Putin and Erdogan to Talk in Tehran, Spotlighting Complicated Relationship


When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia meet next week in Iran, the two leaders will navigate a sometimes fraught but also symbiotic relationship that has been complicated by the war in Ukraine.

For Mr. Putin, the meetings will offer an opportunity to buttress military and economic support at a time when Moscow is seeking to counter the West’s military assistance to Ukraine and its punishing sanctions against Russia.

For Turkey, a NATO member, the meeting is an opportunity to project its influence as a regional power, while attempting to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and engaging in a delicate and potentially combustible balancing act between Russia and the West.

The meetings, which will include talks on Syria, are complicated by the fact that Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the war in Syria since Mr. Putin intervened in the fighting there in 2015, with Russia backing government forces and Turkey their enemies.

In the run-up to the war in Ukraine, Mr. Erdogan initially misread the situation, opening himself to criticism at home for not evacuating Turkish citizens quickly enough and for misjudging Mr. Putin’s intentions.

But Mr. Erdogan, whose country shares the Black Sea coast with both Russia and Ukraine, has since cast himself and his country as the most engaged mediator between Mr. Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

Beyond working behind the scenes to try and end the war, Turkey has also been trying to negotiate an end to Russia’s blockade of more than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain exports, which has been amplifying a global food crisis.

Turkey, the easternmost NATO nation, has long been an exasperating, unpredictable member of the alliance. It charted its own course in Syria, and bought Russian antiaircraft weapons over strenuous NATO objections.

In recent years, Mr. Putin has sought to cultivate Mr. Erdogan in hopes of fomenting divisions within NATO. Russia calls the alliance an existential threat, which it invoked in invading Ukraine.

Mr. Erdogan, in turn, has nurtured ties with Moscow, both as leverage against the West and out of necessity in dealing with a powerful neighbor.

Commanding one of NATO’s largest armies, Mr. Erdogan has sought to use that leverage to try to gain concessions from the West. He temporarily blocked Sweden and Finland from joining NATO in return for a set of actions and promises that those countries would act against Kurds whom Turkey views as terrorists.

By meeting with Mr. Putin and leaders of Iran, which is virulently anti-Israel and has been rapidly enriching uranium, Mr. Erdogan could once again provoke jitters among its NATO allies, in particular the United States.

Despite the mutual efforts of Russia and Turkey to cultivate their relationship, it has been rocky at times. Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan have in recent years found themselves on opposite sides of conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria. And since 2020, the Russian military has expanded its footprint in the Caucasus region.

Mr. Erdogan has also irritated Russia by selling Turkish-made drones to Ukraine, some of which have been used to strike Russian armored convoys, according to Ukrainian officials.

Whatever their differences, however, the two leaders can seem like mirror images of the other. Both have exerted extraordinary influence over their respective countries for decades. Both have little appetite for dissent. Both are keen to project power internationally.

Both have also expressed nostalgia for their country’s historic grandeur and lost empires — Mr. Erdogan, who has been compared by some Turkish commentators to a modern-day Sultan, has shown reverence for the Ottoman Empire; Mr. Putin, who views himself as being on a historic mission to rebuild the Russian Empire, has compared himself to Peter the Great.



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