It has been widely assumed, and until recently it was hard to argue otherwise, that while European countries have been providing unwavering support to Ukraine within the framework of NATO, Turkey has been trying to strike a balance between Ukraine and Russia. However, the past week has clearly deviated from this picture.
On the one hand, Ukraine received support from Western allies in the form of announcements of new arms deliveries, but was visibly frustrated by the vague political position of those who once again postponed the prospect of its NATO membership.
On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not only expressed unequivocal support for Ukraine’s NATO membership and reaffirmed Ankara’s support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity (i.e., Crimea’s belonging to Ukraine), but also took a shocking step that surprised many. He transferred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the command of “Azov” personnel, who were supposed to remain in Turkey until the end of the war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called this move by Erdogan a violation of agreements, unpleasant and unexpected, especially considering the fact that Russia was not informed about it. In addition, Erdogan reached an agreement with Zelenskyy on the production of combat drones for Ukraine, suggested that Russia should extend the grain deal, and called on Putin to visit him in a manner that seemed to challenge a subordinate to a superior.
All this caused a real hysteria among many Z commentators, with lamentations about another “stab in the back,” the recognition of Turkey’s irreparable hostility to Russia, and the assertion of Russia’s humiliated position in world politics.
What happened and what explains this abrupt change of attitude of “Erdogan the friend” towards “Vladimir the friend”, who was recently almost overthrown by his own cook and was already preparing to evacuate from Moscow to St. Petersburg?
There are two main explanations for what happened.
The first is what is called “a good face in a bad game. Those who hold this view try to portray the situation as if Erdogan acted in almost secret agreement with Putin to “sweeten the pill” of Ukraine’s allegedly unsuccessful counteroffensive. In our opinion, this “Putin outplayed everyone” approach doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and starts to look absurd in the context where some Wagnerian mercenaries managed to get quite close to Moscow, demonstrating that Russia is a house of cards ready to collapse at any moment. Somehow they even managed to portray this as a move orchestrated by Putin himself (for what reason?!).
The second, which seems more convincing, is Erdogan’s move in light of Russia’s impending withdrawal from the grain deal, which affects Turkey’s interests in the Middle East and Africa. Erdogan is showing Putin that he is incapable of confronting the West and damaging the food security of the South at the same time.
Turkey is a country that is both a member of NATO and naturally connected to the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, Russia under the leadership of its “multi-mover” has antagonized the entire West and remains an alien element in the Middle East and Africa, despite all attempts to play this card in opposition.
Therefore, in this case, Erdogan’s move serves to remind Putin of his true place – a failed leader who should seek Erdogan’s and Turkey’s help to get out of the situation he has gotten himself into, instead of ignoring the interests of the countries and regions he is appealing to.