That everything remains the same, but that everything changes, seems to be the mantra of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the threshold of the new decade. A goal difficult to achieve under normal circumstances in countries where Cartesianism prevails, but certainly compatible with the subtle nuances of the East. But Turkey is, above all, an eastern country, where subtlety and diplomacy can achieve miracles. The Turkish prime minister knows this perfectly and is betting on portentous solutions in the mess of international relations.
Among the priority objectives of Erdogan is the improvement of relations with Washington, seriously deteriorated during the last years of the mandate of Donald Trump, the billionaire very prone to endorse the warlike adventures of Turkey in the Mediterranean region – Syria, Libya – and the Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia – but inflexible when it comes to accepting the affront of a founding member of the Atlantic Alliance who opts for acquiring Russian war material. After all, Russia is still the enemy from the West and, implicitly, from NATO.
The White House therefore decided to impose sanctions on the Ankara regime, suspending its participation in the development of the F-35 superfighter program. The Pentagon suspected that the Turks could serve as a bridge for the transfer of US military technology to Russia. Despite the application of sanctions, the strategic dialogue between Washington and Ankara continues.
In fact, President Erdogan is confident that the new Democratic Administration will decide to adopt a more dialogue tone, see make a clean slate of Trump’s grievances. However, other conflicting aspects remain, such as Washington’s refusal to grant the extradition of the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdogan’s occasional ex-ally and founder of a gigantic network of Islamic institutions – cultural centers, colleges and universities – with ramifications in dozens of countries, or the US support for the Kurdish-Syrian armed faction YPG, a partner of the Americans in the fight against the Islamic State, but which Ankara calls a mere extension of the Kurdish Marxist PKK movement, the architect of the endless civil war that shook Turkey during decades.
Added to this, of course, is the Erdogan government’s support for the Islamic regime in Tehran, an arch enemy of the pampered Saudi dynasty, good relations with the emirate of Qatar, where Ankara has military installations, or the presence of Turkish advisers in Azerbaijan. A real headache for the future US Administration.
However, Joe Biden, who held the position of vice president during the term of Barack Obama, knows the problems of the region. He visited Turkey four times and reiterated his desire to maintain good relations with Erdogan.
Americans want to turn the page said the Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, during his first appearance in 2021. More so; Erdogan’s team is confident that the Biden Administration could directly or indirectly revive the dead dialogue between Ankara and Brussels, as Washington had in the past advocated Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The re-establishment of diplomatic dialogue with Greece, as well as Erdogan’s contacts with the president of the European Commission seem to have created a positive atmosphere.
The confrontation between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus on the maritime border of the Aegean Sea, see the exploitation of the natural resources of the eastern Mediterranean, the multiplication of naval incidents and the threats of a possible resort to the use of force further muddied the tensions relations between neighboring states. While President Macron seemed inclined to support Greek Cypriot military actions, Chancellor Merkel played a moderating role in the conflict. The waters seemed to have returned to their normal channels towards the end of December, when Athens, Ankara and Nicosia opted for holding diplomatic consultations.
Another major stumbling block in Turkey-EU relations is the issue of migration. In March 2016, Brussels and Ankara reached an agreement to stop irregular migration in the Aegean Sea and improve the living conditions of the two million Syrian refugees living on Turkish soil. The entry into force of the agreement has managed to contain the flow of refugees to the EU countries. However, Brussels’ delay in transferring the committed funds – around 6 billion euros – has caused deep unease in Ankara. In Government Erdogan threatened repeatedly with the opening of the border with Greece, the great strainer of immigration from the Middle East.
Also on the list of grievances is the non-suspension of the community visa for Turkish citizens traveling to the EU, a project that should have materialized in 2013. However, the Brussels decision is still relegated to… the Greek calendas.
To these unknowns is added another, no less important and conflictive: the future of Turkey’s relations with its Asian neighbors – Syria, Iraq, Armenia and Georgia – and also Europeans – Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia – territories that were part, in the end of the First World War, of the Great Turkey.