Türkiye’s unique role as a mediator in the Ukraine-Russia conflict opens a diplomatic channel for humanitarian corridors and establishes trust on both sides.
Türkiye has won widespread praise for its efforts to resolve the Ukraine-Russia conflict, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s exhortation that “peace will have no losers” setting the tone for negotiations between the two warring sides.
Helped by its unique position of having friendly relations with both the Kremlin and Kiev, Türkiye hosted Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in the southern resort city of Antalya in early March. It was the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the conflict began on February 24.
Ukraine and Russia made some progress during the Istanbul talks towards a peace deal followed by Russia’s promise to reduce its operations in Ukraine and optimistic impressions by Ukrainian negotiators.
However, Türkiye’s profile and role as a mediator is unique. It has maritime borders with both Ukraine and Russia. It is a NATO member; at the same time, it is Russia's largest trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa region. Both countries coordinated efforts in conflict zones, most recently in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Keeping diplomatic process alive
“Türkiye has turned into one of the major centres of diplomacy in this conflict,” wrote Galip Dalay, Associate Fellow at Chatham House.
“The international system is changing. And the idea that the world is no longer Western-centric, and increasingly multipolar, is widespread in the non-Western world,” Dalay added, “Russia wants to give the impression it is interested in diplomacy to buy time and prevent further Western sanctions, but to no avail”.
Former Turkish diplomat Mehmet Ogutcu echoed a similar view.
“Every small step is progress,” Ogutcu says. “(The) diplomacy channel that Türkiye is opening is very important, at a minimum, to achieve the opening and protecting humanitarian corridors and then perhaps a ceasefire.”
Türkiye establishing trust
“I don’t expect these negotiations will go very far yet, but what Türkiye has done is establish trust on both sides.” former US diplomat Matthew Bryza tells TRT World.
Bryza adds, “This effort is showing that Türkiye can find a way to use diplomatic skill, to speak with both countries, which are Turkish neighbours but their conflict is of global importance.”
New security architecture
Türkiye hasn’t joined the Western sanctions against Moscow, as other NATO members did.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has no trust in most of the NATO countries and doesn’t want to talk to them anymore. So, someone has to talk to the Russians. Someone that Russia trusts, otherwise this war can go for months or years,” CNN quoted Türkiye’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin as saying.
“The world cannot afford a prolonged war like that or a cold war. We have to think of building a new security architecture after all this is done.,” Kalin said.
“How are we going to deal with all the security concerns of Russia, the Western bloc, NATO, Ukraine and other countries? President Erdogan is talking to President Putin about these issues too, telling him to think of long-term consequences of this war.”
Efforts to continue
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu characterises the talks as the “most meaningful progress since the start of negotiations”, though there were no major breakthroughs on ending the conflict.
"There could be a higher-level meeting, at least at the level of foreign ministers, within about a week or two weeks," Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
"What matters is that the two sides come together and agree on a lasting ceasefire," he said. "We would like to host a foreign ministers' meeting as an honest mediator."
Touching on Türkiye’s potential role as guarantor-state for a peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia, he said that taking up this role does not mean entering the conflict.