Today, with the vectors of political, economic and military cooperation in Europe being reoriented because of Britain’s exit from the EU, we can observe a clear rapprochement in many areas between London and Ankara. Britain is the second largest importer of goods from Turkey after Germany; annually about 2.5 million British people spend their vacations in Turkey and about 100,000 Turks visit the kingdom every year. For London, strong ties with Ankara are especially important today, not only to prove the feasibility of Brexit, but also to secure good trade and economic ties with it in the face of losing such ties with Europe.
The recently appointed head of British Foreign Intelligence MI6, Richard Moore, who has been Britain’s ambassador to Turkey since January 2014, has played an important role in the substantial growth of relations between the two countries in recent years. Two years after his appointment, there was an attempted military coup in Turkey. Under the excuse of emergency measures, Erdogan was able to deal with most of his opponents, journalists, and the military and political elite of the country, who expressed criticism of him, and achieved the change to a presidential form of government and the expansion of the authority of the head of the country. The new constitutional amendments, among other things, laid the groundwork for Erdogan’s future rule, as he can now remain in office until 2029.
The reaction of the Turkish authorities to these events and the growing authoritarianism in President Erdogan’s actions markedly damaged his relations with many European leaders, who have cut their contacts with Turkey because of their position opposing systematic violations of human rights under the excuse of an emergency. But the British reaction turned out to be quite different, largely because of the actions of the British ambassador, Richard Moore, who took a resolute stand against the rebels. It was Moore, who declared that “London will stand side by side with Ankara,” who then arranged for Boris Johnson, then foreign minister, to come to Ankara to show solidarity with Turkey. The gesture paid off and increased Britain’s political capital in Turkey. When Boris Johnson won the Conservative race for prime minister, Erdogan sent him a very warm greeting, praised by the Turkish press as not a simple gesture of diplomatic courtesy, but an indication that the Turkish authorities had not forgotten Boris Johnson’s support. British Prime Minister B. Johnson often recalls with pride that his paternal great-grandfather Ali Kemal was Minister of Internal Affairs of the Ottoman Empire and demonstrates his willingness to further promote the multifaceted cooperation between London and Ankara.
As a result, even a shallow analysis of recent articles on Turkey published by the leading British media shows that London, unlike Western Europe, has moved away from criticizing Erdogan’s autocratic methods and his actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Libyan crisis. In London, it quickly became clear that Turkey has become a key player in the Middle East in recent years, capable of taking control of parts of Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, so the right approach to building further relations with it can play out to Britain’s advantage. In particular, to British Gas and other British companies, who have their own interests in the region in the production of natural gas in the Mediterranean offshore fields, where the so-called “Energy Triangle” — an alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel — has already begun to form, competing with them.
Entering a zone of turbulence after leaving the EU, London, amid the lack of satisfactory results in its negotiations on economic cooperation with the Union after the actual Brexit, intends to build further trade and economic partnerships based on the WTO. And in this case, Britain will require particularly successful trade deals with other players, such that the economy of the kingdom becomes more efficient than it was when it was a member of the EU. And in this regard, Turkey appears to be a particularly attractive partner for London, including for the control of the Mediterranean space.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu drew attention to the recent strengthening of relations between Ankara and London, particularly in the light of Brexit, during his visit to Britain in July. At the same time, he stressed that closer cooperation between Britain and Turkey is important for both countries, not only commercially, but also geopolitically, since it can also extend to Ukraine and the Black Sea basin and be directed, in particular, against the interests of Russia in this region.
An additional push for the development of trade, economic and even military ties with Britain was the interruption of Turkish arms deliveries from Canada, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made such a decision because of Ankara’s involvement in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As it recently became known, the Turkish Bayraktar drones used components supplied by nine foreign companies, including a Canadian company, and therefore Justin Trudeau’s decision proved to be very problematic for Turkey and its program of special emphasis on the production of UAVs specifically. And in this matter, Britain once again came to Ankara’s aid, offering to replace the Canadian supplier.
Although the emerging British-Turkish alliance has so far been limited to economic and military-technical cooperation, there is also a growing geopolitical bond, particularly in the direction of Ukraine. Especially so after reports emerged that British troops will be stationed in the Ukrainian port of Nikolaev in the Black Sea, and that Turkey intends to develop not only economic but also military cooperation with Kiev. The latter circumstance is evidenced, in particular, by the fact that in 2019 the Ukrainian company Ukrspetseksport and the Turkish Baykar Makina created a joint venture, Black Sea Shield, in Istanbul to develop UAVs, research engine technologies and create high-precision guided munitions. In fact, Turkey will even allow Ukraine to sell Bayraktar drones manufactured on its territory, which will now be produced with British components.
This development and reinforcement of London’s relations with Ankara fits right into the context of the “Global Britain” concept – the system of alliances that the kingdom wants to build after leaving the EU, where Turkey is assigned the pivotal supporting role, a foothold for Britain’s future renewed international influence. Today, London remains one of Ankara’s few friends in the West, and for Erdogan, the British-Turkish alliance is an important indication that Turkey retains close economic and political ties with a major European country that still enjoys international influence.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.