On 29 September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the first time in 18 months in Sochi, Russia. According to the first article from independent Turkish daily Gazete Duvar, Erdoğan’s efforts to balance relations with both the United States and Russia are failing. First, Erdoğan tried to fix its weakened relations with NATO and the United States at the expense of Russia without any tangible success. However, after failing to secure a meeting with President Biden during his recent visit to the United States, Erdoğan praised Turkish-Russian relations and headed to Russia for a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

President Erdoğan also left Sochi without a joint press briefing, which indicates the meeting did not yield any concrete results. Contentious issues remain to be resolved through technical talks between the two countries. The article notes that Turkish and Russian relations face several challenges and Russia already has an upper hand because of Turkey’s strained relations with its NATO allies. First, Turkey’s sale of Bayraktar TB-2 drones to Ukraine and its stance on Russian-occupied Crimea remain areas of concern given that Russia sees these issues as significant for its national security. Second, Turkey’s natural gas contracts expire by the end of this year and five of these contracts are with Russian companies. Turkey is not in a good negotiating position because Russia’s need for the Turkish Stream pipeline was diminished when the United States withdrew its veto on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Additionally, the last rebel stronghold, Syria’s Idlib province, remains the most contentious issue between the two countries. Tensions between Russia-backed Syrian regime forces and Turkish-backed rebels have escalated. In all of these issues, the only leverage that Turkey might have in its relations with Russia seems to be the purchase of additional S-400s. A second article from Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Ajansı states that the two powers’ disagreement in Syria remains unresolved. The author states that both leaders emphasized that peace in Syria depended on Russia and Turkey, suggesting they will continue trying to resolve their differences in Syria.

What [President Putin] needed to do is to turn the desperation of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] into strategic gains.

Source: Fehim Taştekin, “Soçi’den bir muhtıra çıkmadı mı? Ne şaşırtıcı! (A memorandum didn’t come out of Sochi? How surprising!)” Gazete Duvar (an independent Turkish Daily), 30 September 2021. https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/sociden-bir-muhtira-cikmadi-mi-ne-sasirticimakale-1536805

When unable to get an appointment with [President] Biden, [President Erdogan] stated that the partnership is falling apart. He talked about a hostile relationship… emphasizing that the relationship is not going well.

The door [he] would knock on next is obvious: Russia… [Turkey’s] natural gas contracts have expired, natural gas prices in the market have started to climb, and Turkey’s natural gas needs have increased to 60 billion cubic meters, but we still see Erdogan butchering Russia at America’s gates. This time, out of necessity, he turns to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and says, “We haven’t seen any wrongdoing in our relations with Russia so far.” … “S-400 is a done deal and it is not possible to step back.”

Tactics to gain strategic advantages by using two great powers against each other… Officially, agenda items were Syria, Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement, elections in Libya, relations with the Taliban administration in Afghanistan, the second S-400 package, joint production proposals in the field of defense, renewal of natural gas agreements, and ongoing energy projects.

Erdogan weakened his hands so much before going to [Rusia] that Putin probably didn’t even bother to issue friendly or hostile warnings. What [Putin] needed to do is to turn the desperation of his interlocutor into strategic gains. Extending a dialogue with a leader who has come to his door after breaking up with the Americans should have a place in cold-blooded Russian diplomacy.

Source: Prof. Dr. İlyas Kemaloğlu, “Soçi Zirvesi ve Türkiye-Rusya ilişkilerinin seyri (The Sochi Summit and the course of Turkey-Russia relations)” Anadolu Ajansı (Turkey’s state-owned news agency), 30 September 2021. https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/analiz/soci-zirvesi-veturkiye-rusya-iliskilerinin-seyri/2378895

…on one hand, Turkish-Russian relations have developed in many ways and the two countries become dependent on each other in areas such as trade, energy, defense and tourism while, on the other hand, Turkey’s interest regarding the developments [in the region] clash with that of Russia. Although the fact that both countries have problems in their relations with the U.S.A. and the European Union (EU) brings Turkey and Russia closer and enables them to act together as in the Middle East and Caucasus…

However, one of the most important features of the Turkish-Russian relations that provides a hope for their future, is the immediate intervention of the leaders, especially in times of increased problems between them….

This is the biggest factor that… Russia and Turkey have not entered into a hot conflict. As a matter of fact, the positive evaluations of both leaders regarding their meeting at the end of yesterday’s visit show that the parties are ready to solve all problems at the table. Indeed, peace in the region depends mostly on these two countries and is in the interests of both of them.

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