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Erdogan Meets Putin to Push Syria Operation

The Turkish leader is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time in three weeks as he readies his own “special military operation.”

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint press conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint press conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint press conference with their Iranian counterpart following their summit in Tehran on July 19. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the Russian President Vladimir Putin-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting in Sochi, Russia; more fallout from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit; and Senegal’s election results.

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Erdogan and Putin Meet Again

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the Russian President Vladimir Putin-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting in Sochi, Russia; more fallout from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit; and Senegal’s election results.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Erdogan and Putin Meet Again

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today in the Russian resort town of Sochi, with the two leaders set to discuss military invasions—both potential and ongoing.

Putin and Erdogan last met less than three weeks ago in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Despite their differences over the war in Ukraine (Ankara is a major arms supplier to Kyiv), their countries have made diplomatic strides.

The most striking has been a deal to resume Ukraine’s grain shipments from its remaining Black Sea ports. The agreement, which was also facilitated by the United Nations, was the first positive step in relations between Russia and Ukraine since the invasion began and has already borne some fruit. The first shipment from Odesa, Ukraine, since the war began is on its way to the Lebanese port of Tripoli with around 27,000 tons of corn on board.

The two men have good reasons to keep up a good working relationship. For Putin, Erdogan serves as a reliable spoiler on NATO policy as well as a willing customer for Russian gas. For Erdogan, Putin helps showcase Turkey’s independent foreign policy as well as keep the lights on at home: Russia supplies 45 percent of Turkey’s gas, and Russia’s Rosatom is constructing a nuclear plant on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, which is expected to power 10 percent of the country’s domestic energy needs when fully operational.

Today’s talks are expected to continue a topic pursued in Tehran: Turkey’s impending invasion of Syria. In an echo of Moscow’s description of its war in Ukraine, Ankara describes the incursion as a “special military operation.”

Erdogan has stated his desire to establish a 30-kilometer [19-mile] deep “security zone” that extends from the Turkish border into Syrian territory and one that is likely to come dangerously close to Russian, Syrian, and Iran-backed forces.

The move is seen as a direct assault on Kurdish militias in the region, including the Peoples Defense Units (YPG), which make up the majority of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. When Turkey sees the YPG, it also sees the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group deemed terrorists by Turkey, the United States, and European Union.

As FP’s Anchal Vohra wrote in June, there is also a supposedly humanitarian fig leaf attached to Erdogan’s machinations. Faced with rising anti-refugee sentiment at home—which could pose an electoral threat to Erdogans Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2023, as Idil Karsit explained in an FP profile of far-right leader Umit Ozdag last month—the Turkish leader has announced plans to resettle 1 million Syrian refugees in the newly created “safe zones.”

Today’s meeting can be seen as another attempt by Erdogan to deconflict with a major military power before going all in. “Erdogan really wants to get his ducks in a row so he can launch a further operation in northern Syria, and he really needs to make sure that theres no risk of Russia intervening in direct opposition to Turkish forces,” Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University and the Middle East Institute, told Foreign Policy.

There’s an obvious electoral benefit for Erdogan in stirring up nationalism before an election, but there’s more at stake than optics, Eissenstat said.

“There’s a profound sense from the national security establishment that the YPG needs to be ended, in particular because of its relationship with the U.S., and as a political determination on the part of the AKP to appear to be doing something with regard to refugees,” he said.

The United States, which considers the YPG a key partner in its war against the Islamic State in Syria, has repeatedly cautioned against the incursion. But, Eissenstat said—despite the leverage Washington has over Turkey in terms of military sales and economic might—the decision might be one the White House is unwilling to make given the many sensitive diplomatic issues at play.

Eissenstat cautioned against underestimating Ankara’s will, no matter what Washington thinks. “I think that we often assume that the biggest kid in the room gets to decide who gets the cookies, but sometimes its whos closest—and who wants it more.”


What We’re Following

Senegal’s election. Senegal’s ruling coalition has lost its parliamentary majority, the country’s electoral commission said on Thursday as provisional results were released. President Macky Sall’s Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition won 82 out of 165 seats, one short of a majority, in a reversal from its 2017 performance, when it won 125 seats. The result is likely to influence Sall’s plans to run for a third term in 2024, a decision he has yet to publicly make.

Taiwan fallout. Chinese missiles flew over Taiwan on Thursday and five landed in Japanese territorial waters as part of Chinese military drills launched in response to the visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island.

The Wednesday visit has already shown signs of heightening regional tensions: China already canceled a meeting with the Japanese foreign minister over a G-7 statement criticizing China over Taiwan.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is suspected of distancing himself from the rhetorical conflict: He did not meet Pelosi as she stopped in Seoul on Thursday, with the Blue House stating that the president was on a previously scheduled vacation. Pelosi is in Japan today, the final stop on her Asia tour.


Keep an Eye On

Blinken’s travels. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Philippines this weekend, where he is expected to meet with new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Blinken will then travel to South Africa, where he’s due to launch the U.S. Sub-Saharan Africa strategy before heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. As FP’s Robbie Gramer reports, the new strategy is expected to present a shift away from a military-focused view of engagement on the continent as Washington attempts to compete with growing Russian and Chinese influence.

Griner sentenced. U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was handed a nine-year prison sentence by a Russian court on Thursday following her arrest for marijuana possession in February. U.S. President Joe Biden called the verdict “unacceptable” as his administration negotiates a prisoner-swap agreement, likely to include Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.


Odds and Ends

French mayor Jean-Marc Peillex—whose town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains is a favored launch point for mountain climbers looking to climb France’s highest peak, Mont Blanc—has called for future adventurers to first pay a 15,000-euro (or $15,248) deposit to cover the costs of rescue (or their demise).

Peillex has decried the rise of “pseudo-mountaineers,” who he says are putting too much strain on local authorities.

“People want to climb with death in their backpacks,” Peillex wrote on Twitter. “So let’s anticipate the cost of having to rescue them, and for their burial, because it’s unacceptable that French taxpayers should foot the bill.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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