Russian Defeat for Erdoğan. How Turkish Leader Failed to Secure Ukraine Grain Deal with Putin

Tuesday, 5 September 2023 — , European Pravda
Despite his long-standing acquaintance with Putin (left), Turkish President Erdoğan (right) once again ignored Russia's willingness to break all international agreements. Credit: AFP/East News before the negotiations in Sochi, September 4, 2023.

On September 4, a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Türkiye took place in Russian Sochi – Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Turkish leader had been pushing for this meeting persistently and for a long time. He even crossed the line of humiliation, ignoring Russia's audacious actions and gestures.

However, this trip did not bring any success to the Turkish side.

Despite promising statements before the negotiations, Putin did not budge an inch on the issue of restoring the so-called "grain deal," demanding the cancellation of some sanctions. He did not even guarantee that his demands would end there. There is still no agreement on grain exports that would satisfy both Russia and Ukraine.

Kyiv has responded with a refusal to the new proposals or ultimatums conveyed by Putin through Erdoğan. Moreover, Ukraine's position has supporters among Western leaders.

Meeting with expectations

Before the negotiations between the Turkish and Russian presidents, as per usual, journalists were allowed into the negotiation room for a few minutes so that the leaders could say a few words on camera. Typically, at this stage, politicians limit themselves to vague phrases.

It also happens that they announce agreements that have actually been reached by their teams.

The substantive issues that presidents genuinely plan to discuss usually remain beyond ceremonial videos. If one of the presidents announces what he desires, he risks leaving the meeting with a publicly exposed diplomatic failure if he fails to achieve his goal.

Therefore, the statement made by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the protocol part of the negotiations with Putin was particularly significant.

In essence, he announced new agreements regarding the grain deal. At the very least, it was a step towards its resumption.

"Everyone is waiting for what will come out of our meeting today. I believe that the message at the press conference after the meeting will be an important step for the whole world, especially for African countries," said the Turkish leader, sitting across from Putin.

This quote immediately made headlines in world agencies, further fueling expectations for the meeting.  Erdoğan should not have attended it without at least partial guaranteed success.

This meeting was supposed to take place not in Russia but in Türkiye. Erdoğan did not hide his strong desire for it.

The first agreement for the Russian president's visit was reached in the spring. Erdoğan publicly announced it and even named the date. But nothing happened. There was a new agreement later. It was supposedly reached in early July when Russia effectively suspended the grain deal but did not acknowledge it. Talks were then scheduled for August. Later, when the Kremlin publicly announced it quit the grain deal, negotiations resumed, but Moscow continued to feed Ankara promises. Erdoğan's preferred urgent trip was pushed to ‘late August.’

They seemed to have agreed on a specific date, but even that fell apart...

The situation was made even more intriguing by the fact that this was supposed to be Putin's first foreign visit after the ICC arrest warrant

Türkiye, as a state that had not ratified the Rome Statute, provided additional guarantees that Putin would not be arrested either in Ankara or Istanbul, but even that did not work. Putin raised another demand – the meeting had to take place in Russia.

Even then, Türkiye made concessions. What is remarkable is the silence of the country's leadership in response to the humiliating attack by Russian military on the ship Şükrü Okan, a bulk carrier which was heading for the port of Izmail. The Turkish civilian crew was put on their knees. The video was subsequently posted on social media by the Russian military department. While everyone, including the US State Department, made outraged statements about Russia's gross violations of maritime rules, Ankara limited itself to evasive "peaceful" formulations not to anger the Russians.

After talks between foreign ministers, who were supposed to ensure the effectiveness of the leaders' meeting, the parties agreed on the location and time. Erdoğan went to visit his Russian friend to leave empty handed.

Why does Erdoğan need it?

The resumption of the grain deal is of paramount importance for Türkiye. Perhaps no less so than for Ukraine. However, if for Kyiv, it is primarily an economic matter, for Türkiye, it's a geopolitical one.

In July 2022, with the agreement on the grain corridor, Erdoğan secured his ticket to the premier league. He became the guarantor of ensuring that the global food market receives grain, thereby safeguarding African nations from skyrocketing prices, food shortages, and consequently, hunger, social upheaval, and security crises.

The respect of Middle Eastern states, influence in Africa and Southeast Asia, and the satisfaction of a significant segment of Turkish voters for whom Türkiye's imperial strength is not a simple word. All of this is very important and Erdoğan gained it last year.

However, the withdrawal from the "grain deal" by Putin in July 2023 meant that all of these assets started losing value.

Amid Erdoğan's not-so-successful domestic and foreign policies, where the grain agreement was arguably his sole clear victory, the resumption of maritime exports became his top priority.

For Erdoğan.

But not for Putin.

Even after the presidents' meeting, it became evident that Erdoğan's optimistic statements and hints at the beginning of his meeting with Putin did not indicate any reached agreements. Instead, it was a gesture of desperation. It was a "make it or break it" moment. Unfortunately, the latter happened.

No compromise in sight

During the closing press conference, the Turkish leader lacked details in his statements about the grain deal. There was no ‘signal to the world’ that he had announced at the beginning of the negotiations. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan limited himself to words about Türkiye "believing to reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time."

Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, was quick to clarify the expectations. First and foremost, he stated that he did not see a need for the "grain deal" at all. According to him, no one had felt its rupture by Russia. "Termination of the grain deal has not affected the situation in international food markets and prices continue declining markets – I want to emphasise this," said Putin, despite the unanimous demands from African leaders who recently visited Russia to resume the grain corridor. However, it's likely that the Russian leader himself knew he was being untruthful.

Similarly deceptive were his subsequent statements about the West supposedly violating the terms of the "grain corridor" and "forcing" Russia to terminate it. Nevertheless, Russia will not take any steps to resume free navigation of food from Ukrainian ports until the West fulfills Russia's conditions. Among these conditions are lifting SWIFT sanctions on Rosselkhozbank and removing sanctions from EU and US companies (an unspecified number) engaged in trade in food and fertilisers.

However, there's a problem. Ukraine must also agree to these conditions.

Officially, Kyiv has already responded with a categorical refusal. The Ukrainian side is unwavering - no lifting of sanctions for Russia is possible.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative must be restored. It must be restored not through blackmail, or the fulfilment of the whims of the Russian Federation. But because there were no legal or political grounds for the Russians to withdraw from the agreement in the first place. If we make concessions now, they will return in a month, leaving the deal again and putting forward new conditions. This is just classic blackmail," responded the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, following the Sochi negotiations.

At least in Europe, Ukraine's position enjoys support.

"Putin's game with the grain deal is cynical," said Kuleba's German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock.

In short, the negotiations between Erdoğan and Putin did not bring them any closer to a compromise, but rather solidified no common ground between the parties. Thus, the efforts to humiliate the Turkish president have not led to anything fruitful.

Written by Sergiy Sydorenko

European Pravda, Editor

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