ISTANBUL– Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he trusts Russia as much as the West.
Explaining his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan said he had failed to get him to return to the Black Sea grain deal from which the Kremlin withdrew in July, but that he had obtained that Russia undertake to supply 1 million tonnes of cereals to Africa.
“I have no reason not to trust them,” Erdogan said in an interview Monday evening with the American television channel PBS in New York, where he is participating in the UN General Assembly.
“To the extent that the West is reliable, so is Russia. We have been waiting at the gates of the EU for 50 years, and right now I trust Russia as much as I trust the West.”
Ankara has maintained close ties with Russia and Ukraine during the 19-month war. In July last year, Turkey and the UN reached a deal allowing Ukrainian grain to be shipped safely from their Black Sea ports, helping to ease a global food crisis.
Moscow withdrew from the deal two months ago, saying a side deal allowing its food and fertilizer exports had not been honored.
Erdogan is visiting New York four months after winning elections that extended his 20-year rule by five years. His new term has seen signs of improvement in the often tense relations between Ankara and the West.
Speaking at an event on Monday, the Turkish leader appeared to walk back comments he made just before leaving for New York, in which he suggested Turkey could end its bid to join the European Union , 24 years old.
“We see that a window of opportunity has opened for the revitalization of relations between Turkey and the European Union in a critical period,” Erdogan said, according to a text of the meeting released by his office.
“We continue to emphasize the importance of revitalizing Turkey’s EU accession process. »
Erdogan also indicated an improvement in relations with Washington, which recently focused on Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s application for NATO membership and a possible deal to supply Turkey with fighter jets F-16.
“We are satisfied with the development of our cooperation with the United States,” Erdogan said. “We have resolved most of the impasses during the negotiations with Mr. Biden and we have decided to continue the negotiations in accordance with the positive agenda.”
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members not to have approved Sweden’s candidacy for the defense alliance, formulated by Stockholm after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The issue is expected to be debated by the Turkish parliament when it comes out of recess next month.
Some members of the US Congress have indicated that the supply of F-16s to modernize the Turkish fighter fleet depends on Ankara accepting Sweden’s membership in NATO.
But Erdogan reiterated that “these two topics should not be linked”, even as he said the decision on Sweden belonged to the Turkish parliament, where his party and its allies hold a majority.
“If parliament does not make a positive decision regarding this candidacy, then there is nothing that can be done,” he told PBS.
Erdogan also drew a line between Sweden’s NATO membership and Turkey’s EU membership. In July, however, he called on EU member states to “open the way for Turkey” in exchange for opening Sweden’s path to NATO.
He told PBS on Monday that “Sweden’s position and our current position in EU accession negotiations are two separate things.”
On the war in Ukraine and his contacts with Putin, Erdogan said it was “quite obvious that this war is going to last a long time” but that the Russian leader was “on the side of ending this war the most as soon as possible.”
“That’s what he said. And I believe his remarks,” Erdogan said.