Trump critic Jeff Flake has become pivotal in US support for Ukraine: report

There were no great expectations when former Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake was confirmed by his former Senate colleagues to take the position as U.S. ambassador to Turkey. He had no previous track record as a diplomat and had never even set foot in the country. His selection for the position by President Joe Biden surprised many.

In his September 2021 confirmation hearing, Flake’s former colleagues warned him he might have a tough job in the Turkish capital of Ankara. But that was months before Vladimir Putin would decide to invade Ukraine, instantly making Flake’s already complicated job even more difficult. Today, as the Daily Beast reports, Ambassador Flake is playing a critical role in guiding the United States' relationship with a sometimes confounding ally.

Turkey, as a member of NATO, is inseparable from the West’s effort to stop Putin's war against Ukraine. It's considered that Turkey is in a unique position to push for peace in the region, but the country's autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has cozied up to the Russian president in recent years. He drew widespread criticism and U.S. sanctions after buying $2.5 billion worth of missile defense systems from Russia in 2017.

Some experts believe the West’s ability to halt Russia’s bloody war could hinge on Turkey’s willingness to help. “It is hard to imagine success for NATO in this crisis without at least diplomatic support from Turkey,” said James F. Jeffrey, who served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey in Barack Obama's administration.

On Thursday, the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers met in the resort city of Antalya for their first face-to-face talks since the war began. And later on Thursday, Biden and Erdogan spoke directly by phone. An official readout from the White House said that the two leaders “discussed their shared concern about Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

That puts Flake in the position of ensuring Turkish cooperation in trying to turn the tide in Ukraine. According to Jeffrey, Flake is a central player in the protocol-focused Turkish government’s diplomatic operations, giving the diplomat unparalleled space to shape high-level discussions between the countries.

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Flake said “my Embassy team and I engage every day with the Turkish government, as well as the Ukrainian Embassy here, to discuss ways in which we can help Ukraine.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), told The Daily Beast that his former colleague is “uniquely situated” to navigate the “currents” presented by Turkey’s unique status as a “problematic but valuable NATO ally.”

“He’s the right guy in the right place at the right time,” Graham said.