Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on March 29 that Russian leader Vladimir Putin may visit Turkey on April 27 for the inauguration of the country's first nuclear power plant (NPP) – such a visit to a Nato member country would spark outrage, especially given how Putin’s options for visits abroad have been severely curtailed because of the arrest warrant issued for him earlier this month by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged war crimes.
There is also another aspect to the ICC factor – the international tribunal seated in The Hague was at the start of this month asked to investigate the Erdogan administration for claimed crimes against humanity committed in its pursuit and persecution of opponents around the world.
Turkey is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, thus during a Putin visit it would not face any request to execute the arrest warrant issued against the Russian president for alleged war crimes including the illegal deportation to Russia of hundreds of Ukrainian children.
However, Erdogan faces parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14. Any publicity drummed up about the request for an ICC investigation into his administration would not be helpful.
As part of the application for a probe, a panel of European legal experts compiled a dossier of witness testimonies that provide details of claimed torture, state-sponsored kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment of around 200,000 people. The crimes are all said to have been carried out by Turkish officials working under Erdogan.
“Turkish officials have committed crimes against humanity against hundreds of thousands of opponents of the Erdogan regime,” the application to the ICC states. “These crimes amount to a ‘widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population’, meeting the threshold for the ICC to launch proceedings against high ranking officials of the Erdogan regime.”
In its approach to the ICC, the Turkey Tribunal, an investigative body created in 2020 by lawyers and human rights groups to collate evidence and witness testimonies, stated that some of the alleged Erdogan regime crimes were carried out on the territory of 45 ICC member states, given how Erdogan’s administration has pursued its perceived enemies well beyond its borders. This is important, the Turkey Tribal argues, because it gives the ICC the jurisdiction it needs for an investigation.
Like Turkey, and also the US, Russia does not recognise the ICC, but the Kremlin would obviously be wary of Putin setting foot in any country that does. This week, for instance, the Putin administration warned strategic ally Armenia against going ahead with its plans to become a state party to the Rome Statute, a move that would bring it under the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Turkey’s first NPP, located at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast, is being built by Russia's state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom.
The inauguration of the $20bn facility planned for April 27 is important to Erdogan given the upcoming elections and the fact that the Turkish strongman plans to hail some big infrastructure and defence industry successes this year as part of the Republic of Turkey’s centennial celebrations.
"Maybe there is a possibility that Mr Putin will come on April 27, or we may connect to the inauguration ceremony online and we will take the first step in Akkuyu," Erdogan said on private broadcaster ATV.
The Kremlin on March 27 denied Turkish reports that Putin was planning to visit Turkey. Two days earlier it said Putin and Erdogan had discussed during a phone call the successful implementation of joint strategic projects in the energy sector, including the Akkuyu construction.
Akkuyu is, however, a long way from completion. The inauguration will only involve the loading of the first nuclear fuel into the first power unit of the plant and the official granting of nuclear facility status. The finalised 4,800-MW plant is designed to run on four nuclear reactors.