Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace talks

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ANKARA: On Sunday evening, Turkey pursued a change in terminology by defining the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine as a “war” – a strong formulation compared to its previous statements which described it as an “unacceptable military intervention”.

Ankara also reiterated its mediation offer to host the peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

Ankara’s latest move has sparked debates over whether it would implement Montreux Convention articles of war on its Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits that would prevent Russian warships not associated with the fleet from the Black Sea to cross the Turkish Strait for the duration of the conflict.

“We are witnessing a new war in our region. President Erdogan has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, as we have strong relations with both countries. . He also called for a unified stance from allies,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications chief.

Another crucial question is whether Turkey can play an effective mediating role between the warring parties at a time when Ankara is trying to maintain its good relations with Ukraine and Russia to secure both its energy imports and its tourist flows from Russia and its defense cooperation with Ukraine.

In the same vein, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, said in an interview with the Turkish television channel CNN Turk that “the situation in Ukraine is officially a war according to Article 19 of the Montreux Convention “.

On the first day of the war, Ukrainian Ambassador to Ankara Vasyl Bodnar urged Ankara to close the strait to passing Russian warships.

But Cavusoglu stressed that Turkey cannot block all Russian warships reaching the Black Sea because a clause in the Montreux Convention exempts those returning to their registered bases.

Ankara’s decision to describe the events in Ukraine as a war under the Montreux Convention gives Turkey the right to act accordingly. Until Sunday, he described the conflict as an unacceptable “military intervention” or “operation”.

So far, senior Turkish officials have repeatedly urged the parties to start ceasefire negotiations and immediately halt Russian attacks.

As a diplomatic tool, Turkey attaches great importance to mediation. Ten years ago, together with Finland, she launched the Mediation for Peace Initiative, a group of countries working on different mediation practices.

Turkey’s mediation offers have always been welcomed by the Ukrainian side, while Russia would welcome any Turkish effort to convince Ukraine to comply with the existing 2015 Minsk Protocol following any mediation offer.

Ryan Bohl, senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Rane Intelligence, said Turkey’s announcement to partially close the Bosphorus Strait to Russian military activity will likely make the country less neutral in any eventual talks. peace between Ukraine and Russia.

“That being said, Russia feels very isolated at the moment and may seek to give Turkey some sort of symbolic victory to improve Moscow’s relations after the war,” he told Arab News.

But Bohl added that Turkey’s potential to mediate in the talks rests on the assumption that Russia is interested in serious ceasefire negotiations.

“It’s still unclear whether Putin’s maximalist goals that he laid out in his national speeches will remain Russia’s strategy going forward,” he said.

“If they do, then any role Turkey might play in the negotiations would be symbolic,” he added.

On Sunday, Cavusoglu carried out intense diplomatic contacts with key figures for the resolution of the conflict, including OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. .

According to Jonathan Katz, senior researcher and director of democratic initiatives at the German Marshall Fund, based in the United States, Turkey should support Ukraine with direct military and humanitarian assistance, strengthen the defense of NATO and its partners, including including the Black Sea and the South Caucasus.

“Therefore, Ankara closing the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to Russian warships is also critical,” he told Arab News.

“Putin’s war with Ukraine is a direct security threat to Turkey and will have lasting ramifications for the security of the Turkish people.”

At least six Russian warships and a submarine passed through the Turkish Strait this month.

Although Ankara has not yet signed on to Western sanctions against Russia, the Russian side remains skeptical about the role Turkey could play in the peace talks, especially after Ankara openly defined the Russian invasion as a “war” and called Russia’s annexation of Crimea an occupation.

Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian Council for International Affairs, a think tank close to the Kremlin, said it would be difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept Erdogan’s mediation.

“The reason is that the latter has always sided with Ukraine since 2014. It’s like having two Zelenskys at the table facing Putin instead of one,” he told Arab News.

Since 2018, Turkey has sold Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine, which has helped the military destroy significant amounts of Russian armor, while the two countries have also agreed to jointly produce certain defense technologies and security.

“Although being a mediator between Ukraine and Russia would be Turkey’s dream scenario, it is increasingly unlikely that this will happen, especially if Turkey really decides to close the strait to Russian warships. because it will be a clear political signal that she chooses the pro-Ukrainian,” Karol Wasilewski, a Turkish analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News.

“I also doubt that the Russians are okay with that,” he added.

“The regime is increasingly isolated and would certainly connect the dots that Turkey’s change in rhetoric on Russian aggression – the fact that Turkey started calling it a ‘war’ – came just after the summit in NATO,” Wasilewski said.

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