Erdogan addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: The Hindu).
On the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the military operation in Ukraine and demanded that Russia returns all of the occupied lands, including Crimea, to its “rightful owners.”
The President made the comments during an interview with PBS NewsHour on 20 September, just days after being photographed walking arm in arm with Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan.
When asked if Russia should be allowed to keep Crimea in a negotiated end to the war, Erdogan answered that the people of Crimea are in part Turkish descendants.
“If you were to take this step forward, if you could leave us, you would also be relieving the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine as well. That’s what we have always been saying,” the president said.
Erdogan reiterated that this was his stance towards Russia since 2014, but that Putin has made no further efforts.
Nevertheless, Turkey has been approaching both sides in the conflict, playing the role of a neutral mediator, while selling an estimated 50 Bayraktar armed drones to Ukraine.
According to Erdogan, “invasion cannot be justified.”
However, Turkey continues to play an important role in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Since the special military operation in February, Ankara has hosted fruitless negotiations between both parties and successfully mediated a grain deal alongside the UN to ensure the export of Ukrainian grain.
Nevertheless, Erdogan does not take his own word when it comes to his neighbors. Turkey is one of the main backers of terrorist groups in Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011 and has since then captured and occupied an area of 2,225 square kilometers.
Following Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, Turkey has also used its influence as a NATO member to further expand its war against Kurdish separatists.