Modern Diplomacy
What Should We Make Of Erdogan's Latest Moves? Has Turkey Skidded off the Road?

Erdogan’s foreign policy exercises of late have led to various speculations both in the West and in the Global South, as well as inside Turkey. Many in the West initially acclaimed him when he declared that he would greenlight Sweden’s entry into NATO in return for some meaningless little assurances from Stockholm. Reportedly, Sweden would support Turkey’s EU bid in general, and would also back Ankara in its demand for the amelioration of Ankara’s customs union with the EU. In addition, it would hold anti-Turkey terrorist activities in Sweden in close check, and it would cease to supply PKK’s offshoot in Syria, the PYD, YPG etc. Erdogan’s meeting with President Biden gave rise to further speculation that Ankara was perhaps gravitating towards Washington as multipolarity has taken shape. Some dyed-in-the wool Western enthusiasts in Turkey even appeared jubilant when they heard that Erdogan had released some of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov commanders. Those Neo-Nazis had terrorized the people of the Donbass region, committing horrendous atrocities and massacres since 2014, and they had come to Turkey as part of a deal for the exchange of prisoners of war between Moscow and Kiev, which Ankara had helped broker. However, according to the deal, they were to remain in Turkey until the end of the war between Russia and Ukraine. 

As the news broke of their release, coupled with Erdogan’s sudden change of heart about Sweden’s NATO admission, all this seemed to have sent confusing signals. While those on the home front, advocating for a balanced and prudent foreign policy line for Turkey in the fast-emerging multipolar world order, initially could not make of these moves anything other than Turkey turning to the West for advice and support, pro-Western circles in Turkey and the Western media as well as Western governments took up a rather cautiously optimistic attitude after an initial display of exuberance. Russia, on the other hand, while remaining discreet, was quick to point out that the release of those neo-Nazis was certainly a violation of the terms of the agreement for the exchange of prisoners of war. In relation to Erdogan’s unexpected demand of the EU that Ankara’s stalled accession process be revitalised, placing Turkey on a fast-track for membership, Moscow warned its southern neighbour to be realistic, and not harbour any illusions. The Kremlin’s spokesman did not mince his words when he rightly pointed out that there was no sizeable constituency in the EU supportive of such a large Muslim nation like Turkey joining Europe, and that Ankara should take off rose-tinted glasses. This could well be taken as a friendly warning that Erdogan should know best from his earlier years in office, when he was presented as the darling of the West, negotiating Turkey’s accession to the EU for years, and in strategic terms, doing the West’s bidding across the region. But to his dismay, the EU played then the diabolical game, saying one thing to Turkey’s leadership but talking among themselves differently, to the effect that Turkey would never be allowed to join the EU, as borne out by the Wikileaks documents later.

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Do these latest moves by Erdogan mean that Turkey is giving up its well-balanced policy, that it has fine-tuned quite meticulously over the last few years and in particular since the onset of the war between Russia and Ukraine? A cursory look at what Erdogan has said and what his interlocutors, especially in the West, have responded to his demands do suggest that it is highly unlikely that Ankara has skidded off the road. Indeed, following his contacts within NATO and his meeting with Biden, he set off for a tour of the Gulf region, where he got together with the leaders of the major Gulf-Arab countries. More importantly, he flew over to Cyprus, which has remained divided between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots since 1974, where he enraged the Greeks of both the mainland and Cyprus by reiterating his demand for a settlement on the basis of two independent states. Meanwhile, the EU leaders, and surprisingly even US officials, dismissed his fast-track membership suggestion by sticking to their guns: that there is no correlation between NATO expansion and EU enlargement, a ubiquitous and frustrating statement for the Turks because the enlargement of the two has been nothing but parallel for all the countries, except Turkey, that joined both NATO and the EU since the end of the Cold War. In broader terms, the hectic foreign policy exercises of late have indicated once again that Turkey would not like to get into that nightmare of accession negotiations with the EU, at the start of which Ankara would have to make considerable concessions to t=he Greeks and others over Cyprus and the Aegean and would drop its opposition to the US carving out a Kurdistan in the Middle East, threatening the territorial integrity of Turkey. What is interesting is that, although the EU under American advisement, played a dubious game for years in the past, asking Ankara to make concessions over matters of importance as if it would ever allow Turkey in one day, this time around the EU politicians were rather ‘honest’, saying that there was hardly any future for Turkey in their little Garden. 

All these, when translated into a practical line of foreign policy, seem to suggest that Turkey will likely stick to its previous policy, that is, remaining in NATO but cultivating the best possible ties to Moscow and certainly not adopting anti-Russia sanctions. Given that it could cultivate good ties to Moscow rather successfully for several decades in the heat of the Cold War as Ankara sought the best possible terms with the Soviet Union after the arrival of the notorious Johnson letter in Turkey in the summer of 1964, there is no question why it could not engage with its northern neighbour to improve bilateral relations on a much larger scale amid a multipolar world order. 

Whereas the two decades of economic and trade relations between Turkey and the Soviet Union during the Cold War brought in enormous benefits for Ankara, particularly contributing to the development of Turkish heavy industry, the flourishing relations over the last few decades since the end of the Cold War have witnessed an increasing boom in bilateral economic relations as well as considerable cooperation on a range of areas such as nuclear energy, tourism, construction and so on. Furthermore, the two sides have developed a mechanism for political consultation both bilaterally and multilaterally over political issues of importance to Ankara and Moscow. The Second Karabakh war of 2020 was a success of bilateral crisis management between Turkey and Russia, while the Astana Platform, which brought together Turkey, Russia and Iran at its inception, is a case in point in terms of cooperation and consultation between Turkey and Russia multilaterally. The Astana Platform, which was set up initially by Ankara, Moscow and Teheran to bring peace to Syria, now includes Damascus, and it is likely to bring about a comprehensive settlement to the Syrian crisis on the basis of that country’s sovereignty over all its territories. It is also within the bounds of possibilities that Turkey and Russia would cooperate on defence industry in the form of the joint production of cutting-edge, sophisticated weaponry in the not-too-distant future.

Modern Diplomacy
From Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh: Assessing Russian-Turkish ‘Co-opetition’
Igor Matveev, Yeghia Tashjian
A pending possible withdrawal of US troops from North-Eastern Syria amid the unclear political future of the Syrian Kurds and their parallel economy is fraught with the risk of creating a sub-regional vacuum of power. It could eventually push Turkey and Russia to manage their cooperative rivalry, courting both Damascus and the self-proclaimed “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” (AANES), run by Kurdish military and political forces.

Relations with Russia would be one of the key issues for Turkey as multipolarity gains momentum, but Ankara’s foreign adventures would go beyond. For example, it is more likely than not that Turkey will continue with its search for possibilities and benefits in the emerging multipolar world. It will probably carry on a doubling down of its interest in the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and it will lead, as much as it can, the Organisation of the Turkish States, because numerous factors seem to dictate this multi-faceted and multi-dimensional foreign policy. All evidence suggests that now, following his victory in the fiercely-contested election, Erdogan will navigate through its own route because this is roughly what the country’s prerequisites dictate. It is true that had the utterly pro-Western opposition won the elections they would have endeavoured to alter Turkey’s course, but even they would have found it quite difficult, if not impossible, to do so, without causing havoc in Ankara’s overall foreign relations. 

After all, what needs to be borne in mind is that, for decades and in particular since the end of the Cold War, Turkey has been confronting the US on a variety of issues which are extremely dear to Ankara. America’s efforts to carve out a Kurdistan of the Middle East threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity, and Washington’s continual supply of PKK and PYD/YPG are constant irritants in bilateral relations between the two NATO allies. These issues will likely continue to affect Turkish-American relations in the foreseeable future, regardless of which government is in power in Ankara. Over the last few years, Turkey has not only confronted the US head-on in Syria, thrusting militarily into that country to rout out  the US sponsored PYD/YPG and all their affiliates several times, it has also persisted in its purchase of Russian-made sophisticated air defence missiles, S-400s despite US threats and even threats of sanctions, when Washington refused to sell Ankara Patriot air defence systems. On the question of Cyprus, again, Turkey, on the one hand, and the US and the EU on the other, remain deeply entrenched in their diametrically opposed positions. Despite the fact that it has been the Greek side which has persistently rejected any international peace plan that the international negotiators put before the parties, with a view to bringing about a reunification of the divided island, the Collective West seems to oppose a two-state solution to the problem. It is safe to say that there is hardly any point dearly important to Ankara over which Turkey and the US and the Collective West seem to see eye to eye.

Erdogan Unlikely to Concede on S-400 Unless Trump Commits to Crippling Sanctions Against Turkey
Guney Yildiz
Ankara enjoys strong partnership with both Washington and Moscow and uses each of these relations as leverage against the other. The US, however, has a strong arsenal of potential punishment against Turkey, writes Valdai Club expert Güney Yıldız. At the top of the list of penalties come possible economic sanctions against Turkey as well as a potential fine against the state-owned Halkbank for allegedly violating US sanctions against Iran.

That is not to say, however, that Turkey has been cultivating good ties to Russia, seeking to reach out to China and keeping an eye on BRICS and the SCO, just because it has been ostracised by the Collective West. Though this is an important factor shaping Ankara’s approach to Russia and others. What basically drives Turkey into this multilateral policy is the commonality of interest with Russia and others, and it is certainly in line with the spirit of multipolarity. 

It is safe to say that Turkey-Russia bilateral relations will warm up soon, as Ankara will likely stick to its Russia policy, as manifested during the difficult hours of the Wagner mutiny, when Erdogan called up Putin to express his open support for the Russian leader. Indeed, the two countries could even crown their rapprochement with a final change of policy by Turkey over Syria, paving the way for the effective establishment of Syrian sovereignty over all its territories, in return for Moscow reconsidering its Cyprus policy. After all, a unified Cyprus, under whatever framework, would serve no Russian purpose because it would turn the whole island into EU territory, whereas a two-state solution would widen the Turkish-Greek crack in NATO’s ranks. Any such reunification, which could not be achieved without Ankara’s firm consent and cooperation, would mean that Turkey would cease to pursue its present Russia policy. If anything, in return for whatever compromise it would agree to in any such resolution, it would certainly slide more to the side of the Collective West, something that would harm Russia’s strategic interests in the region. 

Although it seems certain that Ankara will be engaged more and more in multilateral policy in the emerging multipolarity, what needs to be borne in mind is that Turkey will have to do all this while remaining in NATO. Here two remarks are worth making: Turkey is not and will not be fighting for multipolarity to prevail but it will/would be set to benefit from that. It is within this context that one could explain why Turkey did not and will not oppose NATO expansion head-on but rather it will/would be out to dangle its veto card around to make political and/or financial gains. Would this ever get to the point of becoming a steadfast fighter of the Collective West? The short answer is certainly not affirmative, because deep-down the eclipse of the Western ascendancy, to be replaced by multipolarity, would play into the hands of Turkey quite considerably. The other point is whether or not Turkey could make itself into a pivotal medium-size country able to project power in more than one region, creating a ‘Turkish or Türkiye Century’. It honestly would depend on quite a few factors. Should Turkey continue to pursue its present policy, particularly towards Russia, China and Iran, in its transparent way, inspiring confidence in them and persistently refraining from US-sponsored pan-Turkism of any kind aimed at harming Eurasian powers’ interests and their territorial integrity, it is safe to say that a Turkish century would be well in sight. 
Modern Diplomacy
Turkish-Russian Rapprochement in a Multipolar World
Hasan Ünal
Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia does not seem to be circumstantial. It is true that, as its relations with the West and particularly the US are going through tough times Ankara turns to Russia for more cooperation but it is also true that Ankara would remain on this mutually beneficial track more firmly at a time of multipolarity just as it always sought good relations with the Soviet Union in the inter-war period, particularly in the 1920s and 30s, writes Hasan  Ünal, Professor at Maltepe University, Istanbul. This article was prepared for the 12th Middle East conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.