Erdogan to discuss Syria and Ukraine during meeting with Putin in Sochi

Turkey establishing itself as key geopolitical player after brokering deal to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to resume

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands before their meeting at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. AP
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will discuss developments in Syria with his Russia's President Vladimir Putin, during his visit to Russia on Friday.

Mr Erdogan said meetings between Turkish and Russian delegations at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi had been fruitful.

Sitting opposite Mr Putin ahead of their talks, Mr Erdogan said it was important that the Akkuyu nuclear plant being built by a Russian company in southern Turkey was completed on time.

Mr Erdogan is riding high from the diplomatic success of helping to orchestrate the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments across the Black Sea. This is his second meeting with Mr Putin in just over two weeks.

But there are tensions. The Turkish leader was told by Mr Putin in Tehran last month that Russia remains opposed to any new offensive that Turkey might be planning against Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

Analysts believe these strains form part of the “competitive co-operation” that has defined the two leaders' relationship over the past 20 years.

“Russia's war on Ukraine has restored Turkey's self-image as a key geopolitical player and given Erdogan more visibility than at any time in the last few years,” Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow of the European Council of Foreign Relations think tank wrote in a report last week.

“Most Turks support their country's balancing act and quasi-neutral position between the West and Russia.”

Attempts by Nato member Turkey to remain neutral in the face of Moscow's standoff with the West over Ukraine are starting to pay off.

Months of Turkish efforts saw Moscow and Kyiv sign a UN-backed agreement in Istanbul last month to resume grain deliveries from Ukrainian ports.

The first ship from Ukraine stopped for inspection in Turkey on Wednesday. Three more are expected to set sail on Friday under the deal aimed at relieving a global food crisis caused by the war.

Turkey wants to translate this success into truce talks in Istanbul between Mr Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“We discussed if the grain agreement could be an occasion for a sustainable ceasefire,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after talks with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Asia on Wednesday.

Complicating these efforts are repeated threats by Mr Erdogan to launch a new military operation in Syria, a country where Russian and Turkish interests clash.

Russia's military helped Syrian President Bashar Al Assad survive a decade-long civil war against numerous armed groups, including some backed by Turkey.

But Mr Erdogan is threatening to invade northern Syria to establish a buffer zone that pushes out Kurdish groups he links to groups waging an insurgency against the Turkish state.

Mr Putin told Russian media in Tehran that he still had “certain disagreements” with Mr Erdogan about Syria.

“In most likelihood, [Friday's] meeting has something do with a possible incursion into Syria, for which Turkey did not get a green light from Russia — or from Iran, for that matter,” said foreign affairs analyst Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University.

“Russia would have to get something in return,” he said.

Some Turkish media have speculated that Mr Putin really wants drones.

Turkey has been supplying Kyiv with Bayraktar drones that have proved effective in destroying Russian armoured vehicles in Ukraine.

US officials say a Russian team has visited Iran to look at purchasing hundreds of its drones for its own forces in Ukraine.

Mr Erdogan has added to the intrigue by telling his Cabinet that Mr Putin asked him in Tehran to start selling Bayraktars to Russia.

A senior Turkish official later said that Mr Erdogan interpreted the suggestion as a joke.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to lend credence to the idea.

Military and technological co-operation are always on the two countries' agenda
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman

“Military and technological co-operation are always on the two countries' agenda,” Mr Peskov said.

One unlikely source of tension is how the two leaders, renowned for being late, will actually meet.

Mr Erdogan made Mr Putin stand in place for nearly 50 seconds before walking out to greet him in Tehran.

A Turkish state news agency camera zeroed in on the Russian president's face for the entire time.

Many interpreted this as payback for the time Mr Putin made Mr Erdogan wait for nearly two minutes at a meeting in 2020.

Updated: August 05, 2022, 2:05 PM