The Turkish Conundrum
Paper tiger or regional power?
Turkey has disputes with several of its neighbors and (former?) partners. How long can it last?
Turkey’s opponents include:
Russia and Syria, because Turkey supports the armed Syrian opposition,
Cyprus (and the EU), over of Northern Cyprus,
Greece, Cyprus, and the EU (especially France), because of Turkish oil and gas explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean dispute,
Iraq, because of the Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan to fight PKK,
Armenia, because of the Armenian genocide and the ongoing war in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Turkey supports Azerbaijan,
The EU, especially over the migrant crisis,
France, Russia, Syria, Sudan, Egypt, and the UAE, which wage war against Turkey in Libya,
Israel, since the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid,
Saudi Arabia sees Turkey as part of a "triangle of evil" with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey also accused Saudi Arabia of the murder of Saudi dissident Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. A Saudi boycott of Turkish goods started in October,
Morocco and Algeria, who recently joined the informal “anti-Turkish-Arab axis” and imposed restrictions on Turkish imports, perceived as unfair competition,
The US and NATO, after Turkey—a US ally and NATO member—decided to buy and activate a Russian air defense system: the S-400,
France, after Macron claimed that Islam was in crisis. France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after Erdoğan questioned Macron's mental state.
Turkey still has a few allies, including Ukraine (Turkey opposes Russia on the annexation of Crimea, where ethnic Turkic Tatars live), Hungary (for ideological and ethnical reasons, Hungary being an observer of the Turkic Council), Pakistan, Qatar, and Azerbaijan. Germany and Spain have strong interests in Turkey, adopt a softer stance against Turkey, and avoid EU sanctions.
Turkey is standing up to the most powerful armies in the world. What game is Turkish President Erdoğan playing?
Erdoğan wants to make Turkey a regional superpower, and he now seems to be at a stage of all or nothing. For him, the above conflicts are a matter of principle, and he’ll not give up to pressure, according to Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov. Simultaneously, the Turkish economy is in bad shape, and the Turkish lira is collapsing. So each conflict abroad diverts the Turkish opinion from the real issues at home:
But is Turkey strong enough to sustain all these conflicts?
Against European countries, Erdoğan has a trump card: the migrant threat. As he said last year:
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: If you try to frame our operation [in Syria] as an invasion, our task is simple – we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”
But this doesn’t work against the US. American sanctions (because of Turkey’s involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh or the S-400 activation) could destroy the already ailing Turkish economy. And yet, Erdoğan jokingly reacted today to potential US sanctions:
“Whatever the sanctions will be, do not be late, introduce them!”
“The United States does not know who it is dealing with. You told us to send the S-400s back to Russia. But we are not a tribal state, we are Turkey!”
What does Erdoğan know that we don’t to be so bold? Does he think that the US won’t dare sanction Turkey and push it into Russia’s arms? Or does he want to test the limits of the US power and take advantage of the election meltdown to make bold moves? Or does he want a good old war to make him even more popular at home?
I don’t know, but 2 days ago, the US shut down its embassy and consulates across Turkey, officially after threats of attacks against US citizens. Could it actually be the prelude to the break-off of relations between the two countries? I hope not: the Turkish military is powerful, and given the above alliances, a war in Turkey could easily escalate into a world conflict…
What do you think? Feel free to comment publicly below :)