Erdoğan might be walking into a Putin trap at Sochi meeting – Erdemir

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees it as a success to secure a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, he may well be walking into a trap, Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD) in Washington D.C., told Ahval’s editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar in the latest episode of the Hot Pursuit podcast series.

Turkey’s strongman got visibly angry after failing to snatch a photo opportunity with U.S. President Joe Biden last week during the United Nations General Assembly.

In several press remarks following his New York visit with both the U.S. and Turkish media, Erdoğan harshly attacked both Biden personally, as well as U.S. policies in the region and beyond.

In those remarks, Erdoğan first said he would like to see U.S. troops out of Syria and Iraq, just like Afghanistan, then riled against Biden, labelling his relationship with him as the worst experience with a U.S. president since George W. Bush in the early 2000s.

On Sunday, Russian jets launched bombing raids near Afrin in northwest Syria, Reuters reported, stepping up military pressure in other areas under the control of Turkey or Turkish-backed rebels. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Monday criticised Russia and the United States over what he called a failure to fulfill their responsibilities as part of deals in the war-torn country.

According to Erdemir, the first message of the Erdoğan visit to New York is that the foreign and security policy of Turkey hinges solely on the personal relations of Erdoğan with other leaders. Therefore, if Erdoğan fails to get a photo with the U.S. president, the visit is then labeled as a failure, even though both his spokesperson İbrahim Kalın and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu were able to have meetings with their respective counterparts at the White House and the State Department during the visit.  

From this perspective, according to Erdemir, regardless of content, if Erdoğan got the photo op, he could have emerged happy from the UN assembly. But instead, Erdoğan began accusing the U.S. of supporting terrorism and comparing Biden negatively with former presidents.

The Biden administration did not push back on Erdoğan’s accusations. This shows that it has cornered itself when it comes to Turkey following its embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan. Therefore, it appears that Washington will continue to try to appease Turkey and avoid criticism of its human rights going forward.

On his return from New York, Erdoğan appeared very confident about his upcoming meeting with Putin, but this might be just jubilant posturing with no substance behind it, Erdemir said.

“Purchasing second a batch of S-400s would definitely trigger a second round of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions from Washington while Erdoğan’s expected negotiating on natural gas with Putin could also lead to an unfair gas deal for Turkey and a lucrative one for Russia,” Erdemir said.

Hours after Erdoğan said Turkey intended to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia, the U.S. State Department warned that such a move would generate fresh sanctions against its NATO ally. The Donald Trump administration imposed the first CAATSA sanctions on Turkey before handing over power in December of 2020.

“Considering the increasing Russian pressure in Syria while Russian jets airstrikes repeatedly hit territories controlled by Turkish forces or Syrian proxies recently, this is not a meeting Erdoğan should be looking forward to having”, Erdemir said. Therefore, his jubilance about securing a one-on-one meeting with Putin could turn out to be “very treacherous”, he added.

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