Erdogan’s Recent Visit to Russia: What Does It Mean for Regional Politics?

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Erdogan’s recent visit to Russia, which took place on September 4th, 2023, carries significant implications for regional politics and global geopolitics. This high-stakes meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin came after a pivotal moment in their diplomatic relations. The focus of the discussion revolved around Ukrainian grain exports and the revival of a crucial UN- and Türkiye-brokered agreement that had been suspended during the war with Russia. Beyond grain deals, the visit encompassed a broad spectrum of geopolitical interests, energy cooperation, arms deals, and humanitarian concerns. This article offers a comprehensive analysis of the visit and its far-reaching consequences.

The Deal

In July 2022, Russia and Ukraine entered into separate agreements with Türkiye and the United Nations, creating a pathway for the export of much-needed Ukrainian grain, along with some Russian grain and fertilizer, through the Black Sea. The Initiative, in particular, permits the commercial export of food products and fertilizers (including ammonia) from three crucial Ukrainian ports located along the Black Sea – Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi. This eagerly awaited agreement brings an end to a standoff during the wartime period, which posed a significant threat to global food security. The United Nations’ initiative would facilitate the export of 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural commodities from Ukraine, a key global source of food production. These goods had been stranded in Black Sea ports due to Russia’s military intervention. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed this development as ” a beacon of hope” for the millions of individuals who have endured substantial increases in food prices.

The Abandoned Grain Deal’s Purpose

The now-abandoned grain deal was originally conceived to address the global food crisis by allowing Ukraine to export grain from its ports while the conflict with Russia persisted. Both Russia and Ukraine are prominent players in global agricultural markets, especially in commodities such as wheat, barley, corn, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed, and sunflower oil.

The Urgent Quest for a Revived Grain Deal: Optimism for a Revived Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan engaged in critical discussions regarding Ukrainian grain exports during their meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on September 4th. This meeting unfolded nearly two months after Russia withdrew from a UN- and Türkiye-mediated agreement, allowing Ukraine to export grain and other commodities from its Black Sea ports during the ongoing conflict.

President Erdogan expressed optimism regarding the prospect of resurrecting the grain deal, asserting Türkiye’s belief in a swift resolution. President Putin echoed this sentiment, stating that Russia stands ready to reinstate the agreement once restrictions on its agricultural exports are lifted.

Diplomatic Maneuvers Leading to the Meeting

Prior to the Sochi summit, Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan conducted talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to finalize the details of Erdogan’s visit and explore the potential for a new grain deal. These diplomatic engagements underscore the significance of the meeting and its potential impact.

Conditions for the Grain Deal’s Revival

Putin emphasized that Russia would consider reviving the grain deal only when all the agreements pertaining to the removal of restrictions on Russian agricultural exports were fully implemented. He also countered Western claims that Russia’s withdrawal from the deal had exacerbated a global food crisis, asserting that food shortages were not a direct consequence of Russia’s exit.

UN’s Efforts to Revive the Deal

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently revealed his efforts to revive the grain deal by presenting concrete proposals to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. However, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated that Russian demands implied by the agreement had not been implemented in the previous deal, refraining from divulging further details.

Erdogan’s Diplomatic Endeavor

Erdogan is actively pursuing an international diplomatic success story by restoring the agreement with Moscow that facilitated Ukraine’s grain exports through the Black Sea to global markets. The termination of the deal by Moscow in July prompted Erdogan’s efforts, as the previous agreement he brokered with the UN had garnered international acclaim. A successful restoration of the deal would undoubtedly place Erdogan in the international spotlight, especially as he prepares to attend the UN General Assembly later this month.

The UN’s Recent Reprimand

Türkiye’s reprimand by the UN Security Council, following clashes between Turkish Cypriot police and UN peacekeepers in Cyprus, has amplified Erdogan’s need for a positive diplomatic atmosphere. This adds further weight to the importance of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough during his visit to Russia.

Implications for Regional Politics and Geopolitics

Erdogan’s recent visit to Russia carries far-reaching implications for regional politics and the broader global geopolitical landscape. The interactions between Türkiye and Russia have drawn international attention due to their strategic positions and divergent interests in various regional conflicts.

Escalation and Alternatives in the Black Sea

Since its withdrawal from the grain deal in July, Russia has escalated tensions by engaging in  Ukrainian ports with missile and drone strikes, even threatening to treat all vessels in the Black Sea as potential military targets. In response, Ukraine has announced the establishment of a humanitarian corridor as an alternative route, hugging the coast of neighboring Romania and Bulgaria.

Addressing Food Security in Africa: Russian Footstep in the Greater African Region

Following its withdrawal from the grain deal, Russia has been keen on addressing concerns in Africa regarding the impact of the deal’s collapse on food security. On September 4th, President Putin announced that Russia was on the verge of reaching an agreement with six African countries, including Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea, to supply them with up to 50,000 tonnes of grain. This humanitarian gesture includes free food supply and logistical support, with deliveries expected to commence shortly.

Energy Cooperation and the Turk-Stream Pipeline

Energy cooperation is a significant facet of Russo-Turkish relations, with the TurkStream pipeline serving as a symbol of their partnership. The visit may encompass talks on expanding energy projects and their implications for regional energy security.

Arms Deals and Military Cooperation

Both Türkiye and Russia have engaged in arms deals and military cooperation in recent years. The meeting could lead future discussions on these agreements, including Türkiye’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems, which has raised concerns among Türkiye’s NATO allies and carries broader implications for regional security.

Balancing Alliances in Regional Politics

Erdogan’s diplomatic balancing act between Russia and NATO, notably the United States, is another crucial aspect of his visit. Türkiye’s strategic positioning as a NATO member with growing ties to Russia presents both challenges and opportunities. The meeting provides an opportunity to explore how Türkiye navigates these complex alliances.

Addressing Humanitarian Concerns

Beyond geopolitical interests, Erdogan’s visit may address humanitarian concerns in the region, particularly Türkiye’s role as a refuge for millions of Syrian refugees. Discussions may revolve around the refugee crisis and potential solutions.

Broader Implications for Global Politics

The outcomes of Erdogan’s visit extend beyond regional politics, with potential ripple effects on global politics. The decisions and agreements reached during the meeting can have repercussions in areas where Türkiye and Russia intersect, such as Syria, Libya, and energy markets.

Conclusion: Shaping the Future of Russo-Turkish Relations

Erdogan’s visit to Russia marks a crucial juncture in regional politics, underscoring Türkiye’s delicate diplomatic balancing act between Russia and NATO. The revival of the grain deal and discussions on energy cooperation, arms deals, and humanitarian concerns reflect the multidimensional nature of Russo-Turkish relations. As these influential nations navigate their complex alliance, the implications extend far beyond the Black Sea region, impacting global geopolitics. The outcomes of this meeting will reverberate in areas like Syria, Libya, and energy markets, shaping the course of future regional and global political dynamics. The world watches with anticipation as Türkiye and Russia chart their course in an ever-evolving international arena.

Syed Raiyan Amir
Syed Raiyan Amir
Research Associate The Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA)

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