06.09.2018 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Turkey: a Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

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According to many international media, the recent visit of Qatar’s Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Turkey was a genuine success; during the visit, the relations between the 2 countries strengthened even more and specific methods and forms of its considerable prospective improvement were outlined. The Turkish President’s press service said that the Amir of Qatar had announced that Qatar would opportunely provide Turkey with an investment package of $ 15 b and that the emirate would support “their brothers in Turkey.” During their meeting, the state leaders reiterated their commitment to the further strengthening of the relations between Turkey and Qatar in all spheres. It is crucial that the meeting also saw the participation of the Turkish and Qatari Ministers of Finance who outlined specific plans on increasing the trade and financial ties between the 2 countries.

The Turkish economy is known to be having hard times due to the hostile activities of the United States and specifically the US President Donald Trump. Many large holding companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and most banks are facing the threat of default. There are structural faults including the current account deficit, the foreign debt and the increasing unemployment (11% on average and 25% among the young people). The unpredictable political situation, the changes in the political system of the country and the limitations on the judicial authorities’ independence caused an outflow of Western investors. The military cooperation between Washington DC and Ankara is becoming increasingly problematic, speculations about Turkey leaving the NATO are heard more and more often.

The US currently refuses to ship F-35 planes to Turkey fearing that its military secrets might leak to Russia; warns Ankara not to purchase the Russian S-400 missiles; expresses its discontent with the support provided for Iran and Qatar; remembers the threats made to attack the US soldiers in Syria and demands the liberation of the US pastor Andrew Brunson detained by the Turkish authorities on suspicion of his involvement in the 2016 putsch. Given these difficult conditions (from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s point of view), the Amir of Qatar’s decision on providing financial assistance expressed in such a huge figure not only boosted the Turkish lira exchange rate momentarily from its record minimum value, but also stabilised the currency market situation.

This generous financial move made by the Amir is not accidental, since Turkey was one of the first countries that supported Qatar during the crisis in the relations between Qatar and a number of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia that broke out in June 2017 and is still going on. After the relations between Qatar and Riyadh reached a crisis, the Turkish authorities sent food supplies to Qatar, increased the number of civil and military aviation flights and deployed its army units lest the hotheads from Saudi Arabia or the UAE follow Bahrain’s lead in an attempt to invade the emirate. In this case, speaking of the Turkish-Qatari relations, one could use the old saying: A friend in need is a friend indeed.

It is interesting that China, which is trying to strengthen its position in the Middle East region by using all opportunities at its disposal, did not fail to act. The statement made by the Chinese Foreign Office reads that, according to China, Turkey has potential for overcoming its temporary financial issues. The Chinese Foreign Office also cited media reports stating that the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd had signed an agreement with Turkey on a financial deal to the tune of $3.8 b, which strengthened the Chinese position both at the Turkish market and in the country’s economy overnight.

At the same time, both Ankara and Erdoğan in person are working to improve the ties with Iran on countering the activities of Washington DC. During their conversation over the phone, the Iranian President told the Turkish President that using national currencies in economic agreements might expedite the establishment of favourable relations between Tehran and Ankara. Hassan Rouhani also emphasised that the Iranian-Turkish ties should reach a strategic level in all areas. In his turn, the Turkish President Erdoğan called to strengthen the relations between Turkey and Iran in all areas to the 2 countries’ mutual advantage.

Given the very similar viewpoints of the 2 countries regarding the regional and international issues, Tehran and Ankara absolutely have to constantly improve their cooperation and provide mutual political consultations. At the same time, both state leaders consider it mandatory to activate trilateral cooperation between Iran, Turkey and Russia and welcomed the coming meeting of the 3 state leaders in Iran to discuss the Syrian issues. We should remind you that Iran, Turkey and Russia serve as guarantors of the nationwide ceasefire in Syria; in the meantime, the 3 countries have been working on the peacemaking process between the Syrian belligerents as of January 2016. It is quite natural that this top-level meeting will touch upon other issues, in particular, the interaction with and assistance to Turkey given the difficult situation and its countering the US ambitions.

Given the changed situation, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan switched to offensive tactics and even began to threaten Washington DC by calling on his citizens to relinquish dollars and addressed the Americans via The New York Times: “Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people’s concerns. Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty, our partnership could be in jeopardy.” The President chose a different approach to pacify his own people: “Don’t forget this: if they have got dollars, we have our people, our Allah! We are working hard. Look at what we were 16 years ago and look at us now,” said the state leader trying to convince them. Soon after that, large Turkish retailers stopped accepting orders for American-made products.

The conflict between the 2 countries, according to many politicians, goes deeper, beyond the political and economic differences. Turkey wants the USA to recognise its status of a regional power and reckon with its interests in the Middle East. However, none of the issues, be it the Kurds, Iranian gas shipments or the Syrian crisis settlement, have so far elicited a positive response from the Americans.

Washington DC was especially furious about Ankara’s decision to purchase S-400 Triumph Missile Systems from Moscow. The US considered this move wayward, a blow on the NATO unity. Though, one should remember that Pentagon is offering its own obsolete Patriot Systems that cannot even cope with the old Soviet missiles that Yemen Houthis are using to strike on the Saudi Arabian territory. Apart from that, the US disapproves of the recent political changes in Turkey believing that Erdoğan is abandoning his secular heritage and leading the country to authoritarianism and Islamism.

At the backdrop of the deteriorating relations with Washington DC, Ankara expressed its readiness to turn its back on the US and reorient itself to the new markets and alliances. In particular, Turkey started to gradually approach the reset of the relations with Brussels. “Erdoğan is learning who his real enemies are — and it’s not Europe,” are the sad words of one EU diplomat cited by The Financial Times. The picture is currently becoming very complex and dangerous. But there is another important detail. Since Donald Trump refuses to talk to the Turkish President, other leaders will talk to Erdoğan, until the pastor Andrew Brunson is liberated, the latter apparently not very happy to have been made a political game participant. Not only Vladimir Putin, but also Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Hassan Rouhani, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Xi Jinping are holding dialogue with Ankara with a clear understanding of the fact that the US absence creates a void that can and should be filled.

Mutual addresses of T. Erdoğan and D. Trump threatening relinquishing the dollar by one party, and imposing new sanctions by the other indicate that the strategic patience of both parties is gradually waning. Nevertheless, there is always a chance that the 2 countries resume negotiations in a positive way. Given the temper of the 2 presidents, it is highly probable that the furious rhetoric policy can sever the relations between the 2 countries, which can damage the Turkish economy, deteriorate the US position in the region and make Turkey completely abandon the West.

Victor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

 

 

 


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