Turkey’s Erdogan touts ‘special relationship’ with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has touted his country’s “special relationship” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, speaking to CNN in an interview aired on Friday.

“We are not at a point where we would impose sanctions on Russia like the West did. We are not bound by the sanctions of the West,” Erdogan told the channel. “We are a strong state and we have a positive relationship with Russia.”

“Russia and Turkey need each other in every possible field,” Erdogan said.

He added that the Black Sea Grain Corridor Initiative, brokered by the UN and Turkey, in which he played a key role in helping to unlock crucial Ukrainian grain exports blocked by the Russian invasion, ” was possible thanks to our special relationship with President Putin”.

“The West doesn’t take a very balanced approach. You need a balanced approach to a country like Russia, which would have been a much happier approach,” he said.

The powerful Turkish leader’s closeness to Putin, despite his membership in NATO, has made many Western leaders and diplomats nervous.

The comments came ahead of the second round of Turkey’s presidential election, the second round of a very busy and tense race being held on May 28 as neither Erdogan nor his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu won more than 50% of the vote in the first round.

Erdogan finished a few points ahead in the initial vote and is building on his image as a strong nationalist leader who pushes back against Western domination, despite Turkey being a NATO member. Kilicdaroglu, meanwhile, pledged to strengthen Turkey’s ties with the West and NATO. Turkey is home to the alliance’s second-largest military after the United States and is home to 50 US tactical nuclear warheads.

Erdogan has mediated between Ukraine and Russia since the start of the war, sending aid and arms to Ukraine and brokering prisoner swaps, but has also greatly expanded his trade ties with Russia.

Its decision not to comply with Western calls to sanction Russia has served Turkey’s economy well so far; its trade with Russia doubled to $68.19 billion in 2022 from $34.73 billion in 2021, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Russian tourists and expats, including billionaire oligarchs evading sanctions, have flocked to the country as their travel options have become severely limited.

Earlier in 2023, Putin waived the cost of Russian gas exports to Turkey, a move widely seen as an effort to help Erdogan’s electoral chances.

Turkish opposition unlikely to gain ground on May 28, economist says

Turkish imports from Russia also nearly doubled last year to $58.85 billion, pushing Russia ahead of China as Turkey’s top trading partner. Turkey is now the destination of 7% of Russian exports, up from 2% in 2021.

Erdogan is also accused of hampering NATO expansion with his refusal to approve the membership of Sweden, which applied to join the bloc following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The approval of a new country in the alliance requires the unanimous approval of its existing members. Turkey accepted Finland’s membership in March after lengthy negotiations, but is resisting Sweden over Ankara’s belief that Stockholm supports terror groups that have harmed Turkey. Whether Erdogan will give in to Sweden if he wins the May 28 election is an open question.


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