Erdoğan to visit Putin in Sochi under threat of Syria offensive

Turkey strives to maintain ties with Russia while condemning its aggression

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to be the first NATO leader to visit Russia since the invasion of Ukraine when visiting President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Russia and Turkey are heavily involved in Syria, with Moscow supporting the Assad regime and Ankara the Sunni Arab rebels. And Erdoğan recently talked about launching a new incursion into Syria, into areas of Russian military presence.

“What is clear is that the fact that it is Erdoğan who is going to Sochi means that it is Turkey who wants something from Russia,” said Daria Isachenko, an expert on Turkey and Russia. at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“It’s most likely Syria,” she said.

Erdoğan will seek permission to carry out an offensive in Syria and will discuss possible details, such as the area and its size, Isachenko told The Media Line.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders would talk about defense cooperation, Russian state news agency TASS reported on Wednesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a TV interview in late July that his country does not seek permission for military operations.

Erdoğan has spoken in recent months of launching an incursion, later specifying that his country would attack US-allied Kurdish militants in Tel Rifaat and Manbij in northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border.

Ankara says Kurdish forces in Syria are cooperating with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group, which has been engaged in an insurgency in Turkey for decades.

Turkey, the United States and the EU classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.

An obstacle to the Kremlin’s acceptance of a Turkish incursion would be Iran, which has taken over some of the space left by Russia‘s reduced presence in Syria since its invasion of Ukraine and has expressed its opposition. to the plans of Ankara.

Isachenko said Iran and Turkey are important for Russia, which will have to adapt to both.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has been trying to reconcile its desire to maintain ties with Russia and its condemnation of the Kremlin’s aggression.

Turkey exercised its authority under the Montreux Convention, limiting the access of Russian vessels to the Black Sea, located south of Ukraine.

While Erdoğan said Russia’s ‘military operation’ in Ukraine was ‘not acceptable’ soon after it began, he added: ‘We consider both Russia and Ukraine to be our close partners. “.

Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia as a source of energy, tourism and trade.

Timothy Ash, an economist specializing in Turkey and Ukraine, said Erdoğan would like to obtain commitments from Russia to continue providing cheap energy and allow the export of agricultural products from the country and Europe. Ukraine.

This is “key for Turkey to reduce its current account deficit and moderate the pressure on [the] read,” Ash wrote in a message to The Media Line.

A coordination center in Istanbul was opened on Wednesday to oversee the export of food shipments stuck in Ukrainian ports since the Russian invasion, after the signing of an agreement between the three countries and the UN on July 22.

The trapped grain has driven up food prices around the world, although soaring inflation was a problem Turkey had been dealing with for many months before February.

Last year, the Turkish lira lost 44% of its value against the US dollar. The currency is down another 25% so far in 2022.

Ash said that in exchange for such commitments from Russia, Putin would like to ensure that Turkey does not impose sanctions on him and hopes that Ankara will reduce support for Ukraine.

Erdoğan has been closing in on Putin for years, including buying the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile defense system from Russia.

However, Turkey and Russia have never been allies and analysts warn that Erdoğan is likely to continue to view Moscow as a threat.

With the two countries supporting opposing sides in Syria, Moscow could pose major risks to the Turkish military and territory.

A Russian-backed attack on Syria’s Idlib region, where millions of displaced people now live near the Turkish border, could lead to a new flow of asylum seekers and increase the domestic pressure Erdoğan faces due to of heightened anti-refugee sentiment.

However, the international backlash against Russia, which has seen sweeping sanctions and some of the world’s biggest companies leave the country, has strengthened Turkey’s position.

Isachenko said that despite some opposition from Moscow, she believes Turkey will continue the offensive in Syria.

“It’s really a question of where Turkey will conduct the operation,” she said.

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