Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey would like to take on the role of peacemaker in Europe and host the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Ankara wants to emphasize its leading role within NATO.
On March 10, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Dmytro Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart, met for the first time since the start of the conflict. Organized a meeting in Antalya, Turkey. The talks did not allow progress to be made in resolving the conflict, but demonstrated the role Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey wants to play in the Ukrainian crisis.
“The war allows the Turkish president to position himself as an essential actor, a privileged mediator,” emphasizes Anne Andlauer, correspondent in Turkey, especially for the RTS, and guest of the program† According to her, Recep Tayyip Erdogan can take on this role without too much difficulty as Turkey has maintained good relations with Ukraine and Russia despite the war. “It is also a way for him to show NATO’s western allies that we can not only count on Turkey, but also that we must resolutely count on Turkey in this region of the world,” the journalist specifies.
Turkey in NATO
The policies of Turkey, which has been a member of NATO since 1952, have raised concerns about its trustworthiness within the Alliance. It has been widely criticized, particularly by the United States, for purchasing Russian S-400 missiles. It is also the only Member State that has not imposed economic sanctions on Russia, which is also its main energy supplier. On the other hand, Turkey supports Ukraine’s accession to NATO and has supplied the famous Bayraktar TB2 combat drones. In particular, they are said to have played a role in the sinking of the “Moskva”, the flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea.
An ambiguous position between the two warring parties that Anne Andlauer says remains tenable “as long as Turkey can explain to its NATO allies and prove that this equilibrium position has importance and effectiveness in times of crisis”. But as negotiations stall and the war drags on, this position could become increasingly difficult to justify.
The economic stalemate
“Recep Tayyip Erdogan has an interest in ending this war as soon as possible,” explains Anne Andlauer, who has just signed. Erdogan’s Turkey, Editions du Rocher. According to the journalist, “Turkey’s strategy is more about reconciliation than tension. Recep Tayyip Erdogan currently needs a calmer environment to recover his economy”. Turkey is going through a serious monetary and economic crisis. Inflation has reached more than 60% in the past 12 months, the highest in 20 years. The Turkish currency has collapsed and has lost half of its value against the dollar since early 2021. Millions of people are now struggling to find housing and food.
Raising the minimum wage, reducing VAT on certain commodities, the Turkish president is stepping up measures to avert the crisis as the next presidential elections take place in one year, in June 2023. The opposition hopes to capitalize on popular discontent with the economic situation, but Anne Andlauer says it has yet to find a candidate who can compete with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“On paper, Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lose,” admits Anne Andlauer. “But we don’t know at all in which national and international context the Turks will vote in a little more than a year. Moreover, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will of course do everything he can to remain in power.” By the 2023 elections, President Truce could further strengthen his grip on the country’s institutions and control over civil society. Witness, according to Anne Andlauer, the recent life sentence of Osman Kavala. This Turkish businessman and philanthropist is accused of overthrowing the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, through his support for the anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in 2013, and during the failed coup d’état in July 2016.