The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

With Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to have it both ways.

As we all know, the war between Russia and Ukraine started on February 24, 2022, when Russia declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine. In that time, aside from the tens of thousands of Russian soldiers who have been needlessly killed, thousands of Ukrainians have lost their lives, and many more have fled their country. So where does Turkey fit into all of this?

Turkey has tried to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. For example, it helped negotiate the agreement which allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the world market, and this agreement has been seen as a Turkish success by many Western countries. Turkey also played a crucial role in reconciliation and mediation sessions, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor, and the exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war.

At the same time, the Bayraktar family, who have close connections to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has provided much-needed drones to Ukraine. On the other hand, Turkey has not complied with Western sanctions imposed on Russia, and when it has it has begrudgingly done so. Erdogan has repeatedly stressed that he considers Vladimir Putin a friend, and this would help explain Turkish opposition to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. Erdogan’s opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO has been described as a pre-election policy.

Trade between Russia and Turkey has not decreased during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; on the contrary, it reached $50 billion at the end of 2022. Despite Putin’s international pariah status, Erdogan has never fully turned his back on his personal friend and kindred spirit.

What helps explain Erdogan’s approach to the most violent conflict on European soil since the Second World War? For Turkey, the steps that Erdogan has taken are intended not to tie his hands and are very much in line with what he and Turkey stand to gain. How this plays out and what rewards it offers to Erdogan remains to be seen.

Cansu Ece Goksin completed her studies at the Middle East Technical University and State University of New York in the Political Science and International Affairs department. After graduation, Cansu worked as a banker in Turkey in investor relations and project finance. Cansu is currently pursuing her post-graduate studies at University of Pavia, Italy in the Political Science department and is also a columnist.