The Turkish and Azerbaijani presidents came together today in Samarkand, the historic Silk Road city in Uzbekistan that is hosting a two-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), amid renewed hostilities between Baku and Yerevan.
The meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, which lasted 40 minutes, comes ahead of Erdogan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the second day of the summit. Besides the Armenia-Azerbaijan flare-up, efforts to enhance the grain corridor in the Black Sea are expected to top the agenda of the Putin-Erdogan meeting.
Putin expressed his woes on the grain deal last week, which Erdogan helped broker in July. Under the deal, Ukraine was allowed to export 5 million tons of grain per month, thus easing fears of a global food crisis. To secure the exports, Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials set up an operational center in Istanbul to help guide commercial ships from Ukraine through minefields in the Black Sea. The Turkish Defense Ministry announced today that more than 3 million tons had reached global markets in the last 46 days.
Putin, saying that the grain was not reaching the developing world, threatened to pull out of the deal last week. Russian officials also complained that parts of the agreement that were intended to help Russia sell its fertilizer and other agricultural products amid sanctions didn’t have much effect.
Erdogan backed up Putin’s claims, saying that the Russian president was right in saying that Ukrainian grain was going to wealthy rather than developing countries. He has also sided with the Russian concerns on exporting fertilizers, which he said the world needed.
In an interview with Turkey’s official news agency, Anadolu, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was working with Turkey and other actors to solve “access of Russian food and fertilizers to international markets.”
“We are doing everything and working with the US, EU and others to make sure that what has been said time and time again, that sanctions do not apply to food and fertilizers, translates itself into reality, and we badly need the Russian fertilizers in a moment in which we are seeing a fertilizer market crunch,” the UN secretary-general said. “We are also negotiating the export of Russian ammonia through Ukraine. One of the things that has been clear is that these will create conditions to have an extension in time of a program, especially if that program will be conceived in a way that benefits both countries.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that when Russia complained about possible restrictions on its grain exports, he called US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Guterres. Cavusoglu said Russian grain supplies are not under sanctions. Still, there are other restrictions hampering exports from Russia, including its ships' inability to get insurance or even be received and maintained at some ports, he said.
While Turkey and Russia mostly agree on working together on Russian fertilizer exports, the conversation on Armenia and Azerbaijan can be more difficult. No official statement was made after the Erdogan-Aliyev meeting Thursday, but Turkey, unlike Russia, has unequivocally placed its support behind Azerbaijan, whom it helped with drones in 2020 to recapture part of the territory occupied by Armenia for 30 years.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar talked to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Zakir Hasanov, on Thursday to get the “latest information on the ground” following Yerevan’s announcement that a truce had been agreed upon late Wednesday. Akar also pledged the “strongest support possible” to “brotherly Azerbaijan.”
Erdogan is likely to press Putin to use his influence over Armenia to cede to Azerbaijani demands, Amberin Zaman reported Wednesday. These include Armenia’s renouncement of its claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has an Armenian majority.
Russia said on Thursday it was seeking to reverse any shift in the region's military balance that had occurred as a result of this week's fighting. "We are in close contact with both countries so as to arrive at a sustainable cease-fire and the return of Azerbaijani and Armenian military to their positions of origin," Reuters quoted Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia telling the Security Council on Thursday.
Besides Putin, Erdogan will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the second day of the summit. Xi and Putin held a meeting on the first day of the summit, where Putin praised China's leader for what he said was a "balanced" position on the conflict.
Erdogan’s visit to Samarkand marks the first presidential-level participation in the SCO since Turkey “obtained dialogue partner status” at the SCO in 2012, a presidency statement said. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt are also dialogue partners in the organization, while Iran started its membership accession process last year.
The Presidency statement added that Erdogan would continue straight to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The Presidency said that Erdogan would meet with Guterres and hold bilateral talks with various heads of state and government.
Asked whether Erdogan would meet Biden on the sidelines of the meeting, a top diplomatic official told journalists in Ankara that there were no meetings planned at the presidential or foreign ministerial level.
Erdogan, who insists upon tight security measures in all his travels abroad, will not attend the funeral of Elizabeth II on Sept. 19, although he had said earlier that he wanted to go. Turkey will be represented by Cavusoglu.