Can Erdoğan Make Ukraine and Russia Reach a Peace Deal? Insights of Lviv Negotiations

Friday, 19 August 2022 — , MP, "Sluha Narodu"

The visit of Türkiye's President to Ukraine, together with the UN Secretary-General, has stayed without historic agreements, but it got a lot of attention.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that he plans to arrange Ukrainian-Russian negotiations. Right before his visit, Turkish mass media published a "spoiler" that it kinda was Putin himself who wanted and almost begged for talks and an agreement with Ukraine to end the war.

From Putin's perspective, Russia is not losing now. On the contrary. Yes, not everything in the Ukrainian campaign is happening as he wanted, but Russia took over new territories; it still advances slowly but surely; Russia has not yet exhausted its resources to continue hostilities; its economy largely adapted to the sanctions. The world's unprecedented reaction was not enough to quickly bring Russia to its knees.

Putin is not begging for an end to the war, but he still needs negotiations.

It seems that the Russian leader has begun to get deeply concerned about the extreme price that has to be paid for his right to "see the glass half full."

On the other hand, Russia killed enough people and destroyed Ukraine harshly to make somehow an absurd Russian propaganda machine sculpt a victory.

Based on that, a break in fighting is not only possible for Putin, but in some cases, even desirable.

That is why ideas of ​​negotiations or a ceasefire have been tried to be sold - via the fifth column in the West, from Orbán to Schröder, "gray mediators," and Erdoğan.

Putin is not desperate. He doesn't want to end the war by any means. We are rather witnessing a "special operation to force negotiations."

How did Erdoğan turn into a piece in Putin's chess party?

The fact is that Türkiye's president has his reasons for sincerely seeking "peace," or rather, pausing the active phase of the war as soon as possible.

Interests of Turkish and Russian leaders coincide here.

By the way, Türkiye has already benefited from Putin's campaign in Ukraine.

While the whole world was concerned about the events in Ukraine, Ankara conducted a military operation in Syria. The Turks strengthened their unilateral control over the Black Sea Straits.

Türkiye has also increased its role in grain trade flows in the Mediterranean. In addition, it has also benefited from improved trade and tourism with Russia. However, Erdoğan managed to avoid criticism from NATO partners and Ukraine for his unwillingness to impose sanctions on Russia.

It surely does not mean that the war against Ukraine was beneficial to Türkiye. The country lives and develops at the expense of foreign markets. Their instability is too painful for it.

Erdoğan (like Putin, by the way) considers himself a master of simultaneous chess play. The outcome of any individual game does not matter. Only the sum total of the results of several games makes the tournament a success for him.

That is why you often find such different attitudes towards the same partner in Turkish foreign policy.

Literally, each aspect, from nuclear energy to vegetables, consumer goods, and tourism, matters for Türkiye and Russia. They can interact just as much as the total outcome of the entire match remains positive.

Türkiye's mediation diplomatic mission performed by President Erdoğan looks flawless in reality: proposals for negotiations are made to the Ukrainian president in Ukraine in the presence of the formally most authoritative diplomat on the planet - the UN Secretary-General. The proposals are based on the recent example of successful arrangements for unblocking grain exports.

Consultations begin on the issue of prisoner exchange, which worries Ukraine the most.

The picture looks almost perfect but only from one perspective. We should see another one - Russian.

Bringing together several different topics through the mediation of Türkiye means that the package will also include topics on which it does not necessarily share Ukraine's approaches and does not consider itself obliged to be on the Ukrainian side.

Türkiye might not be such a lenient mediator as the European countries or the United States, which in recent months have fully understood that Ukraine's negotiating positions are rapidly changing from desperate to irreconcilably tough and back to realistic.

In times of war, the West found acceptable such diplomatic torments of Ukraine.

Even now, we hear from all Western partners repeating, "only Ukraine should determine the terms of peace with Russia."

Instead, Turkish mediation, which clearly has its own "game plan," can sharply demand Kyiv clarify its goals. For example, what does it wants to achieve - returning "to the internationally recognized borders as of 1991" or "to the demarcation line as of February 23, 2022"? Although such a demand may speed up negotiations, Ukraine will not benefit from fixing its position.

Fortunately, Türkiye does not have any real leverage over Kyiv. But even the insignificant ones (such as arms trade, access to the world ocean, and especially - Erdoğan's ability to negotiate with Putin on the sensitive issue of prisoner exchange) can be enough to push Ukraine to certain decisions that will seem completely acceptable for Türkiye, but absolutely unrealistic for the frenzied public opinion in Ukraine, which does not accept compromises.

However, this is merely a hypothetical concern for now.

In order to avoid them, it is essential for Ukraine to outline some red lines at the initial stage. In particular, to abandon the "gains of Istanbul," the previous negotiations in the spring.

Eventually, the fundamental challenge for Ukraine is that any negotiations will tend to a gradual shift to some middle ground. Ukraine does not need it. It has no reason to move toward Russia's demands proactively.

Starting a dialogue with Erdoğan and Guterres about possible negotiations with Russia, Ukraine should be ready for such an outcome. And it should also prepare actions to change the paradigm of future negotiations.

Perhaps we are observing such a preparation right now.

We want to hope that the timely, successful, and media-highlighted strikes by the Armed Forces of Ukraine on important Russian military facilities in Crimea are not only a carefully thought-out military plan.

One way or another, these events also become part of Ukraine's negotiation process with Türkiye and Russia even before it formally begins.


Written by Bohdan Yaremenko,

MP, parliamentary group "Sluha Narodu"
ex-head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Policy

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