ISTANBUL -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he trusts Russia as much he trusts the West.
Explaining his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan said he had failed to get him to resume the Black Sea grain deal the Kremlin withdrew from in July but had elicited a pledge for Russia to supply 1 million tons of grain to Africa.
“I have no reason not to trust them,” Erdogan said during an interview late Monday with U.S. broadcaster PBS in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly.
“To the extent the West is reliable, Russia is equally reliable. For the last 50 years, we have been waiting at the doorstep of the EU and, at this moment in time, I trust Russia just as much as I trust the West.”
Ankara has maintained close ties with both Russia and Ukraine during the 19-month war. In July last year, Turkey and the U.N. engineered a deal to allow Ukrainian grain to be safely shipped from its Black Sea ports, helping alleviate a global food crisis.
Moscow pulled out of the agreement two months ago, claiming a parallel deal to allow its exports of foodstuffs and fertilizer had not been honored.
Erdogan is visiting New York four months after winning elections that extended his 20-year rule for another five years. His fresh mandate has seen signs of an improvement in Ankara’s often fractious relationship with the West.
Speaking at an event on Monday, the Turkish leader appeared to roll back comments he made immediately prior to his departure for New York, in which he suggested Turkey could end its 24-year bid for European Union membership.
“We see that a window of opportunity has opened for the revitalization of Turkey-European Union relations in a critical period,” Erdogan said, according to a text of the meeting published by his office.
“We continue to emphasize the importance of revitalizing Turkey’s EU accession process.”
Erdogan also indicated improving ties with Washington, which have recently focused on Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership application and a possible deal to supply Turkey with F-16 fighter jets.
“We are pleased with the development of our cooperation with the U.S.,” Erdogan said. “We have resolved most of the deadlocks during the talks with Mr. Biden and we have decided to hold more talks in line with the positive agenda.”
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members not to have approved Sweden’s bid to join the defense alliance, which Stockholm made following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The issue is due to be debated by the Turkish parliament when it returns from recess next month.
Some members of the U.S. Congress have indicated the provision of F-16s to update Turkey’s fighter fleet is dependent on Ankara agreeing to Sweden’s NATO membership.
But Erdogan reiterated that “these two topics shouldn’t be related” although he said the decision on Sweden lies with the Turkish parliament, where his party and its allies hold a majority.
“If the parliament doesn’t make a positive decision about this bid, then there’s nothing to do,” he told PBS.
Erdogan also drew a line between Sweden’s NATO bid and Turkey’s EU accession. In July, however, he called on EU member states to “open the way for Turkey” in return for Sweden’s path to NATO to be cleared.
He told PBS on Monday that “Sweden’s position and our current position within the EU accession negotiations are two separate things.”
Turning to 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 as soon as possible.
“That’s what he said. And I believe his remarks," Erdogan said.