Erdogan and the return of interned heroes of Azovstal

Before the Vilnius NATO Summit, which could open the doors to a new geopolitical reality for Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy embarked on a small tour of countries that may not be such staunch supporters of Ukraine, but that does not make them any less important for Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic path. This particularly applies to Turkey, which not only belongs to NATO (meaning that Ukraine will need Ankara’s approval for joining the Alliance in any case, regardless of the format) but also serves as one of the guarantors of the “grain deal” and controls strategically important passages between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, crucial for the Russian occupying contingent as well. In short, Turkey is a player whose opinion should always be taken into account.

Erdogan’s support for Ukraine’s NATO membership

And it was precisely in Turkey that two incredibly symbolic events took place. Firstly, it was the statement by the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Ukraine deserves to be a member of NATO. (Of course, Russians couldn’t let this phrase go unnoticed and, in accordance with the long-standing Soviet tradition, twisted it to “has the right to join.” Feel the difference between the mere right to join and the situation where you have earned that right, especially through a heroic struggle, as we all understand.) Secondly, it was the permission for and the actual return of Ukrainian servicemen, the commanders of the Azovstal garrison, who have been interned on Turkish territory since last year after being captured by Russia.

Both Russian citizens, including ordinary people and propagandists, were particularly outraged by the second event. While the official Kremlin was searching for any words to comment on it, Russian social media witnessed an explosion of emotions. Citizens of the aggressor country cursed both the weak Putin and the cunning Erdogan, and, of course, Ukraine (as is customary here). Despite all the curses, the main question “How could Erdogan do such a thing?” remained unanswered for Russians.

But in reality, there is nothing complicated about this question. Especially if we formulate it correctly. Even in school, we were taught that part of the answer is contained within the question itself. And in our case, a correctly formulated question provides a direct clue. So let’s phrase it correctly: How could Erdogan do such a thing? And we get a hint in the form of the verb “could.”

See also: Will Turkey be able to take advantage of the weakening of Russia?

Erdogan took this step because he could dare to do so. Yes, questions of motivation remain — possibly external motivation (like, for example, in the same agreement with the US regarding F-16 aircraft, when Joe Biden directly hinted to the Turkish leader that Sweden should join NATO despite Turkey’s objections) but honestly, it’s not so crucial to construct speculative theories around it with a non-hypothetical possibility of falling into the abyss of conspiracy. By the way, Russians were not very interested in what motivated Erdogan either — what infuriated them more was how he could betray agreements with Putin.

Turkey’s geopolitical importance and Russia’s dependence

And he could do it for one simple reason. It is now not Turkey that depends on Russia, but Russia that depends on Turkey. And the credit for this goes not so much to Ankara itself as to the collective West. When Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion, he expected a reaction from the G7-EU-NATO conglomerate similar to what happened after the first part of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war (a classic example of how “generals always prepare for the past wars”). However, it can be stated quite clearly that the West reacted differently. Despite all the obstacles created by various members of this conglomerate (not only Hungary, by the way), this response dealt a truly painful blow to the Russian economy. Recently, the Russian currency, which had managed to return to the exchange rate of “23.02.22” last summer, crossed a symbolic threshold of 100 rubles (0,8 dollar) per euro. And it will soon cross the same threshold for the US dollar. The oil and gas sector — the main source of filling the state (now military) budget — is bringing in increasingly less revenue. The economic situation for Russia is becoming more complicated with each passing day.

In such a situation, Turkey remains one of the few windows to the world that is not yet closed for the Kremlin. And Putin’s regime, perhaps not willingly but actively, utilizes it because it doesn’t have many other effective options, to put it mildly.

And Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unlike Putin, is highly experienced in geopolitics. He simply couldn’t ignore this factor. Thanks to the strong pressure from the West, pressure that Erdogan himself hasn’t always supported, he gained a unique opportunity to dictate to Putin the conditions that are primarily advantageous to himself. Putin himself understood this as well.

Do you know how it’s evident? It’s evident from the Kremlin’s reaction. Instead of resorting to the previous approach of hurling insults at the Turkish government in the style of Dmitry Medvedev’s Telegram channel, banning air travel or Turkish tomatoes, the Kremlin could only manage a pitiful statement from Dmitry Peskov, mentioning “direct violations of the agreement,” “we all understand,” “it doesn’t make anyone look good,” and…

That’s it. In other words, Russia, by acknowledging that Turkey directly violated the agreement regarding the internment of Ukrainian soldiers, could only scold Erdogan, as if to say, “Oh, Recep-aga, how could you do this? You promised…”

This reaction is nothing but an acknowledgment of the geopolitical impotence of present-day Russia. The same Russia that on February 24, 2022, considered itself almost equal to the United States and dreamt of controlling its “own” (“Soviet”) half of the world. And now Turkey, which, let’s recall, during another major crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, was merely an object of negotiations (back then, the USSR demanded the US to remove Jupiter ballistic missiles from there), is dictating the rules of the game to this aspiring regional power. Russia itself has stooped so low that it is attempting (unsuccessfully, of course, like everything done by the “great strategist who outmaneuvers everyone”) to minimize its sanction losses with the help of Hungary, which is just a microscopic player on the geopolitical chessboard.

But these are Russia’s problems. Ukraine, on the other hand, should be grateful to Erdogan for taking a step towards Ukraine and not forget who gave him the opportunity to twist his promises to the Kremlin as he pleases. And it is largely thanks to him that Ukraine’s existence is ensured in this difficult and, hopefully, final war for its survival.

Originally posted by Artur Levchenko on Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: How “Russian peace” is being built in Turkey and how it threatens Ukraine’s partner

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