Türkiye has been a top mediating force between Ukraine and Russia, while developing different reconciliation paths with countries from Israel to Egypt.

2022 will be remembered as the year when Russia attacked Ukraine, starting a difficult war with no end in sight and escalating tensions between the West and Moscow.  

The year has also seen some crucial peace initiatives emanating from Türkiye, a NATO member, which has a working relationship with Russia on different conflicts like Syria, aiming to find a common ground between Kiev and Moscow. 

Turkish peace efforts were fruitful with some significant results, like the landmark grain deal and exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine. Ankara has also launched other crucial peace initiatives normalising its ties with Israel and Egypt, two important Middle Eastern states, with which its relations had deteriorated in the 2010s. 

Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University, believes 2022 was “a defining moment” for Türkiye, which “managed to negotiate achievements that no other country can.”

According to Simons, “the example of Ukraine as a geopolitical shatter belt between US and Russia has seen Türkiye take a role as an honest broker in the conflict,” which reaffirmed the country’s wisdom in establishing and developing an independent balancing and mediating role in the current era of risk and uncertainty. 

Unlike many other Western states, Ankara’s hard work and persistence along political and economic tracks yielded progress like the grain shipment agreement “in a highly divisive and emotionally driven geo-economic and geopolitical conflict,” showcasing Ankara’s growing position as a subject and not an object of events, Simons tells TRT World. 

In 2022, Türkiye emerged as “the world's most important peace actor that left its mark on the year,” says Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor of international law at Yeditepe University, referring to Turkish efforts to address the Ukraine conflict. 

“While Turkey successfully demonstrated its neutrality policy in the Ukraine war, just as it did in the Second World War, it played the role of mediator in the conflict as stipulated in the 33th article of the UN,” Casin tells TRT World. During WWII, Ankara stayed neutral between Nazi Germany-led Axis countries and the Allied forces, avoiding any casualties.  

Ukraine policy

Despite much pressure from the US and Europe, Türkiye has refused to be part of Western sanctions on Russia, believing that talking with Moscow is better than isolating it. But at the same time, Türkiye has urged Russia to withdraw from all occupied Ukrainian territories, fiercely defending Kiev’s territorial integrity. 

The Ukraine war has shown that “Türkiye in the 21st century pursues a fundamentally different foreign and security path than that played during the Cold War,” says Simons. In this path, Ankara acts as a bridge between the Western-centric and non-Western-centric worlds, he says. 

Unlike the past, when Ankara followed a passive foreign policy, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Türkiye has demonstrated the country’s political and military potential in the international arena from Ukraine to Central Asia. 

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the only leader capable of talking with both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, working to develop a rapprochement between the two sides,” says Casin.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Türkiye's President Tayyip Erdogan meet from time to time. Erdogan has also kept close ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Türkiye's President Tayyip Erdogan meet from time to time. Erdogan has also kept close ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Reuters Archive)

Beyond Turkish mediation efforts, Ankara has also taken a crucial step to close its straits to both Russian and NATO warships in alignment with the Montreux Convention, which regulates the status of Turkish channels. “With this crucial measure, Türkiye has prevented the spread of the Ukraine war to other areas particularly in the Black Sea,” says Casin. 

This measure also crucially led to setting demarcations in the conflict between Russia and the West, limiting tensions between the two sides, according to the Turkish professor. 

Yasar Sari, an expert at Haydar Aliyev Eurasian Research Center of Ibn Haldun University, also believes that Türkiye’s diplomatic efforts “have kept the Ukraine conflict limited,” preventing the war from turning into a regional conflict. 

Besides the Ukraine conflict, Türkiye has displayed its mediation skills in another difficult conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Karabakh dispute, urging both Erivan and Baku to find common ground to address their differences. 

In October, Erdogan played a critical role to realise an icebreaker peace talks between Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders in Prague on the sidelines of an EU meeting. 

Middle East normalisations

During 2022, Türkiye also worked hard to de-escalate tensions across the Middle East, reestablishing its ties with Egypt and Israel and strengthening its connections with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Since a 2010 Israeli raid on Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship travelling toward Gaza, which had long faced blockade by Tel Aviv, Turkish-Israeli ties experienced a deteriorating trend. In 2013, Turkish-Egyptian diplomatic ties were cut off after a coup led by general-turned-President Abdul Fattah al Sisi overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected government. 

“Turkiye’s diplomatic initiatives have been very successful in opening a new page with all of the regional powers in the region. This is part of a broader trend in the region of trying to maintain diplomatic channels open among the major players,” says Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an Israeli think-tank. 

According to Lindenstrauss, Ankara’s normalisation with Israel indicates the depths of ongoing Turkish diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived Ankara last March and met with Turkish President Erdogan in a groundbreaking visit.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived Ankara last March and met with Turkish President Erdogan in a groundbreaking visit. (Reuters)

“The normalisation process with Israel has been noteworthy for the fact that contrary to the 2016 normalisation effort, this time around there were many more high-level visits, indicating that there is a more solid ground for the current normalisation,” Lindenstrauss tells TRT World. 

In March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with Erdogan in a groundbreaking visit to Türkiye. In September, another high-level meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Erdogan was held at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Erdogan also indicated that he wanted to visit Israel after the November elections. 

This high-level meeting approach to solidify ties between Türkiye and other states has also been obvious in Ankara’s normalisation process with Egypt. Last month, Erdogan met Sisi in Qatar saying that “there should be no resentment in politics,” referring to past tensions between the two states following the Arab Spring rebellions.

It's an approach that could go further in the turbulent Middle East. “In the next period, just as it (Türkiye) has entered a (normalisation) path with Egypt, it can also enter another (normalisation) path with Syria,” the Turkish president said. Ankara-Damascus ties have been cut off in the wake of the Syrian civil war, seeing millions of refugees flowing to Türkiye.  

During 2022, Erdogan also met UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and Mohammed Bin Salman in Ankara, showing his commitment to strengthening formerly strained ties with the two Gulf countries.

Source: TRT World