There is much that is strange about the current case of the Russian ship, which was apparently supposed to transport wheat from occupied parts of Ukraine and which the Turkish authorities are now detaining at the request of the Ukrainian government.
When the freighter left the port of Berdiansk, the governor of the Zaporizhia region, appointed by Russia, rejoiced in the short message service Telegram that 7,000 tons of wheat would be delivered to “friendly” countries on this ship.
It is noteworthy that this post from the governor was subsequently quickly edited and the reference to the wheat and possible delivery destinations was removed. Apparently, Moscow does not want to make too public how it is trying to nurture allies with the stolen Ukrainian harvest and possibly playing off sympathizers against each other. This is where Moscow’s PR might be vulnerable.
Turkey’s actions are also revealing. In terms of the freighter, the Turkish government is granting “full cooperation,” confirms the Ukrainian ambassador in Ankara. After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly acted in coordination with Vladimir Putin in recent years (e.g. in Syria or in the Karabakh conflict), the Turkish head of state is now demonstratively back on a westward course.
Erdogan also supported NATO’s northern expansion in exchange for rather symbolic concessions on the PKK and the Gülen organization. Sure: All of this is partly due to the devastating economic situation in Turkey. Erdogan needs friends at the moment – and more financially powerful than Putin. And, of course, the Turkish pendulum will swing east again if Erdogan sees it favorable.
Still, the recent freighter episode points to certain constants that make a real alliance between Ankara and Moscow difficult to imagine. Because Russia’s only connection to warm seas is through the Black Sea and then the Turkish-controlled Bosphorus, any Russian government will seek influence in the Turkish neighborhood.
And every Turkish government has to deal with the fact that if it allows Russian warships – or freighters – to pass through, it is at least partly responsible for Russian foreign policy. The West can also take advantage of the natural basic tension between these actors.