Erdoğan’s top foreign policy adviser defends Turkey's engagement with Russia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chief foreign policy aide defended Turkish diplomatic engagement in Russia as it wages war against Ukraine, saying that talks with Moscow were necessary if any peace was to be secured. 

On Sunday, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdoğan’s advisor, said that it remained necessary to take part in dialogue with Russia if the international community was to urge an end to the month-long war against Ukraine. Speaking to the Doha International Forum in Qatar on Sunday, Kalin said that it was necessary to properly support Ukraine while taking into account Russia’s security concerns. 

"If everybody burns bridges with Russia, then who is going to talk to them at the end of the day?" Kalin asked, according to Reuters. 

"Ukrainians need to be supported by every means possible so they can defend themselves... but the Russian case must be heard, one way or the other," Kalin added.

Prior to the war, Erdoğan repeatedly pleaded with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky under Turkey’s mediation. Putin disregarded this request by attacking Ukraine on February 24, but Erdoğan continued to take part in telephone diplomacy with Putin while dispatching his diplomats to Moscow, Kyiv and to stay in touch with Turkey’s Western partners. 

Turkey has condemned the invasion of Ukraine and it has invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention to shut the Black Sea to all foreign warships. But Erdoğan has maintained that Turkey cannot abandon either Russia or Ukraine because of its strong ties with the two as well as its deep economic connections to both. 

Alongside Turkey, France and Israel have also positioned themselves as intermediaries between Ukraine, Russia and the West. To date, only Turkey has managed to bring Ukraine and Russia’s representatives together for a high-level summit on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum between their foreign ministers. 

In remarks on the progress of Ukraine-Russia talks, Turkish officials have hinted at both progress and obstacles in the negotiations. 

On March 24, Erdoğan said that there is "almost a consensus" between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations on technical topics but deeper disagreements on Crimea and the Donbass. Putin has demanded that Ukraine recognise Russian control of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and recognise the two separatist statelets in the Donbass as independent as he did on February 21. Zelensky has not committed to recognise any legally Ukrainian territory as either independent or as a part of Russia. 

Kalin, who has sat in on calls between Putin and Erdogan, said that Putin does not intend to meet with Zelensky at this stage in negotiations but appears to have abandoned any goal of regime change in Kyiv. He added that it is more likely that Putin wants to secure a stronger diplomatic hand before considering a peace deal.

"There will be a peace deal at some point. Of course, we all want this to happen sooner rather than later, but probably Putin thinks that he wants to be in a position of strength when he does that, and not appear to be weak, weakened by either military losses or by the economic sanctions,” said Kalin, according to the New York Times on March 19.

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