Türkiye, not Switzerland, has been the most effective diplomatic bridge between Russia and Ukraine since February 24.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) high-level General Debate kicked off last Monday in New York. “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges” is the 77th session’s theme.
Representatives of the UN member-states are busy discussing many transregional dilemmas from the global energy crisis to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most important issues on the table is the war in Ukraine which erupted on February 24.
Türkiye’s diplomacy vis-à-vis the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has demonstrated Ankara’s special position in global affairs.
Türkiye plays a unique role in international efforts to resolve this seven-month-old conflict as a NATO member which staunchly supports Ukraine’s territorial dignity and has armed Kyiv with Bayraktar TB2 drones, while also maintaining complicated albeit respectful and cooperative relations with Moscow.
Türkiye’s balance diplomacy
Striking this delicate balance has been a challenge. Yet, Türkiye has proven capable of doing so.
On one hand, Ankara has not been afraid to challenge Russia’s foreign policy agenda in a host of conflict zones from the Levant to the Maghreb, highlighted by Türkiye’s downing of a Russian fighter jet that violated Turkish airspace in November 2015.
On the other, Ankara has managed to compartmentalize different issues in Turkish-Russian relations and always finds ways to cooperate and openly communicate with the Kremlin.
“This complex relationship [between Ankara and Moscow] evolved into brinkmanship with unwritten rules that govern the Turkish-Russian relations,” said foreign policy and security analyst Ömer Özkizilcik in an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“Over these years, Türkiye and Russia have learned how to deal with each other and how to reach agreements despite open hostilities. Now, Türkiye is transferring this knowledge and experience into a mediator role between Ukraine and Russia.”
Türkiye’s mediation differs from Switzerland’s for several reasons
To be sure, Türkiye is not the only power to carefully balance between the East and the West amid a period of increased bifurcation. One country which is strongly associated with neutrality, diplomacy, and mediation is Switzerland.
With military neutrality embedded in their constitution, no people have a tradition of neutrality in global affairs as firmly rooted in their national ethos as the Swiss. But there are major differences between Türkiye, a NATO member, and Switzerland, a European country that stays out of military alliances.
“The Swiss mediation is classical old-school mediation in which a neutral party brings together two opposing sides and provides them with a neutral environment to negotiate and find a political solution. This kind of mediation can only be useful if there is an interest on both sides for an agreement or ceasefire,” according to Ozkizilcik.
“The Turkish mediator role is much different and something new in international politics. It is a result of almost a decade-long period of confrontation and cooperation with Moscow.”
Since February 24, Türkiye — not Switzerland — has been the most effective diplomatic bridge between Russia and Ukraine. There are at least two main reasons why this has been the case.
First, Ankara, unlike Bern, has some significant leverage over Moscow. Türkiye has real influence over the Black Sea, Syria, the South Caucasus, and Libya, which directly impacts Russia’s geopolitical and security interests and requires Moscow to take Ankara’s interests into consideration.
Second, Türkiye has not joined Switzerland in implementing Western sanctions on Russia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has not supported efforts aimed at destroying the Russian economy.
Both factors have resulted in Moscow viewing Ankara as a credible, capable, and trustworthy mediator despite Türkiye’s NATO membership and military support for Ukraine over the past seven months.
“The mediating party should be really neutral in terms of treatment of both parties in conflict. Türkiye, although a NATO member, treated both [Russia and Ukraine] in an equal, firm, and fair manner,”
Dr. Murat Aslan, a researcher at the SETA Foundation and a faculty member at Hasan Kalyoncu University, told Anadolu Agency.
Ankara continues to pursue its peacebuilding efforts
Building on Türkiye and the UN’s success in helping Russia and Ukraine negotiate the grain shipment deal over the summer, Ankara seeks to play a critical role in helping Moscow and Kyiv to reach a permanent peace deal eventually.
Based on an understanding that continued warfare in Ukraine will threaten Türkiye’s economic and security interests, Ankara is boldly pursuing its efforts to help bring peace and stability to the country through its balanced relationships with Moscow and Kyiv.
As world leaders meet in New York to discuss Ukraine among other pressing global challenges, the role of Türkiye as a mediator in a rapidly changing international environment remains extremely important.
Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics and a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, DC.