« The top diplomats of Russia and Ukraine will meet in Turkey on Thursday for the first such high-level talks since Russia launched its invasion two weeks ago » says Andrew Wilks in Al-Monitor.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed to meet on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
The talks are seen as a diplomatic coup for Turkey, which has been offering to act as a mediator between the warring sides. Kuleba reportedly credited Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for arranging the meeting, although he said his expectations of the outcome were “not high.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described the meeting as “very important” — a view backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday when he said the meeting “could be a very important step toward overcoming the crisis.”
Cavusoglu announced the talks on Monday, saying the three-way discussions will also include himself and adding that Erdogan repeated Turkey’s offer to host talks during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.
Lavrov accepted the proposal while Kuleba said he was open to talks if they were “meaningful.”
“We especially hope that this meeting is a turning point and … an important step toward peace and stability,” Cavusoglu said, adding that both ministers had asked for him to join the talks.
NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea and has good relations with both Moscow and Kyiv.
Ankara has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unacceptable and closed the straits to the Black Sea to some military ships. It has also sold drones to Ukraine, angering Moscow, and opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya. Ankara has condemned Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
However, Turkey opposes sanctions against Moscow and its skies remain open to Russian aircraft as it seeks to maintain important trade, energy, tourism and defense ties.
Berk Esen, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University and IPC-Mercator fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said Ankara’s policy of “active neutrality” had “succeeded in bringing Turkey to the center of the diplomatic game.”
He added, “Regardless of the outcome of talks, this can be considered as a major diplomatic success for the Erdogan government that has in recent years become alienated from the West due to its revisionist policies in the international arena and authoritarian policies at home. Turkey has so far managed to minimize the costs of this conflict and seeks ways of resolving the conflict before it inflicts far more serious costs on its already vulnerable economy.”
However, Russia has made demands of Ukraine that most observers see as unacceptable: that Ukraine halt military operations and change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, thus giving up aspirations to join NATO and the European Union. Moscow also wants Kyiv to acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory and recognize the independence of the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Such “maximalist” demands mean the “chances of a diplomatic breakthrough are small,” Esen said, even with Russia unable to achieve military victory. “For a negotiated settlement, both sides need to make painful compromises.”
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have held three rounds of talks since the start of the war on Feb. 24 but they have been limited to issues such as setting up humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave cities targeted by Russian rockets and artillery.
Filiz Tutku Aydin, assistant professor at Ankara Social Sciences University, said Turkey had previously sought to compartmentalize its relationship with Russia to accommodate its opposition to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for the Syrian regime. Writing for the Ankara-based pro-government think tank Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, she said Turkey’s interests lay in trying to find a diplomatic solution and reduce tensions while supporting NATO.
“Having strong relations both with Ukraine and Russia, Turkey will oppose an invasion … while trying to be pragmatic in brokering a diplomatic breakthrough,” she said, adding, “Military escalation does not serve Turkish interests and this is why President Erdogan has been pushing for a diplomatic solution.”
Meanwhile, in a further demonstration of Turkey’s investment in finding a solution, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke by phone to his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov on Wednesday.
Akar stressed the importance of negotiations to find a permanent solution, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. He also pledged further humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Al-Monitor, March 9, 2022, Andrew Wilks