Lavrov Explores Negotiation Prospects with Ukraine in Turkey

Ankara is leveraging the Russo-Ukrainian war to achieve political, diplomatic, and economic gains, particularly economically, due to Moscow's need to circumvent Western sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is discussing Friday in Turkey the Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations and ways to ensure navigation safety in the Black Sea, where the ongoing war in Ukraine has brought Turkey and Russia closer, while Ankara tries to capitalize on this situation to gain as much political, diplomatic, and especially economic benefits, especially since it has become a major conduit for some of the Russian capital that cannot be invested elsewhere due to sanctions.

Lavrov will participate in part of the annual Diplomatic Forum in Antalya, on the Mediterranean Sea, where he will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan. The Russo-Ukrainian war will be a major topic of discussion at the forum, which runs from Friday to Sunday, although the Russian foreign minister will leave again on Saturday.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ankara has maintained close relations with both parties. It seeks to occupy a strategic position and role in strategic issues, international relations, and security, and to enter Syria, in addition to the domestic political and economic struggle in Turkey, and of course to be a central and pivotal state in the region, and on a global level.

Sinan Ülgen, director of the İdam Research Center in Istanbul, said: “Turkey remains, along with Hungary, among the last NATO countries to engage in dialogue with Moscow.” He added that, “in a geopolitical context changed by the war, Turkey seeks to maintain this role for the future, hoping to benefit from it during potential peace talks.”

Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey is seeking to revive peace efforts from 2022 when the top negotiators from both countries met in Istanbul. The Turkish president said in a video recording broadcast during a summit of Southeast European leaders in Tirana this week, attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: “We are ready to reestablish the negotiation table to build peace, as we did in Istanbul in the past.”

The Turkish president also called for a new mechanism to secure navigation in the Black Sea. He said, “We need an arrangement that ensures the safe navigation of merchant ships in the Black Sea.” He added, “For this purpose, we continue our efforts to obtain commitments on security,” without providing further details.

Turkey collaborated with the United Nations to establish a safe corridor for the transportation of Ukrainian grains and agricultural products under a 2022 agreement abandoned last year after Russia refused to renew it. The agreement, called the “Black Sea Grain Initiative,” allowed the export of approximately 33 million tons of Ukrainian grain, according to the United Nations.

After Russia’s refusal, Ukraine began using an alternative route for its grains along the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania and through the Bosporus Strait. Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey (all NATO members) signed an agreement in January to demine the Black Sea.

Turkey, which heavily relies on Russia for energy supplies, has avoided joining sanctions imposed on Moscow, something the West and the U.S. consistently criticize. 16 Turkish entities were added to a new list of U.S. sanctions announced last week.

Carnegie Europe Senior Fellow Marc Pierini said: “Because of the considerable increase in trade between Turkey and Russia… there are actually investigations into bypassing Western sanctions against Russia.”

Pierini also highlighted Russian investments in the Turkish energy sector, including in a nuclear power station, as well as discounts on Russian gas, in addition to payments in rubles and the promotion of a gas hub.

Russian nuclear giant Rosatom announced a second power station in Turkey, expressing interest in a third. Ülgen said: “Turkey is trying to pursue a rational policy by maintaining its trade relations with Russia while ensuring not to cross a red line that could make it vulnerable to Western retaliation.”

The Antalya Forum, the largest annual diplomatic gathering in Turkey, attracts heads of state, governments, ministers, diplomats, businessmen, and researchers every year to the resort also popular with Russian tourists.

Lavrov attended the forum in 2022, two weeks after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the first high-level meeting between the two warring countries.”

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