In a reset, Turkey moves closer to the US and Europe
Being a swing state can have tactical advantages, but when life gets tough and the tough ones start, there can be consequences. Turkey experienced such a moment of truth 100 years ago. He faces a similar situation today.
During a meeting Thursday in Ankara with European Union ambassadors, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for bold action in the development of relations between the two parties in 2022. He said that full EU membership remains Turkey’s strategic priority and that it is in our common interest to act from a strategic perspective in long term rather than with prejudices or fears.
According to Erdogan, Turkey-EU cooperation is vital and without Turkey’s extraordinary efforts, Syria and Europe would have faced a different landscape.
Ankara has convinced itself that Washington is keen to rekindle its problematic relationship with Turkey, since, as a comment by the pro-government newspaper Sabah noted this week, after all, at this very moment, the position Turkey will take in the confrontation between Russia, the NATO alliance and the United States is more vital than ever. As a recognized and indispensable member of NATO, Turkey is an important strategic partner for both parties.
Expectations are high in Ankara after reports emerged in Greek media this week that Washington rethought on the so-called EastMed project, a 1,900 kilometer underwater gas pipeline intended to supply Europe with natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean.
To recap, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement in 2020 for the construction of the gas pipeline to transport natural gas from their gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Europe by 2025. The project was initially expected to transport 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year in Europe.
The 6 billion euro ($6.85 billion) project had strong US backing and a final investment decision was expected this year, but in a statement on Sunday, the US State Department said that he no longer supported the project, since Washington was focused on electrical interconnections that could support both gas and renewable energy sources.
The statement read: We remain committed to physically interconnecting energy from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. We support projects such as the EuroAfrica interconnection project between Egypt, Crete and mainland Greece, and the EuroAsia interconnection project to link the Israeli, Cypriot and European power grids.
American support is crucial for the viability of the projects and Turkey is inclined to read political significance in Washington’s reversal. Ankara had strongly opposed the route of the pipelines through disputed maritime territories claimed by both Turkey and Greece.
This is a major political decision by Washington, which knew that Israel had hoped to earn huge revenues from the export of gas to Europe from its huge fields of Leviathan and Tamar.
Turkey entered the new year with the assessment that in 2022 it will be courted as an ally by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU. In anticipation, Ankara proposed at the end of December to Washington the establishment of a joint strategic mechanism.
Erdogan’s key aide, Ibrahim Kalin, followed up the initiative with the US national security adviser on January 10. According to a statement from Ankara, within the framework of global and regional issues, views were exchanged on the Ukrainian crisis, the protests in Kazakhstan, the normalization process with Armenia, and developments in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ethiopia.
According to the statement, Kalin told Jake Sullivan that the Ukrainian crisis should be resolved through dialogue and cooperation and that Turkey was ready to contribute in any way possible. In addition, Kalin stressed the importance of protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. (Turkey has a dynamic military relationship with Ukraine, especially in the supply of attack drones.)
In a related development, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar revealed last Saturday that Turkish and US officials are preparing to hold negotiations in Washington to discuss the F-35 fighter jets, and that preparations are underway.
That is, Washington and Ankara are considering Turkey’s withdrawal as a partner in the US F-35 fighter jet program after its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.
Akar was cautiously optimistic that an acceptable solution could be found. Turkey was a partner in the F-35 program and had planned to purchase around 100 F-35A jets. Curiously, although Turkey was excluded from the F-35 program and its Defense Industry Directorate has been under US sanctions since 2020, Turkish contractors are still manufacturing parts for the fifth-generation jet. .
Meanwhile, on a parallel track, Erdogan also offered US President Joe Biden last November to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and around 80 retrofit kits to upgrade Turkey’s existing fleet.
Clearly, despite a host of bilateral disagreements ranging from Syrian policy to sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, Turkey has explored avenues of positive dialogue with the United States. Ankara believes that although Turkey is a toxic subject in the Washington Beltway, the Biden administration is unwilling to opt for a break.
Suffice it to say that Erdogan hoped that the attitude of the United States towards Turkey might change now that Ankara’s position vis-à-vis great power competition becomes consistent.
Indeed, Turkey’s role in the Black Sea region, Ukraine, the near alignment of Ankara and Washington’s interests in Iraq and Libya, Turkey’s growing footprint in sub-Saharan Africa (where Russian and Chinese influence is expanding), all of this could be a game-changer in the balance of power.
However, Erdogan’s main problem is his own credibility. Aside from his association with the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda in Syria, he turned his back on the West and sought Eurasian integration, and even toyed with the strange idea of Turkey’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Turkey’s Arab neighbors viewed its neo-Ottoman ambitions with disgust and suspicion. In reality, Erdogan returns home as a prodigal son. Yet he fantasizes that he is indispensable to the West, to NATO and to Russia. The truth is that the West can accept Turkey’s return, but will it accept Erdogan?
Erdogan is trying hard. Turkey took eight days to react to recent developments in Kazakhstan. It did not go unnoticed. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has repeatedly claimed that Middle Eastern extremists and terrorists are involved in stoking unrest in his country, trained by foreign powers and battle-hardened. Kazakh officials say the plot was orchestrated by a single source.
It doesn’t take much ingenuity to guess who that single source might be. It just can’t be Turkey. But among the large number of activists detained and interrogated by Kazakh authorities are large numbers of foreigners, perhaps in the hundreds, including Americans and Turks.
The fact is that Turkey has promoted an Islamic identity among Kazakhs and facilitated and supported the participation of Kazakh militants in the conflict in Syria. The link between nationalists and mafia elements in Turkey and Kazakhstan is an open secret.
Russian media reported rising tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) peacekeeping mission helped stabilize the situation in Kazakhstan, Armenia presiding over the post-Soviet bloc.
The influential Moscow daily Kommersant reported on Thursday that the CSTO mission in Kazakhstan has been actively criticized in Turkish and Azerbaijani media, although no dissatisfaction has been officially expressed.
Erdogan conducted his first phone conversation of 2022 with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the eve of the eruption in Kazakhstan. The Kremlin reading said among other things that Russia’s proposals to the United States and NATO regarding various security guarantees were discussed.
Two days later, Foreign Minister Mevlt Avuolu had a conversation with his American counterpart Antony Blinken in which, according to the Turkish reading, the main topic was the tension between Russia and NATO over Ukraine.
Blinken himself tweeted, Good call with Turkish Foreign Minister @MevlutCavusoglu. The United States and Turkey continue to coordinate closely on the threat of a Russian escalation in Ukraine and, separately, to deepen bilateral cooperation and as @NATO Allies.
Two days later, on January 6, avuolu also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The reading says the two men discussed the NATO-Russia Council meeting and current developments in Kazakhstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Caucasus.
About such intense diplomatic traffic in Ankara, the pro-Erdogan Sabah newspaper noted: It is likely that in the new year, not only countries where normalization measures are underway, but also the NATO and the EU will be knocking on Turkey’s door much more in 2022, as is the case with Russia.
Running with the hare and hunting with the dog is exciting and may seem like the smartest thing to do. But a hundred years ago, Ottoman Turkey paid a heavy price.
His decision to facilitate Germany’s attack on Russia in the Black Sea would ultimately lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman citizens, the Armenian Genocide, the dissolution of the empire, and the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate.
This article was produced in partnership by Indian punchline and Globetrotter, who provided it to Asia Times.
MK Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.
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