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Politics

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Gives Erdogan Power Broker’s Gavel

ATHENS – Playing both sides against the middle – refusing to abide by European Union sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine – while sending drones to help Ukrainian forces has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greater influence in his bid to make his country a regional power.

The tactic, to the consternation of his critics and Greece – left out of the geopolitical loop as he makes waves and hay at the same time – is largely working as he has the ear of Russian President Vladimir Putin, glad for ongoing business with Turkey after the EU shut him out.

The penalties have exempted Russian oil and gas which provides up to 40 percent of the bloc’s needs although the EU is trying to wean itself off dependency on Russian supplies essentially used for blackmail now.

In a feature report, The Wall Street Journal noted how Erdogan has parlayed his position astride Europe and Asia and balanced the EU against Russia to gain from both and increase his presence on the world stage.

He’s been able to provide military support for Ukraine, although he is now backing off, so as not to alienate Putin, for whom Erdogan and Turkey are a revenue life line and a buffer against the EU.

Because of that, Erdogan was able to step in when Putin said he would renege on a deal to help Ukrainian grain exports flow but did a turnabout after the Turkish leader intervened, an act which prevented food prices from spiking.

Turkey had earlier bought Russian-made S-400 missile systems which threaten Greece and undermine the security of NATO, to whom Russia is an ideological enemy – but Erdogan’s Turkey is so important to the defense alliance that its chief, Jens Stoltenberg, praised him as a “valuable ally.

Turkey’s most noted weapons and drone maker Baykar is even building a new factory in Kiev to double its capacity, although that was a step too far for Putin, who said it would be taken out.

But Turkey also sent a corvette warship to the Ukrainian Navy in a ceremony attended by Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and First Lady Olena Zelensky, making it the biggest in the fleet.

Turkey also supplied the bulletproof vest worn by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, along with body armor and military vehicles for Ukrainian forces – but turned down his request for 200,000 more.

“Erdogan is burnishing Turkey’s credentials as an important regional player, a task made easier by one key element: his willingness to allow inflows of Russian money into Turkey after Western sanctions cut off Moscow from much of the global economy,” the paper said.

He is also one of the few world leaders who regularly speak with Putin, pledging to increase trade with Russia despite the sanctions imposed after the start of the war, ironically helping to fund the war against Ukraine while providing weapons to help Ukraine fight back against the enemy.

As for the threat of a Russian attack on the drone factory, Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar said it wouldn’t happen. “This project is between Ukraine and Turkey. It’s not the business of others,” he said.

Bayraktar has been outspoken in his support for Ukraine, pledging to never sell drones to Russia, appearing independent from Turkish government policy which is playing a game of ‘both-siderism; to stand with Russia and Ukraine.

He told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that Turkey had to be cautious about selling new weapons to Ukraine, part of a broader approach of trying to broker peace yet selling armaments to fight. “I’m not the government’s representative. I’m the manager of Baykar,” he said of Erdogan’s attempt to walk the line and balance ties with Ukraine and Russia to the annoyance of the EU – but getting away with it.

 

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