With a number of steps, the Turkish leader has emerged as a key player in the bid to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table.
Since the explosion of the Ukraine conflict in February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made numerous attempts to convince Moscow and Kiev to end their hostilities.
On Thursday, Erdogan was on yet another peace mission, alongside the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meeting his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv, a city close to the Ukraine border with Poland.
During his meeting, Erdogan reiterated the need to have immediate cessation of fighting in the region. “The main focus … was how to conclude the war,” he said after the meeting with Zelenskyy, who praised the Turkish leader’s efforts.
“I continue to have faith that the war will end at the negotiating table. Mr Zelenskyy and Mr Putin are of the same opinion. The whole matter is determining the shortest and fairest path to the negotiating table,” said Erdogan.
Earlier this month, Erdogan had also met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Sochi, a Black Sea port city, to discuss the ongoing conflict and other issues.
Erdogan invited both Putin and Zelenskyy to Türkiye to have a personal discussion, which could lead to a possible peace deal.
The US and its allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russia in a bid to weaken Moscow’s resolve in carrying out a Ukraine-like operation elsewhere. But Türkiye acted differently and pursued a diplomatic solution as its leaders saw a prolonged conflict hurting regional and global peace.
As a result, rather than defending sanctions on Russia and pushing Ukraine’s stretched military force to fight a bloody conflict, Ankara has emerged as a torch bearer for dialogue to resolve the differences between the warring neighbours.
While urging peace to both sides, Türkiye has always underlined its passionate defence of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its opposition to Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, a strategic area in the Black Sea.
Türkiye’s peace strategy
Türkiye is uniquely placed to play the role of peacemaker. It is a NATO member and also enjoys good ties with Russia, from where millions of tourists visit Türkiye every year.
Ankara along with the UN successfully worked out a deal which allows Ukraine to export its farm output, proving that Moscow and Kiev can work together even as they fight.
“While the West is right to stand up to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, it is important to recognise that a multifaceted connectivity strategy that combines pressure with constructive engagement along the lines of Türkiye’s approach can be more effective in yielding results when it comes to dealing with Moscow,” wrote Eugene Chausovsky, a senior analyst at the Newlines Institute, who previously served as senior Eurasia analyst at the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.
In this perspective, Erdogan’s first visit to Ukraine after the Russian attack on the country elicited praises from both the international community and individual states like Poland, which has profoundly felt the consequences of the war since its initial stages.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda thanked Erdogan for his “constructive” efforts in trying to resolve the conflict.
A successful grain diplomacy
Duda also praised Erdogan’s role in the grain deal, which allowed millions of tons of grains to be exported from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which have been under a Russian blockade.
On his recent trip to Ukraine, Erdogan called for expediting the process to export grains from Ukrainian ports.
Since the opening of the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center (JCC), which oversees the shipment process through the Black Sea to Türkiye’s straits and European markets, more than two dozen ships have sailed carrying more than 600,000 tonnes of grain needed to ease food shortages.
"Not only Ukraine, but the whole world has begun feeling positive effects of the historic Istanbul deal to resume Ukrainian grain exports," said the Turkish president.
Reconstruction of Ukrainian infrastructure
Erdogan’s visit also facilitated an important infrastructure deal between Ukraine and Türkiye.
The two countries will form a business platform, which will seek economic cooperation and develop projects, ensuring “the participation of the Turkish side” to reconstruct Ukraine, according to the deal.
"Turkish business and government structures will be able to develop specific reconstruction projects, as well as provide consulting and technical assistance" to Ukraine, said the country’s infrastructure ministry in a statement after the signing ceremony.
Nuclear plant deadlock
In Lviv, Erdogan also discussed with both his UN and Ukrainian counterparts the dangerous escalation in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s biggest such facility, which has been under Russian control since March, urging all sides not to fight in the vicinity of the plant.
Both Ukraine and Russia blame each other for firing artillery shells near the nuclear facility.
"We do not want to experience a new Chernobyl," Erdogan warned.
Among other topics, Erdogan, Zelenskyy and Guterres also discussed how to implement prisoner exchange between Ukrainians and Russians. Türkiye believes that ensuring the exchange of prisoners might be another measure to de-escalate tensions.