01.07.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

What kind of peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is Turkey in favour of?

Russia Türkiye flags

“A bad peace is better than a good war,” so says a Russian proverb. “If the Turks speak of peace, prepare for war,” so says a Greek proverb. So, what kind of peace is Turkey offering in the Russian-Ukrainian case? 

The Istanbul negotiating base and Turkey’s contentless peace initiatives 

Ankara, having received many acceptable concessions from Russia on a number of regional issues (including Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh), since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian military-political crisis in February 2022, has outwardly demonstrated active diplomacy with a reliance on mediation and the achievement of a “fragile peace”. Naturally, with such initiatives Turkey tried not only to show its ability to remain equidistant from the parties to the conflict, but also to add credibility to the international arena by demonstrating itself as a key player. By the way, in 2022, President Erdoğan managed to initiate the negotiation process between Moscow and Kyiv in Istanbul, achieve interim results in terms of periodic exchange of prisoners and conclude the famous “grain deal” with economic benefits for himself.

The Istanbul Peace Agenda, as it came to be known after its failure, contained a number of important principles for a ceasefire and a reasonably peaceful settlement, which were worked out by the parties to the conflict in negotiations between the delegations of D. Arakhamia and V. Medinsky on 29 March 2002 (i.e. just over a month after the start of the military operation). In particular, they discussed Ukraine’s neutral status – its refusal to join NATO, to station foreign contingents on its territory and to develop nuclear weapons.  Ukraine received international guarantees for its own security, except for the territories of the Crimean Peninsula, the DNR and the LNR. The permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, Britain, France and China), as well as Germany, Italy, Poland, Canada, Israel and Turkey, were to guarantee the agreements reached. Ukraine’s European integration with accession to the EU was allowed. Ukraine was obliged to ban by law the propaganda of the concepts of “fascism”, “Nazism” and “aggressive nationalism”.

It cannot be said that such a ceasefire suited both sides in all respects. However, the Russian authorities expressed the political will to take such a step in the name of peace.  However, the outcome of these negotiations was strongly opposed by the Western (or rather Anglo-Saxon) patrons of the Kyiv regime. In particular, in April 2022, The Times noted that the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his fears and actually forbade Zelenskyy to sign such an agreement with Moscow. This fact was later confirmed by the Ukrainian and Turkish sides. Thus, in November 2023, David Arakhamia stated in one of his interviews that they were advised by B. Johnson to refuse to negotiate with Russia.

Turkey was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to convince its main Western ally, Britain, of the need to cease hostilities and adopt the Istanbul Peace Agenda. So, what was the point of Ankara’s peace initiative, if not the ability to use its political and diplomatic skills within its own allies to achieve an important outcome on the world stage? Was it simply to provide a venue for negotiations? But that is too little, even for a historic metropolis like Istanbul. Later, President Erdoğan again showed great interest in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and obtained a “grain deal”. Meanwhile, Turkey did not show itself to be a neutral mediator between Moscow and Kyiv. This is simply because Ankara continued to publicly declare its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in March 2014, made statements about the need for the West and NATO to respect Russia’s interests, and was itself involved in providing military-technical, intelligence, information and political support to the Kyiv regime.

How can we understand Erdoğan’s position when he accuses the West of derailing the Istanbul agreements, but at the same time, when he meets with Zelenskyy during the latter’s visit to Turkey in 2023, he publicly declares his unconditional support for Ukraine’s accession to the NATO bloc? Even in the case of Finland and Sweden, Turkey delayed the issue of their admission from 4 to 22 months.

The fact that Turkey has begun construction of a military factory near Kyiv to produce Bayraktar combat drones does not fit into the norm of perceiving Turkey as an impartial mediator. Finally, Ankara has repeatedly stated on various platforms that it is inappropriate to hold international summits on the political settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis without the participation of all parties to the conflict (especially Russia). In this case, how can we understand the position of Erdoğan’s “friend” in the situation of the upcoming Swiss summit on 21 June this year, if the Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is going to Bern and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is not invited to this forum? How is Turkey going to solve the Russian-Ukrainian crisis together with its other NATO partners without Russia itself?

All these facts about Turkey’s empty diplomacy suggest that we are dealing with populism at best and a dubious adversary at worst.

Moscow’s cautious warnings to Ankara 

The time for diplomatic manoeuvring on key issues on the international agenda will, sooner or later, come to an end, as the situation itself requires a decision to be made. It cannot be said that over the past two decades Russia and Turkey have not reached important and mutually beneficial partnership agreements in various areas of bilateral relations (including trade, energy, tourism, military-technical cooperation and regional security). The role of personality, i.e. the political will of Presidents Putin and Erdoğan, is a great credit to this process.

At the same time, Turkey, which receives considerable economic and financial benefits from its partnership with Russia, after the difficult presidential elections of 2023 and in the situation of an acute financial and economic crisis that is not coming to an end, began to demonstrate a blatantly pro-American policy and since the beginning of 2024 has been sensitively reducing and complicating trade and economic relations with our country (especially in the field of accepting bank payments for Russian companies and Turkish companies involved in the Russian market). Moreover, Ankara is increasing the volume of military-technical assistance to Ukraine (including drones, 155 mm shells, etc.).

The Turks justify their restrictions on Russian business from February 2024 by the intensification of political and financial pressure from the US and Europe, the hope of receiving favourable loans and investments from international structures, the problems of the crisis and the consequences of the devastating earthquake in the south-east of the country. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army is using foreign military aid to deal a sensitive blow to Russian-Turkish economic interests in the Black Sea basin (particularly in relation to the infrastructure of Russian gas pipelines).

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 7 June, Vladimir Putin sent important signals to Recep Erdoğan that Turkey cannot act against Russia’s interests and at the same time take advantage of its financial, economic and other opportunities. The Russian president stressed that “the Turkish government’s economic bloc has recently focused on obtaining loans, investments and grants from Western financial institutions. This is probably not a bad thing. But if this is combined with restrictions on trade and economic relations with Russia, there will be more losses than gains for the Turkish economy”.

Turkey has decided to play the field of Western diplomacy 

Despite the clear and unequivocal warnings of the Russian leader, Erdoğan decided to send his minister Fidan to Switzerland for a Western summit on Ukraine. Moreover, on 13 June (i.e. less than a week after the St Petersburg forum), Recep Erdoğan unexpectedly summoned President Ilham Aliyev to Ankara. The two leaders held an important meeting at Esenboğa airport on a wide range of issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda.

Dallas-based Azerbaijan expert Beidula Manafov believes that Aliyev’s urgent summons to Ankara was linked to the talks between US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan and Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy and security advisor Akif Çagatay Kılıç on 4 June. The US is putting pressure on President Ilham Aliyev to conclude a long-term peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia on US terms as soon as possible (including control of the Nagorno-Karabakh corridor and the expulsion of Russia from the region). At the same time, Washington and Ankara have already concluded a military deal for 40 F-16 Block-70 and 72 aircraft, and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James OʾBrien has been sent to Yerevan offering to raise Armenian-American relations to the level of a strategic partnership, simplification of customs regulations, access to high technology and interest in the Armenian Crossroads project.

Such diplomatic activity by Turkey contradicts the spirit of friendship and cooperation with Russia. Ankara should choose between the North and the West. Viewing the world through “American glasses” could lead to serious threats to Turkey itself.


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

Related articles: