Turkey and Russia are in discussions yet again as Turkis President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the future of the two nations.

Both leaders met at Putin’s Sochi residence last Friday and had reportedly spoken for at least four hours. During their meeting, it was believed that Putin covered their ongoing trade deals to ensure they could resume their operations across the Black Sea. However, military expert Igor Korotchenko said this was Putin giving Erdoğan a stern warning not to interfere with Russia’s next moves because “Russia holds the keys to Erdoğan’s re-election next year.”

The deal ended the standoff on the global food crisis caused by the Ukraine-Russia war. As of writing, three more ships with 60,000 tonnes of grain bound to Ukrain, Ireland, and Turkey had departed the Ukrainian Black Sea ports last Friday.

Vladimir Putin
Video message on the occasion of the start of the final stage of the X All-Russian Festival of the Night Hockey League in Sochi. (Source: The Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia)

“This is a very pressing problem for many countries, first and foremost, the developing ones that are on the brink of big problems with food and fertiliser supply. The decisions made with your direct participation are very important for all these countries,” Putin told Erdoğan as their closed-door meetings began.

Though on the outside, it looks like Putin and Erdoğan had “ulterior motives” during the discussion. This is what’s keeping the EU on its toes, watching how the two nations will interact in the next coming weeks. Six western officials spoke with Financial Times and said they are deeply concerned about the possibility of these leaders cooperating outside trade deals. There’s also speculation that Russia could move its investments in Turkey to finance various sectors as a way for them to “legally avoid” sanctions imposed by the West.

Another senior western official implied the possibility of companies and banks getting pulled out of Turkey if Erdoğan pushes through with any form of cooperation with Russia outside the “food deal.” But, the challenge is NATO’s potential restriction on Turkey if they ever go out of line.

“For example, they could ask for restrictions on trade finance or ask the large financial companies to reduce finance to Turkish companies,” one official said. “I would not rule out any negative actions [if] Turkey gets too close to Russia,” he added.

After the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Turkey has agreed to pay for Russia’s gas and that both leaders want to expand their banking ties in roubles and lira. Even Erdoğan confirmed that they’d made progress pertaining to the country’s financial state, saying they achieved “very serious developments” during his meeting with Putin.

Turkey’s financial system is heavily influenced by European and US companies like Ford, Bosch, and Coca-Cola. However, with Turkey’s close ties to Russia, many are calling on “Western firms to either pull out of relationships in Turkey, or to shrink their relationships with Turkey, in light of the rist that would be created by Turkey expanding their relationship with Russia.”

And this concern is valid. With Russia’s cash infusion, Turkey could double its GDP before the year ends while being protected by its NATO membership. Putin is clearly aware of the legal chaos this would bring if NATO and the US would sanction Turkey, especially with Europe’s already rocky economic climate.

Though Erdoğan claims he’s tackling the issues in a “balanced” manner, it’s looking like he’s using his leverage as a NATO member. Earlier this year, Sweden and Finland had sent their intentions to join NATO to combat counter-terrorism issues. However, Turkey could be a deciding vote when it comes to allowing these countries in.

Who’s Erdoğan more scared of?

Tayyip Erdoğan
Meeting of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Source: https://www.president.gov.ua via Wikimedia)

The US has repeatedly sent warnings to countries that will extend help to Russia during the war, calling for “secondary sanctions” for any violations beyond the US legal jurisdiction. For Turkey, this could mean a lot of American companies pulling out their operations in the country (which could affect their local economy and tourism).

“I would not rule out any negative actions [if] Turkey gets too close to Russia,” another official told FT.

However, as Korotchenko mentioned, Putin has probably sent a message to Turkey showing him the possible actions Russia could take if he does not cooperate. Korotchenko told Rossiya-1 that it boils down to Erdoğan’s re-election next year.

“Without support of Russia, without Putin’s support, the keys to Erdogan’s presidency are in the hands of the Russian leader if we’re being honest. We’re not diminishing the role of the Turkish people in making their choice.”

Putin is saying he still holds the key to influencing millions of the Turkish population to keep Erdoğan in power. Whether by corrupting their media or spreading fake news, the Turkish president supposedly knows and understands how deep Russia could hurt him when it comes to his re-election.

“We’re not diminishing Erdogan’s part in this either, but in the modern world, such a mighty, self-sufficient power as Russia influences elections held by other nations in favor of certain politicians.”