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Explainer: What's going on between Russia and Turkey amid Black Sea escalation

Ankara’s avoidance of a public confrontation with Moscow reflects its determination to maintain a balancing act between Russia and the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the Sixth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Astana on Oct. 13, 2022.

ANKARA — Turkey's recent avoidance of a public confrontation with Russia may reflect its efforts to maintain its balancing act while working out problems behind closed doors.

The two capitals enjoyed a rosy relationship before Turkey's general elections in May. But in recent months, Ankara has taken a series of steps distancing itself from Moscow, including voicing full support for Ukraine’s NATO membership during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Istanbul in early July; releasing commanders from Ukraine’s Azov Battalion who were supposed to stay in Turkey until the end of the war under a prisoner swap deal; and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greenlighting Swedish accession to NATO. 

The Russians hardly sat idle while all these events happened. On July 17, President Vladimir Putin announced his country’s withdrawal from the deal allowing safe shipment of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, which had been mediated by Turkey and the United Nations last year. 

On Aug. 6, Russian forces struck Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich, which supplies Turkey's internationally famed drone giant Baykar. The company's TB2 drones have played a critical role in Ukraine's defense against the Russian forces, and speaking to Defense News, a senior Turkish diplomat described the attack “as a symbolic Russian warning … over a few Turkish initiatives.” 

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