As the Sochi meeting between the presidents of Russia and Turkey on Wednesday wasn’t followed by any press statements and no press conference was held, a number of analysts have contend that Turkey’s policy of playing Russia and the United States against each other is not working anymore.
Fehim Taştekin, writing in Al Monitor, said that Turkish diplomacy which “trapped itself in a balancing act of seesaw” is on a rough path:
“President Tayyip Erdoğan, who tried approaching the US president Joe Biden without success through moves infuriating Moscow, knocked on the door of the Russian president Vladimir Putin on 29 September after he returned from New York in great disappointment.”
Indicating that Erdoğan went to Sochi with a weakened hand and left after the meeting without holding a press conference, Taştekin interpreted this as an indication that Erdoğan couldn’t get what he wanted.
“It’s been confirmed more than once since the inauguration of Biden on 20 January that playing on the US card against Russia and playing on the Russian card against the US wasn’t sufficient to set up the balance aimed in international relations,” Taştekin wrote.
Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, on the other hand, wrote in the Washington Post that although Turkey had an increasing footprint in places such as Libya, Syria and the Caucasus as Erdoğan has skillfully played Russia against the United States and vice versa, “this gambit is getting more difficult, as his domestic standing looks weaker and his balancing act resembles a roller coaster.”
“Ankara made a series of strategic errors over the past few years, including ending the peace process with the Kurds, alienating Europeans, abandoning Western norms and purchasing Russian missile systems, which ended up derailing relations with Washington,” she said.
“The meeting between Erdogan and Putin lasted nearly three hours, and it’s hard to know what Turkey got out of it. But what is clear is that Erdogan’s traditional balancing act is no longer working, and Putin is the one in a position of strength, able to pressure Turkey economically and in Syria.”
A New York Times article by Andrew E. Kramer and Carlotta Gall underlined that much of Erdogan’s diplomacy with Russia is interpreted as “a bargaining position, threatening the United States by cozying up to Mr. Putin but creating distance when he is seeking something from Washington.”
The article cited Aykan Erdemir, director of the Turkey Programme at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former opposition member of the Turkish Parliament, as saying, “The Turkish president will continue to play a spoiler role within NATO and provide Putin further opportunities to undermine the trans-Atlantic alliance and its values.”
Another quote was from the personal blog of Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University, who said that Erdogan was traveling to Sochi “with his ‘weakest hand’ yet in the pair’s 19-year relationship.” Has later expressed his opinion on Twitter that “Erdogan did not get what he expected.”
Bethan McKernan, the Turkey and Middle East correspondent for the Guardian, said that as the relationship between the two countries were “awkward,” the two “have grown closer in recent years as tensions with the west have built in both Moscow and Ankara.”
She also underlined some of the priority issues in Turkey’s agenda at the meeting: “Turkey is also understood to have pressed on Wednesday for Russian help in removing western-backed Syrian Kurdish forces on its border, and last week signalled it is open to acquiring more Russian-made military hardware.”