Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to Uzbekistan Thursday to attend a meeting of Eurasian security group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Erdogan is attending at the invitation of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The meeting comes as Erdogan’s relations with Putin are under growing scrutiny by its Western allies as they seek to tighten sanctions on Russia.
The loyalties of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are likely to face growing scrutiny from his traditional Western allies with his attendance Friday of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan.
The Russian and Chinese-led Eurasian security group is dubbed by some critics an anti-Western alliance.
Erdogan’s attendance and a scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the third in as many months, will fuel questions over Turkey’s Western loyalties, says Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting scholar with the Brookings Institution think tank.
“Erdogan likes to do this balancing act, and it serves a purpose. He wants to signal to the West that he has other options. Turkey has grown rather close to Russia, particularly economically, rather dependent on Russia,” Aydintasbas said. “Not only has Ankara not joined the Western sanctions, but it has also continued to trade with Russia and has received Russian finances.”
Some analysts say trade with Russia is increasingly crucial to Turkey’s crisis-ridden economy, which could prove vital to Erdogan, who faces reelection next year. Friday’s talks between Putin and Erdogan are expected to focus on trade.
Maria Shagina of the International Institute for Strategic Studies says with Western countries seeking to tighten sanctions on Moscow, Erdogan is also becoming increasingly important to Putin.
“Russia is running out of good friends here. They have China, India they can pivot to, but the room for maneuver, where Beijing (and) New Delhi would have an appetite to face secondary sanctions, is just not there,” Shagina said. “So, it’s important for Moscow to have another friend in need, and Ankara, unlike Beijing, Ankara is actually more risk prone.”
Erdogan this month called for the easing of some sanctions on Russia. But Ankara insists it is not violating U.S. international sanctions and is taking a balanced approach toward Russia and Ukraine, with Turkish armament companies continuing to supply Kyiv.
Erdogan’s stance toward Russia is expected to top the agenda of talks if the Turkish president meets with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York. But analyst Aydintasbas says Biden faces a dilemma with Ankara.
“Washington is doing its own balancing act when it comes to Erdogan. They don’t like the fact he has not joined Western sanctions on Russia. On the other hand, they don’t want to push Turkey further toward Russia,” Aydintasbas said. “So, they’ve refrained from speaking out.”
With both European Union and Washington expected to step up efforts to tighten sanctions on Russia, analysts warn Turkey’s balancing act with Russia could prove increasingly difficult to sustain.