Erdogan seeks to bolster Turkey’s clout in visit to Ukraine’s Zelensky

Erdogan seeks to bolster Turkey’s clout in visit to Ukraine’s Zelensky
While the West remains nervous about Turkey’s efforts to position itself as mediator, Kyiv may appreciate its role

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is travelling to Ukraine for a meeting with president Volodmyr Zelensky that will highlight Ankara’s multi-faceted role in the war in eastern Europe.

The visit, set to take place in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, will also draw United Nations secretary general Antonio Guiterres, who will then head to the Black Sea port city of Odesa and to Istanbul on 20 August.

The day of meetings in Lviv on Thursday will focus on efforts to get eastern European grain out to the world amid the war and to secure a Ukrainian nuclear power plant caught in the crossfire. But it also shows how Turkey has used the six-month war to bolster its own diplomatic and economic clout.

Mr Erdogan’s first trip to Ukraine since the war began follows a closed-door visit on 5 August by Mr Erdogan with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the resort city of Sochi.

It comes amid western concerns that Ankara is being too accommodating of the Kremlin’s interests. On the other hand, Turkey’s politically well-connected defence industry has also sold Ukraine key military equipment such as Bayraktar TB-2 drones and is entering into partnerships with Kyiv.

“Obviously Erdogan has a lot of skin in the game,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a Kyiv-based global affairs analyst and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. “He’s positioning himself as a regional statesman able to talk with world leaders. He’s in a unique position—geographically, diplomatically and strategically.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the meetings in Lviv would focus on the overall conflict in Ukraine, including threat of a catastrophic mishap at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest and the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks.

Mr Zelensky has accused Russia of using the six-reactor nuclear facility to fire weapons at Ukrainian positions, knowing that Ukraine would be cautious about firing back. Moscow has resisted entreaties to hand the site over to UN nuclear inspectors.

Turkey says the meeting will cover all aspects of relations between Ankara and Kyiv as well as “ending the Ukraine-Russia war through diplomatic avenues.”

With exclusive control over the gateway into the Black Sea, Turkey hosts the multilateral coordination centre through which eastern European grain is being shipped to the rest of the world. Since the centre launched 1 August, at least 21 shipments have made their way out of Black Sea ports, easing global famine worries.

<p>Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan </p>

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The relative success of the grain deal, which was brokered by Turkey and the UN, has surprised some observers. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of grains, and the shipments help Kyiv’s war effort.

Still 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain from the 2021 harvest remain in storage, and hundreds of more ships will be needed to get the foodstuffs to world markets in the coming months.

While Turkey benefits diplomatically from the success of the grain shipments, it also profits by ignoring western sanctions on Moscow. It continues to welcome Russian capital and citizenry, keeping it in good graces with the Kremlin. Turkey’s exports to Russia have jumped to an eight-year high, and Ankara’s transport minister has been openly boasting about an increase in car sales to Russia.

While the west remains nervous about Turkey’s efforts to engage with Russia, Kyiv may appreciate Mr Erdogan’s role as interlocutor.

“Zelensky is desperate for a peace agreement, and Ukraine thinks leaving the channels of communication open to Moscow is absolutely crucial,” said Mr Bociurkiw. “Erdogan is playing a role that I don’t think even the UN secretary general can play.”