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Possible casualties of Russia’s war in Ukraine: The Putin-Erdogan bond


[As the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted a veto this week on Sweden joining NATO, the Russian hard-liners, stung by a flurry of recent Turkish gestures of support for Ukraine, demanded that Turkey be designated as an “unfriendly” country.The pro-Western moves by Turkey, including Erdogan’s warm welcome of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul on Friday, led to speculation that Turkey was pivoting to restore warmer relations with Europe and the United States after several years of close cooperation with Moscow.In Russia, where President Vladimir Putin’s good relationship with Erdogan is valuable geopolitical currency, the sense that Erdogan may be flipping to a closer, more cooperative relationship with Western leaders seemed to provoke almost as much anxiety as the idea of Sweden joining NATO, raising questions about whether Russia’s war has undermined one of Moscow’s most valued relationships.The Kremlin’s criticism of Ankara was cautious, but Russian lawmakers and hard-line nationalists bitterly denounced Erdogan, while Russia’s mainstream press questioned whether the Turkish leader is making a lasting, fundamental pivot away from Russia.A marked change in Erdogan’s tone was evident during Zelensky’s weekend visit to Turkey — his first since the Russian invasion — when the Turkish leader hailed the friendship between the two nations, expressed support for Ukraine’s independence, and said it deserved NATO membership.Days later, his move to unblock Sweden’s entry to NATO was a major strategic blow to Moscow, which has made deterring NATO from accepting new members a centerpiece of its security policy since the 1990s.Putin’s close relations with the Turkish leader have given Russia a back door on Western sanctions, while the Kremlin’s propaganda machine extols the Russian president as a strong global leader with powerful friends. The two share a desire to challenge Western dominance, a position central to Putin’s professed self-image as a leader waging war on Ukraine to save the world from U.S. hegemony and greedy Western elites.As Putin faced his greatest challenge during last month’s Wagner mercenary rebellion, Erdogan called him to express his “full support,” according to the Kremlin. Putin moved quickly to congratulate Erdogan after his May election win, calling him a “dear friend.”But Erdogan’s move over the weekend to free a group of Ukrainian Azov Brigade commanders and others who led the defense of Mariupol and are designated “terrorists” by Moscow was seen as a betrayal.Turkish drops opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid on the eve of the summit. Russian outrage was amplified by the other signs of Turkish support for Ukraine.Zelensky and Erdogan signed a deal on cooperation in strategic industries, including drones, at the meeting, according to the Ukrainian presidential office, after confirmation last week that construction of a Bayraktar drone plant in Ukraine had begun.


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