29.03.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey’s Peace Agenda


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed his country in an interview with Turkey’s NTV channel: “Turkey will never be a party to any war; it will always stand for peace and preserve peace. As it does now in the situation with Russia and Ukraine.”

It goes without saying that Erdoğan’s assertion runs counter to Turkey’s actions in regional crises in the Middle East, North Africa, and the South Caucasus. In particular, Turkey participated in various ways and to diverse degrees in the wars in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh throughout the previous years of Erdoğan’s administration. Naturally, Ankara was driven to respond in each of these situations by its own national interests, its efforts to combat global terrorism and ethnic separatism, as well as the necessity of maintaining the unity of the Turkic World. As a result, it is difficult to assert that “Turkey will never be a party to any war” and that “it will always stand for peace.”

It is another matter that Turkey, under Erdoğan’s leadership, has adopted a relatively positive stance in the context of the crisis in ties between Russia and Ukraine and the ongoing Russia’ special military operation in Ukraine. In particular, Ankara has refrained from fully joining the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the collective West, has upheld cordial ties with Kiev and Moscow, and has undertaken and is still undertaking a number of initiatives to halt hostilities and end the conflict peacefully (including prisoner exchange, the “grain deal,” organization of bilateral talks in Istanbul, and regular contacts with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine).

Despite being a NATO member, Turkey urged NATO alliances and partners to forgo one-sided approaches to the Russia-Ukraine situation, avoid bloc conflicts, and prevent a return to the Cold War era. President Erdoğan has now taken the initiative to extend the “grain deal” and intends to negotiate directly with his counterparts Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky again in search of opportunities to stop the fighting and resume direct dialogue, even through the well-known internal political issues brought on by the earthquake and the pre-election situation. The concept of constructing a fertilizer agreement as is the case with the deal for the grain corridor may be one of Ankara’s latest proposals.

It is accurate to say that Turkey is not an impartial observer of the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Although Erdoğan is not directly involved in this conflict, Turkey clearly supports the Kiev government on the issue of the ownership of Crimea and other Ukrainian regions that were annexed by the Russian Federation from Ukraine. In the military field, the Turks assisted the Ukrainian side by supplying weapons and military equipment (including Bayraktar UAVs and BMC Kirpi), sent their instructors to the combat zone to operate drones, the ranks of foreign mercenaries on the side of Ukraine were also attended by Turkish fighters, and Ankara announced its intention to build a joint venture in Ukraine to produce Bayraktar UAVs.

Erdoğan has been urged, without a doubt, to entice the electorate with new measures from his platform in the midst of the presidential campaign. As the reader may know, all members of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), as well as Pakistan and Hungary, recently came up with initiative to award Erdoğan the Nobel Peace Prize for his personal contribution to the Ukrainian peace process. On the eve of the election, the popularization of Erdoğan’s personality in the Turkic world and other allied countries clearly has pragmatic goals of maintaining the AKP leader in office.

As for the Nobel Prize, Erdoğan, like any other high-level politician, could be a candidate. But, in this situation, whether with or without Erdoğan, peace in Ukraine was never achieved for a variety of well-known and little known reasons. Therefore, there is a contribution (an endeavor, an effort), but no peace has been achieved. What is the prize for? In Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, Erdoğan is unlikely to enjoy the reputation of a peacemaker. Besides, how will Stockholm view Erdoğan’s candidacy positively if Ankara continues to oppose Sweden’s membership in NATO?

Russia, on the other hand, highly respects Erdoğan’s personality and policies, which demonstrate consistency in strengthening Turkey’s independent course, developing mutually beneficial relations with Russia, ending hostilities and establishing peace in Ukraine while respecting the interests of all parties. As a result, if Erdoğan is awarded the Nobel Prize, Russia will take the news with respect, if not rejoice.

The Turkish president plans to undertake further direct conversations with Putin in the near future. In the current circumstances of escalating combat on the battlefield, such actions on the part of world politicians and leaders of significant states are seen positively, because indefinite fighting and “war of attrition” strategies cannot be relied on (which, for example, Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg calls for).

Attention, backed up by realistic ideas and suggestions, is the only way to normalize the regional and global security systems. In this regard, Turkey is a very productive partner.

But, unless the parties to the conflict desire to do so, no outside entity interested in peace can solve the problem of conflict and restore peace. In this regard, Russia has repeatedly, at various levels, stated its readiness to resume peace talks for a political settlement of the crisis, taking into account the fait accompli and realities over the past year.

It is also critical that Turkey, which offers peace to Russia and Ukraine, develop its agenda and concept of negotiations, that is, what principles and approaches are acceptable in Ankara’s opinion for the spring of 2023. In this context, China issued a constructive 12-point peace plan, which was commonly accepted by Moscow.

It is not by chance that Eastern wisdom says: “Saying halva won’t make your mouth sweet.” Likewise, in politics, peace is accomplished not simply via wishful thinking or declarative statements, but also through a responsible attitude and a concrete program that considers the balance of power and the possibilities of compromise.

Certainly, Erdoğan, as an experienced politician, understands all of the intricacies and details of the complex process of reaching peaceful solutions. Perhaps his influence will persuade Ukrainian allies to agree that resuming direct talks with Moscow is the best course of action rather than planning another military operation.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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