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Turkey's President Erdogan is set to meet with Putin again — and has some requests


Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to host Turkey's leader at a meeting in Russia on Friday. It's the second time the two men have met in the last few weeks. These meetings raise concerns in the West because Turkey is a NATO member and could be key in trying to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And Turkey does have close ties to the West, but it also seeks some specific items from Russia. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: For Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the meeting with Putin could be a chance to advance one of his key foreign policy goals - to establish a so-called security corridor along the Syrian border by pushing back Kurdish fighters that Turkey sees as terrorists. Erdogan has been saying that move, which the U.S. and other countries oppose, could come at any time.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) As soon as our work to repair the deficiencies of the security corridor we created on the Syrian border are finished, we will start new operations there.

KENYON: Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst focusing on Turkish-Russian relations, says the No. 1 topic at the talks is likely to be Erdogan seeking assurance that Russia, which has troops in Syria, won't interfere with any Turkish offensive.

KERIM HAS: So probably President Erdogan wants to get a green light or at least still a yellow light from Moscow. That - as, you know, Russia mainly controls the airspace in northern Syria.

KENYON: Sinan Ulgen at the Istanbul-based Center for Politics and Foreign Policy Studies says Erdogan has also promised to send a million Syrian refugees back to their country. Ulgen says a cross-border operation could seek to lay the groundwork to get that process started.

SINAN ULGEN: That region could also be used to facilitate or to incentivize the return of Syrian refugees, especially if some of the refugees hail from that region. So that's the second objective.

KENYON: But what would Russia hope to get out of this meeting? Ulgen says Putin will likely seek help for a Russian economy battered by Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. In particular, he says, bilateral trade using domestic currencies instead of the dollar could be a boost for Moscow, whose banks were cut off from international payment systems. So far, Ulgen says, Turkey has been remarkably persuasive in convincing its NATO allies that Turkey can't afford to alienate Russia by imposing sanctions as other countries have done. But he says Ankara has to perform a diplomatic balancing act.

ULGEN: Of course, Turkey has to be careful that it should not create the perception that not only does Ankara not implement sanctions, but it should not be viewed as a country that helps Russia evade the sanctions.

KENYON: Analyst Kerim Has says watching Turkish forces launch an operation in Syria is not something that Moscow or the Syrian government wants to see. But Russia may decide not to actively oppose it.

HAS: Of course, Russia will condemn in such a situation, diplomatically will condemn. But on the ground, Russia will not stand against Turkish military, in my opinion.

KENYON: He also says Moscow may calculate that a military operation would boost Erdogan's reelection chances next year, which Russia would likely prefer to a new opposition party government in Ankara.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.