Recently, the activities performed by Turkish President Erdogan and his outspoken “neo-Ottoman” policy have been eliciting increasing concern not only in the Middle East, but also in the United States, Europe, and among NATO allies.
The European “partners” are particularly apprehensive about Ankara’s actions and military provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, which have to do with the arbitrary demarcation of the maritime borders there, and Turkish expansion into Libya. These kinds of actions, aggravated by Ankara’s incessant blackmailing with the threat of immigrants from the Middle East, led to the formation quite a few months ago of a diplomatic front on the part of EU politicians versus Turkey. The head of the largest supranational political party in the EU, the conservative European People’s Party, when speaking at the session of the European Parliament on July 9 expressed the opinion held by a significant number of European politicians, and stated that the European Union should stop all negotiations about admitting Turkey, that these were a historical mistake, and new legal groundwork to serve as the foundation for relations with this country should be developed. On September 15, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell also announced that ties “are at a watershed moment in history, which will go to one side or the other, depending on what happens in the next days,” Reuters reports.
“Turkey is the biggest threat to Europe today,” Britain’s former Minister of Europe Denis MacShane told The Independent. His conclusion is that Ankara threatens not only the territorial integrity of the EU, but almost everything that the European Union holds as its values.
“Under the leadership of President Erdogan, Turkey has become a stray bullet, both overextending its authority in the region and becoming increasingly shut off,” the British newspaper The Times writes, stressing that the Mossad sees a greater threat from Turkey today than it does from Iran.
Erdogan is fragmenting NATO with his stunts in the Eastern Mediterranean, and turning Turkey into a headache for the alliance, states the Al-Monitor website. The New York Times upholds that view, emphasizing that Ankara is becoming more aggressive, ambitious, and authoritarian, with its active participation in the Libyan conflict, and that it has demonstrated assertiveness in terms of energy resources that almost caused an armed conflict with other NATO members, France and Greece.
And Europe is not the only place where the foreign policy course currently taken by Turkey has been called nothing less than foolhardy. According to specialists in Turkish affairs, the actions taken by Ankara all at once in several regional areas of focus deserve this assessment, and one of those areas is the Middle East, where a steady deterioration can be observed in the relations between Turkey and leaders across the Arab world. After conducting three military missions in the northern part of a neighboring Arab republic (Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017, Operation Olive Branch in January-March 2018, and Operation Peace Spring in October last year), its cross-border interventions in Iraq, and a large-scale invasion of Libya, Turkey’s actions in the Middle East have come under increasing criticism in many Arab capitals.
In particular, people in the region have expressed clear disapproval that a pattern of Ankara carving out an external “foothold”, similar to what occurred in Libya, has recently begun to manifest itself in Yemen. This was specifically reported by The Arab Weekly, where Ankara is suspected of planning to become a stand-alone force in the conflict in Yemen to try to counter the policy of its regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. To do this, in a fashion similar to Libya, Ankara found a partner on the inside with an Islamist political and ideological agenda – the Al-Islah party, which is associated with the Islamist organization al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization banned in Russia) – through which it is attempting to gain logistical access to Yemen territory to perhaps subsequently set up a military base. This work is being particularly vigorously carried out by Turkey in the coastal regions of that Arab country – in the provinces of Taiz and Shabwa, which are adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, respectively. In particular, according to reports from some media outlets, recruitment stations and training camps are opening up in Yemen’s Shabwe and Taiz provinces to put together an anti-Saudi coalition composed of pro-Turkish and pro-Qatari militias.
Due to this, the Arab world has already started to build a coalition against Turkey. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Sudan, and Morocco are expressing their willingness to act as a united, anti-Turkish front.
In addition, the Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi summit that was held in Jordan at the end of August was also marked by the creation of another Arab bloc geared toward keeping Turkey in check.
Besides European and Arab countries, even India has recently begun to speak out and persistently criticize Ankara. Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations T.S. Tirumurti leveled criticism at the proclamation made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Kashmir and supporting the Pakistani side in that conflict.
Overt dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s actions has been growing in the United States for a long time. The crisis in US-Turkish relations, whose onset occurred after Ankara purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft weapon systems, continues to deepen. For almost two years, members of the American Congress blocked deals concerning the sale of arms to Turkey due to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 weapon systems, with one purchase involving upgrading work on F-16 fighter jets. And Robert Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen also recently called for imposing new US and EU sanctions on Turkey. One of the candidates in the current US presidential race, Joe Biden, does not shy away from letting his negative attitude toward Erdogan’s policy be heard. If he wins, he is ready to “perk up” the Turkish opposition.
Under these conditions, and given Ankara’s lack of readiness to make certain adjustments to its foreign policy, a further increase should be anticipated in the confrontation between Turkey and a host of countries, and in response to that Ankara will undoubtedly seek a way out of the situation by creating a rebuilt circle of trusting, supportive countries. In this regard, what can be expected is a desire on the part of Turkey to consolidate relations with China, Russia, and Ukraine, with which Ankara has recently been striving to develop its network of contacts and cooperation in various areas of focus, including military cooperation.
Valery Kulikov, a political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.