle with the Republican Trump with all this baggage?

Of course, if Erdoğan was sure of the success of his peace initiative on Ukraine, he would not have rushed to announce it beforehand. He would have simply waited for the meeting in the US and, together with Biden, declared new approaches to the Russian-Ukrainian settlement.

Meanwhile, the same West is once again planning broad international consultations on the Ukrainian crisis, to which it will not invite the other party to the conflict, i.e. Russia. I am referring to the Swiss initiative to hold a summit on the peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict on 15-16 June this year, with the participation of up to 120 heads of state, but without Russia.

In this regard, at a recent meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin rightly noted that such an approach does not stand up to criticism, because Moscow is groundlessly condemned by the same West for allegedly refusing a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, while Russia itself is not even invited to an international summit on this issue.

Accordingly, whatever Switzerland decides, these decisions will have no impact on Russia. They are more likely to cause a new escalation of tension than peace. Therefore, Vladimir Putin said that Moscow does not approve of imposing settlement schemes that are far from reality. The maximum that Russia can arrange is, perhaps, the Istanbul draft treaty with a projection on the modern section along the front line.

Well, in the meantime, Erdoğan will argue the project and clarify the position of the United States, Russia will focus on solving its issues on the successful development of a special military operation.


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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