BRUSSELS – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in political trouble ahead of next year’s elections, his economy is imploding, a central bank running out of foreign exchange and volcanic inflation hovering around 80 percent annually.
Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin has his own problems as the war in Ukraine stalls and heavy economic sanctions hit Russia’s industry and economy in general.
The mutual challenges have brought the two men closer than ever. They have met twice in the past three weeks, most recently last weekend in Sochi, Russia, in hopes of mitigating their vulnerabilities by expanding their partnership and reaching an agreement, Erdogan said, on economic cooperation he hoped will develop in the near future. would total $100 billion.
It is a relationship that raises the bristles of Erdogan’s NATO allies as he offers Mr Putin a huge hole in the dam of sanctions that the West has tried hard to build in its bid to end Mr Putin’s war. to thwart Ukraine. Some wonder where Mr. Erdogan’s true loyalties lie, beyond his own interest.
There is little doubt that the bond is proving to be mutually beneficial for now as the details of their negotiations emerge in the aftermath. For Mr Putin, benefits include selling energy and weapons, investment and a close relationship with a NATO member, who is trying to isolate him and help Ukraine defeat its invading army.
Turkey, which is not a member of the European Union, has refused to impose Western sanctions on Russia. It is exploring ways to partner with otherwise sanctioned Russian banks and accept payments via Russian credit cards. Russian gas flows unhindered through the TurkStream pipeline. There are also reports that Russia is seeking Turkish assistance in providing “subsystems” for its weapons, which can no longer directly obtain Western components.
For Mr Erdogan, the benefits include cash injections into the central bank, cheap energy, global importance, a large export market, renewed Russian tourism and, crucially, apparent Russian endorsement of its politically popular efforts to end Kurdish separatism in Syria, where Russia supports the Syrian regime. government of Bashar al-Assad.
But the two leaders remain enemies of the first order, each a spiky strongman who has amassed extraordinary powers for himself and keeps his own counsel.