Erdogan’s diplomatic mission to Putin in Sochi for Ukrainian grain agreement
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embarked on a visit to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday.
This marks Erdogan’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin since October and comes at a critical juncture as Russian forces confront a renewed offensive in Kyiv, which has shown promise after three months of intense battles along Ukraine’s southern front.
Erdogan aims to leverage this informal summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi as a foundation for peace negotiations, a prospect under debate by Western officials but desired by both parties on their own terms. Notably, Erdogan has maintained open access to Putin, making him one of the few leaders within the NATO defense alliance to do so.
The relationship between the two leaders has been both close and tumultuous, with recent developments indicating a strengthening bond following Russia’s “special military operation” in February 2022.
Putin’s decision to provide discounts and delay Turkey’s payments for Russian gas imports played a crucial role in alleviating an economic crisis that nearly hindered Erdogan’s re-election in May. In return, Turkey refrained from joining Western sanctions against Moscow, becoming a pivotal channel for Russia to access services and goods.
However, Erdogan’s support for Ukraine, including supplying it with weapons and backing its NATO aspirations, has occasionally irked Putin. Tensions escalated when Erdogan permitted visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to repatriate five commanders previously sent to Turkey by Russia in a significant prisoner exchange.
The Kremlin voiced its displeasure and hinted at factoring this incident into future agreements with Erdogan.
Nonetheless, both Moscow and Kyiv now seek Erdogan’s involvement in their grain standoff and Black Sea hostilities.
Background: Russia terminated the grain deal in July and subsequently conducted repeated strikes on Ukrainian port infrastructure, met with counterattacks by Kyiv in the Black Sea.
This effectively ended the only major agreement between the two sides during the ongoing conflict. The agreement enabled Ukraine to export more than 32 million tonnes of grain, which had a global impact by reducing food prices and alleviating hunger in Africa and parts of the Middle East.
Turkey, as a key intermediary in brokering the UN-backed agreement, is now striving to resurrect it, thus regaining its diplomatic prominence. Erdogan dispatched Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to Kyiv and Moscow to prepare for talks with Putin and to deter both sides from pursuing their individual plans for grain exports.
Ukraine, for its part, has initiated the testing of a new shipping route that briefly enters international waters and mainly follows paths controlled by NATO members, making it less susceptible to Russian interference. In contrast, Moscow has proposed supplying free foodstuffs to Africa and offering discounted grain for processing in Turkey, a deal that may involve Qatar.
Russia argues that last year’s grain deal failed to eliminate indirect restrictions on its grain and fertilizer exports, stemming from Western restrictions on Moscow’s access to global payment systems and insurance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed a new grain proposal presented by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as offering “only promises” and no guarantees.
The outcome of Erdogan’s diplomatic mission to Sochi remains highly anticipated, with hopes pinned on his ability to facilitate a resolution to the grain dispute and possibly pave the way for peace negotiations in a deeply complex regional context.