EXPLAINER: A mediating role for Erdogan in the Ukrainian crisis?

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Kyiv Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as his country walks a tightrope trying to balance relations with Russia and Ukraine .

A key NATO member in the strategically important Black Sea region, Turkey has called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis and repeatedly offered to mediate between the two.

Here is an overview of Turkey’s ties with Ukraine and Russia, and Erdogan’s possible role as a mediator:

ERDOGAN THE MEDIATOR

The Turkish President expressed his fears that the situation could “turn into a new crisis”.

Ankara has close ties with Kiev and Moscow, and Erdogan believes his country can play a key role in defusing tensions. He has suggested in the past that Turkey could be a location for possible peace efforts.

“I emphasize once again that we are ready to do our part to establish an atmosphere of peace and trust in our region,” he said before leaving for Kyiv.

After seeing Zelenskyy, Erdogan hopes to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey. He said Putin’s visit would likely take place after the Russian president returns from China, where he will attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing..

Speaking to reporters ahead of his departure, Erdogan did not provide information on Turkey’s possible mediation plans, saying he needed to meet the two leaders first.

Last week, Erdogan said it would not be “rational” for Russia to invade Ukraine and that Turkey would do whatever is necessary as a NATO member. However, he also spoke of the need for a “meaningful dialogue with Russia” to resolve any “reasonable” security concerns it may have and to explain to Moscow why some of its demands “are not acceptable”.

TURKEY’S LINKS WITH UKRAINE

Turkey has historical relations with Ukraine and strong ethnic ties with Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar community.

Ankara spoke out against Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, vowing never to recognize it. Before leaving for Kyiv, Erdogan stressed Turkey’s commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

Turkey, a NATO member, supports Ukraine’s efforts to join the alliance.

Ankara has strengthened its defense cooperation with Ukraine in recent years. He sold armed Bayraktar TB2 drones from Kiev which were used against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, angering Moscow. The two countries are also planning joint defense industrial production projects.

Several agreements, including a free trade agreement, are expected to be signed during Thursday’s visit, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Ukraine.

A DIFFICULT PARTNERSHIP WITH RUSSIA

The situation regarding Ukraine has put Turkey in a bind. The NATO member has been trying to mend its frayed ties with the United States and other alliance members, following its controversial decision to buy advanced Russian air defense technology. But at the same time, he cannot afford to damage his ties with Moscow.

Turkey would find it difficult to join any sanctions or operations against Russia. The country, which is struggling to cope with a major monetary crisis, is banking on tourism revenues to help its economy and provide vital foreign currency, and Russia is Turkey’s main tourist market. Moscow has exploited this situation in the past, halting flights carrying tourists to Turkey – and halting agricultural imports – after Ankara shot down a Russian military plane deployed in Syria in 2015.

Turkey must also exercise caution with Russia in Syria. Ankara needs Moscow’s approval to maintain its presence in northern Syria, despite support from the two opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. In 2020, 37 Turkish soldiers were killed in Russian-backed airstrikes against rebels in Syria’s last rebel-held province of Idlib.

To complicate matters further, Russia is a major source of Turkish natural gas and is building the country’s first nuclear power plant.

Christi C. Elwood