Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on late Monday said that he trusts Russia equally as he trusts Western countries, more than a week after his meeting where he tried to convince his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to rejoin the Black Sea grain initiative that affected food security in many countries.
In an interview, Erdogan said, “To the extent the West is reliable, Russia is equally reliable. For the last 50 years, we have been waiting at the doorstep of the EU and, at this moment in time, I trust Russia just as much as I trust the West.” He also said that though his efforts to convince Russia’s rejoining failed, he has managed to elicite a pledge from Russia on supplying one million tonnes of grain to Africa.
He also said that though the Ukraine war was going to last a long time, Putin was in favour of ending the conflict as soon as possible. “That’s what he said. And I believe his remarks,” said the Turkish President.
Interestingly, Erdogan has maintained close ties with the Russian President by refraining from joining the western sanctions aimed at Moscow following the invasion in Ukraine last year. However, Turkey has also supported Ukraine by sending arms, meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and supporting its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Erdogan also implied improving ties with the United States, as seen with recent approval of Sweden’s NATO membership and a possible deal to supply Turkey with F-16 fighter jets. “We are pleased with the development of our cooperation with the US. We have resolved most of the deadlocks during the talks with Mr Biden and we have decided to hold more talks in line with the positive agenda,” he said.
He also seemed to roll-back his earlier statement that Turkey is looking to end its 24-year-bid to accede to the European Union (EU), saying that there is a “window of opportunity” in the revitalisation of Turkey-EU relations in a “critical period”.
Russia and Turkey have been rivals for a long time, but have grown closer over recent years as trade levels increased. Together, they have coordinated in initiatives such as the Turkstream gas pipeline and Turkiye’s first nuclear power plant. Under Erdogan’s presidency, Turkey has become Russia’s main trading partners and logistical hub for overseas trade.
However, things between the two countries hit a snag when Erdogan allowed five Ukrainian commanders to return home, angering Moscow. The soldiers had been captured by Russia and handed over to Turkiye on condition they remain there for the duration of the war.
Russia-Turkey relations in fields such as energy, defense, diplomacy, tourism and trade have flourished despite the countries being on opposing sides in conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Erdogan has also expressed sympathy with Putin’s position, saying that he had “certain expectations from Western countries” over the Black Sea deal and called on them to take action.
The Black Sea grain initiative
Last year, Turkey and the United Nations engineered a deal to allow Ukrainian grain to be safely shipped from its Black Sea ports in attempts to avoid a global food crisis. Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July, claiming that the promises of removing obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer have not been honoured.
Russia’s decision will pose a threat to African nations which are already facing unprecedented crises of grains and other agricultural products, especially wheat. Since the withdrawal, Erdogan has repeatedly persuaded Putin to renew agreements that helped a food crisis in Africa, Middle East and Asia.
(with AP inputs)