U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, ahead of planned visits to Ukraine and Russia in efforts to end the Ukrainian conflict.
Neither Guterres nor Erdogan spoke to the media after their talks in the Turkish capital, but both issued statements. The U.N. chief’s office recognized and praised Turkish efforts to end the conflict, while the Turkish presidency said it remained committed to end the fighting.
Erdogan has maintained good relations with both Ukrainian and Russian leaders and has sought to mediate the conflict.
Samuel Bendett, a Russia analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses’ Russia Studies Program, a U.S. research organization, said Ankara has successfully carved out an important role.
“Turkey is a significant factor here because the Russian president is talking to the Turkish president, the Ukrainian president is talking to the Turkish president. So, Turkey is involved and is in the know, and it could be potentially an important mediator if both sides feel it is time for Turkey to step up into that role,” Bendett said.
On Sunday, Erdogan spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In a statement after the talks, Erdogan said he would continue efforts to arrange with Moscow for civilians to leave the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as well as continuing wider diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Turkey has hosted Russian and Ukrainian foreign minister talks and, most recently, delegations of the warring parties.
Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow of the European Council, said Ankara has a vested interest in ending the Ukrainian conflict.
“Russia controls Turkey’s southern flank because of its presence in Syria and its increased presence in the east and the Caucasus; if they take over Ukraine, Turkey will effectively be surrounded by Russia,” Aydintasbas said. “I think people have enough historical memory to know that is not a good strategic place to end up for Turkey.”
Some analysts say that Erdogan’s role in peace efforts has enhanced the Turkish president’s international standing after he faced growing isolation among western allies.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives were continuing, and Turkey was ready to host a summit between Putin and Zelenskyy – if there was significant progress. However, the Turkish top diplomat tempered expectations, admitting prospects of a breakthrough were low.
As Moscow escalates its military offensive in Ukraine, observers say Putin appears to be showing little interest in peace efforts.