February 24 will mark one year since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine for what Moscow calls a “special military operation”. And by the looks of it, an early end to the biggest military conflict in Europe since World War II appears slim.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on his avowed goal in Ukraine and even delivered a nuclear threat by suspending a bilateral treaty with the US. Putin’s threat came a day after US President Joe Biden made an unannounced trip to Kiev and then proceeded to rally his anti-Moscow allies in a show of western unity.
As the conflict divides the world into two camps and more nations shed their neutrality, the role played by Türkiye comes into sharp focus – especially Ankara’s mediation to resolve the thorny issues linked to the war.
Türkiye has been a key player from the beginning of the conflict, sustaining diplomatic relations with both countries and brokering deals between the two and beyond.
Take, for example, the Black Sea grain deal. Within weeks of the conflict breaking out, global food prices had gone up, and many countries were facing a threat of famine as both Ukraine and Russia are major wheat exporters. Ukraine especially had trouble shipping food grain from its ports after the war broke out.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on July 22, 2022, allowed Ukrainian grains to be transported to the rest of the world via the Black Sea and the Turkish straits. The UN-supported agreement was extended beyond its initial period of 120 days and is currently still active.
On Wednesday, the UN once again praised the grain deal when the General Assembly convened for a special session to discuss the Ukraine war.
And recent reports indicated that Erdogan and Putin might once again discuss the initiative that has enabled grain exports from Ukrainian ports.
Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University, told TRT World that 2022 was “a defining moment” for Türkiye, which “managed to negotiate achievements that no other country can”.
Simons added, “The example of Ukraine as a geopolitical shatter belt between the US and Russia has seen Türkiye take a role as an honest broker in the conflict.”
Türkiye has been acting as a bridge between Russia and Ukraine, meeting with leaders of both countries as it tries to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
In September last year, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that the longer the conflict continues, the more difficult it is to reach a “just and mutually acceptable” solution. He was co-chairing the 12th Ministerial Meeting of UN Groups of Friends of Mediation on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had discussed the subject before at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in July 2022.
Speaking at the TRT World Forum in December 2022, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “While strongly defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we opposed fueling tension in the region with irrational policies toward Russia.”
He mentioned that he would continue to communicate with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In further signs of Ankara’s balancing act, Türkiye also supplied high-end Bayraktar military drones to enable Ukraine to boost its defences against Russian aggression.
Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor of international law at Yeditepe University, praised the role of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he said “is the only leader capable of talking with both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, working to develop a rapprochement between the two sides”.
As part of its neutral stance, Ankara also closed its straits to both Russian and NATO warships in alignment with the Montreux Convention, which regulates the status of Turkish channels. Casin said that with this move, “Türkiye has prevented the spread of the Ukraine war to other areas, particularly in the Black Sea”.