Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to be the most trusted arbiter between Russia and Ukraine – and the recent prisoner swap negotiated by Ankara proves it.
In yet another diplomatic breakthrough for the Türkiye-led mediation process, Ukraine and Russia reached an unexpected prisoner exchange deal, which led to the release of over 250 captives – 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russian and pro-Russian fighters.
The deal, which also led to the release of 10 foreign nationals from countries like the US and the UK, elicited praise from the international community, with both London and Washington thanking Ankara and Riyadh, which also helped realise the deal.
Five senior Ukrainian commanders released by Russia will stay in Türkiye as part of the deal.
Türkiye 's new diplomatic accomplishment came at a crucial time when Russian President Vladimir Putin had mobilised a portion of reservists to bolster his army in Ukraine.
"I would like to thank the Turkish government for helping facilitate the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia, building on their leadership on the grain deal," US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.
"Türkiye has now received the result of its belief in the power of dialogue and diplomacy with this prisoner exchange," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "Our efforts to establish peace between Russia and Ukraine continue,” he said, thanking both warring sides for agreeing to the recent deal.
Türkiye has also previously been instrumental in opening a grain export corridor across the Black Sea from both Ukraine and Russia, the world’s two biggest grain exporters, by mediating between Kiev and Moscow.
According to the new agreement, there are members from Azov Battalion, which participated in the fateful Mariupol fighting in May, among the 215 Ukrainian prisoners. Viktor Medvedchuk, an Ukrainian tycoon close to Putin, was also among the freed prisoners.
The Western media saw the prisoner exchange agreement as “a surprise”, indicating the difficult mediation job Erdogan has been able to carry on up to date in the face of escalating tensions between the two warring sides.
Experts believe that the prisoner deal might also help both sides to reach a ceasefire. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it an “important step” to end the armed conflict.
Unlike the Western approach, Türkiye believes not sanctions but “a multifaceted connectivity strategy” through a constructive peace-seeking process, which could work better to address the Ukraine conflict than sanctions and military pressure over Moscow,some experts say.
Here are the key breakthroughs achieved by Türkiye towards addressing the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Erdogan visited Ukraine, holding a critical meeting with President Volodmyry Zelenskyy and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Lviv, aiming to broaden Turkiye’s mediating efforts and strengthen the scope of a grain deal negotiated by Ankara and to some degree by the UN.
Erdogan met Putin in Sochi, a Black Sea port in Russia, where they discussed both Ukraine and Syria conflicts. Being a NATO ally, Türkiye is in a rare position to talk to both Russians and Ukrainians thanks to Erdogan’s shuttle diplomacy, emerging “as a major swing player in the protracted war” and bringing “meaningful results”, according to experts.
Türkiye inaugurated the crucial Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), which oversees the grain shipment process from Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea to Türkiye’s straits, making essential crops reach world markets and being a lifeline to humanity.
Due to the Ukraine conflict, in which Russia blocked Ukrainian Black Sea ports to prevent the country from exporting its grain, the global community suffered from food shortages and high prices. But Western sanctions, which have given Russia a difficult time selling its grain, also contributed to increasing food shortages.
On the other hand, Türkiye, through the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was able to persuade both sides to open the JCC, allowing the warring countries to export their crops to world markets to ease food shortages and skyrocketing prices. Since the opening of the JCC, many ships have carried millions of tonnes of grain from Ukraine and Russia to countries that are in desperate need.
Through Ankara’s mediation, Ukraine and Russia signed a landmark grain deal in Istanbul to process grain shipments from the world’s two biggest grain producers to world markets.
The deal prompted global praise for Türkiye for its brokering capabilities of the deal between the two warring sides. UN chief Antonia Guterres called it “a beacon of hope” in a desperate world which needs crops more than ever.
Under the auspices of the Turkish foreign ministry, Istanbul hosted peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations.
In a sign of Turkish shuttle diplomacy, which has featured Ankara’s peace efforts since the beginning of the Russian offensive on Ukraine, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held back-to-back meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Lviv.
During the Antalya Forum, a conference organised by the Turkish foreign ministry, a trilateral meeting between Ukrainian, Russian and Turkish foreign ministers materialised, marking the first high-level talks between the warring sides since the beginning of the conflict.