The agreement to unblock grain exports from Ukraine, signed in Istanbul this Friday, has allowed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to insist that the diplomatic route is the best way to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine . But beyond the negotiating table, the Turkish head of state achieved victory on the international stage as a mediator. After the Russian invasion last February and while the bombs were falling on Ukrainian cities, Turkey surrendered itself as a mediator between the two actors: Kiev’s friend and Moscow’s partner. Both are proving to be of the utmost importance for Turkey. And the conflict between the two has shown that Ankara does not want to tip the scales. While the international community gravitated towards Russia and supported the sanctions packages against the Kremlin, Turkey remained neutral and did not follow any guidelines to punish Moscow. But he also did not forget about Ukraine, to which the Turkish defense industry has sold the Bayraktar drones, which are of great importance for the military goals of Kiev and Ankara’s diplomatic weapon.
Nestled in a galloping economic crisis, with the lira dwindling day by day and inflation rising inexorably, Turkey continues to look for friends abroad and wants to assert itself internationally. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has highlighted and thanked Turkey’s role in achieving the agreement “which he helped sign” which will enable the distribution of basic necessities to millions of people around the world. For his part, Erdogan puffed out his chest as he moderated the event, recalling that after four months of work – since the first Ankara-sponsored meeting – the negotiations are beginning to yield positive results.
It was not easy to put Russia and Ukraine around the negotiating table. Turkey, which, due to its interests in both countries, ran from the outset as a mediator in the conflict, has already done so several times and this time was able to present results. In addition to the achievement, which means the development of up to 22 million tons of grain, the signing can lay the groundwork for future negotiations between the protagonists of the conflict, as Erdogan stressed that the negotiations will continue and, he hopes, lead in the end become peace .
However, before the signing this Friday, there were disagreements related to the allegations by Kyiv about the theft of grain by Russia; Clashes also affecting Turkey as ships suspected of transporting grain from Ukraine arrived at their ports. Kiev’s complaints have been heard by Ankara, but records of the ships operated by Turkey do not reflect any irregularity. Indeed, in early July, a merchant ship in Karasu, which Kyiv had classified as suspicious for allegedly transporting stolen grain, was searched and eventually allowed to sail. “We regret that the Russian ship Zhibek Zholyfull of stolen Ukrainian grain was allowed to leave the port of Karasu despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said at the time.
Despite the headaches that reports of grain theft have brought and will continue to bring to Ankara, Erdogan is managing to strike a balance to keep the two countries in a neutral zone – although this time he has failed to get them to do so to cross the agreement – and his diplomacy has already been praised not only by the United Nations but also by the United States.
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