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Erdoğan’s mediator role: Seeking peace amid conflict

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With the grain deal as a focal point, the Sochi meeting also highlighted Türkiye’s readiness to mediate between conflicting parties and the strategic bilateral ties between Ankara and Moscow

The international community watched with keen interest as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday. At the forefront of their discussions was the resumption of the Black Sea grain corridor deal, which had been halted by Moscow in July.

During their joint news conference, one notable departure from tradition was Putin’s extended remarks and a seemingly firmer tone. He made it clear that Moscow was prepared to rekindle the deal but insisted on the removal of all restrictions on Russian agricultural exports.

While Russian grain and fertilizer exports remain untouched by sanctions, they encounter challenges once their products leave the country. Firstly, Swift transaction restrictions hinder Russia from receiving payments from buyers. Secondly, insuring vessels used for exporting Russian grain or fertilizers poses difficulties.

Russia’s primary condition for breaking the deadlock is the removal of these two barriers. Another critical aspect of Russia’s stance is that the grain exported through this deal predominantly benefits Western developed nations, leaving limited supplies for developing nations in dire need. Quite frankly, Putin placed the blame for the current failure of the deal squarely on the shoulders of Western countries while also pointing at the West for the grain shortages in developing nations in need.

As an alternative, sending 1 million tons of grain to Türkiye, which would processed there before being dispatched to several African nations, is being discussed. Qatar has expressed its readiness for financial support for this proposal. Meanwhile, a United Nations proposal, spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has also been communicated with Moscow, aiming to overcome the two obstacles mentioned above.

Conflict resolution and bilateral ties

Setting aside the finer details of the discussions, it is crucial to highlight several key moments following the Erdoğan-Putin meeting: Firstly, Erdoğan’s and other Turkish officials’ relentless shuttle diplomacy efforts must be recognized. They have tirelessly sought solutions to resume the grain deal and promote talks between Ukraine and Russia. Erdoğan’s adept leader-to-leader diplomacy has played a pivotal role in bolstering grain exports.

Secondly, while the grain deal is a focal point, Erdoğan reiterated Türkiye’s readiness to mediate between conflicting parties and facilitate direct talks. Previously talks had been held in Türkiye’s Antalya and Istanbul. Moreover, a prisoner exchange was also facilitated by Türkiye. However, Türkiye’s primary goal is achieving a diplomatic solution to end the ongoing conflict in its immediate neighborhood, a principled approach that acknowledges the global implications of this regional strife.

Thirdly, beyond the grain deal, the meeting highlighted the strategic bilateral ties between Ankara and Moscow. These encompass a broad spectrum, from the ambitious $100 billion (TL 2.68 trillion) bilateral trade volume target to joint ventures in tourism and Türkiye’s nuclear energy initiatives (Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and Sinop Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant). Despite existing disagreements in areas like Syria, both nations have demonstrated an ability to compartmentalize their differences and concentrate on areas where their national interests align.

It is no secret that Türkiye opposes the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. It is also not a secret that Türkiye and Russia are on opposing sides in Syria. However, the focus on where national interests are aligned has enabled the two countries to have a working relationship and establish a common platform for dialogue where they are able to discuss disagreements.

As the upcoming G-20 and U.N. General Assembly meetings loom on the horizon, Erdoğan’s interactions with Western leaders will provide an opportunity to address Russia’s demands for the resumption of the grain deal and engage in discussions on a wide array of regional and bilateral issues.

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