Putin and Erdoğan play down their differences in Sochi

Putin and Erdoğan reunited. Just seventeen days after their last meeting in Tehran, where they also had the opportunity to discuss alone and in the company of the ayatollahs, the Russian president received the Turkish leader in his summer residence, in the famous palace on the banks of the Black Sea. With a wide range of topics and issues to resolve, the conversation revolved around deepening bilateral trade and energy cooperation, but did not ignore the convulsive geopolitical scenario that emerged after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Erdoğan became the last bullet in the chamber. The Turkish leader is the loose link in the NATO chain capable of dialogue with Putin, to persuade him to put out the hearth of war. Although he acts motivated by his own interests, which sometimes have nothing to do with those of the Western orbit, Erdoğan got what he wanted: to establish himself as the main mediator between Kyiv and Moscow. A mediator who, with the support of the United Nations, sews important agreements such as that of unblocking Ukrainian ports to resume grain exports.

In foreign key, the Turkish president has scored a diplomatic point after months of arduous negotiations, marked by Ukrainian distrust of the twisted methods of the Kremlin. Internally, he needed the pact to ease the deep economic crisis Turkey is in, with the lira at rock bottom and inflation soaring. All this in the face of an Erdoğan stubborn in maintaining his monetary policy of lowering interest rates against the recommendations of experts. But he is aware that, faced with a Russia weakened by the invasion and its excesses, he can extract more concessions.

Putin, for his part, seeks to find new ways to keep the Russian economy afloat, subjected to harsh Western isolation. Although economic indicators still do not reflect the extent of the damage, analysts say, and although Russia has tried to channel trade flows through countries such as China and India, sanctions have reduced the ability Russian industrial fabric. The Kremlin is now developing different strategies to circumvent the restrictions imposed by Washington and Brussels, safe-conducts that allow it to continue to operate relatively normally.

In this context, a Turkish expedition led by Erdoğan landed this Friday in Sochi. Accompanied by Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Defense, Hulusi Akar, Energy, Fatih Dönmez, Finance, Nureddin Nebati, Trade, Mehmet Muş, and Agriculture, Vahit Kirişçi – many strong men of the government -, the Islamist leader reached an agreement that had been on track since the beginning of this week by a Turkish delegation, avant-garde with skills in the diplomatic, economic and commercial fields, as recognized by the spokesman of the Kremlin Dimitri Peskov at the end of the meeting.

It was the turn of the two leaders. Putin and Erdoğan first held a four-hour solo meeting then joined their respective teams in the conversation. The meeting meant a continuation, a second part of the face-to-face on Iranian soil during the summit in Astana format to discuss the Syrian scenario. On this occasion, however, there were more questions on the table. Commercial links, the grain export agreement, energy cooperation or arms contracts have come to the fore.

PHOTO/RUSSIAN PRESIDENCY – Russian President Vladimir Putin receives Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at his residence in Sochi

Putin wanted to start the visit by sincerely thanking Erdoğan in front of the cameras: “With his direct participation and with the mediation of the UN Secretary General, the problem related to the supply of Ukrainian grain to the Black Sea ports has been solved. “. “The supplies have already started. I want to thank you and because, at the same time, a common solution was adopted on the uninterrupted supply of Russian food and fertilizers to the world market,” the Russian President told his counterpart.

Putin’s feigned closeness could match his intentions to using the Turkish economy as a subterfuge to circumvent Western sanctions operations and shield against the coming. According to information collected by the Ukrainian intelligence services and published by the Washington Post, Moscow would have asked the Erdoğan government to be able to acquire stakes in oil refineries, oil terminals and fields in Turkey. In addition, several Turkish state banks allow the opening of correspondent accounts for major banking entities in Russia. There is no indication that Erdoğan is giving the green light.

In terms of energy, Russia is one of Turkey’s main suppliers. In 2021 alone, Moscow supplied the Eurasian nation with a quarter of its oil imports and around half of its gas purchases. “The Turkish current [el gasoducto que conecta ambos países a través del mar Negro]a difference de todas las demás rutas de nuestros suministros de hidrocarburos, funciona correctlyamente, de manera dinámica, sin fallos (…), se ha converted into one of the main arteries of abastecimiento de gas ruso a Europa”, subrayó Putin in the meet. Turkey, for its part, is a key transshipment point for goods bound for Russia. before the disappearance of Western businesses, according to the Turkish official newspaper Dunya, and was already one of the main destinations for Russian tourists.

The economic and commercial dependencies between one and the other are cut in terms of armament. Ankara defied its NATO allies when it tried to acquire Russian S-400 anti-missile systems, a stalled operation so far, while Moscow aims to replenish and expand its arsenal with the purchase of Bayraktar T2 drones, directed by Erdoğan’s son-in-law. However, the Turkish government has made it clear that it will not sell arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian army has this armament.

He highlighted the presence at the dialogue table of Hakan Fidan, the director of the National Intelligence Agency of Turkey, Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT, for its acronym in Turkish), the institution responsible for linking the action of the state to that of the Syrian rebel groups. One of his interlocutors in the matter appears to have been the leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who was seen accessing the residence in Sochi directly in charge of a large contingent of Chechen forces in Syria. Erdoğan intends to launch another campaign to establish a new 30 kilometer “safe zone” in the north of the country, but he needs Putin’s approval to do so.

In this scenario, the competing interests. One fought the Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad, another perpetuated his regime; one is a member of NATO, the other has become its main threat; one supports the Libyan unity government, another supports Marshal Khalifa Hafter’s campaign in the east of the country; one wants to gain weight in Central Asia, the other seeks to maintain its stronghold of influence there. And with the threat of a resumption of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, where they support different camps, the distances between one and the other are widening.

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