At the final National Security Council (NSC) meeting of 2018, three issues came to the fore relating to foreign policy and security.
The first was the US’s cooperation with the Kurds east of the Euphrates and the associated regression in US-Turkey relations. The second was the difficulties hampering the continuation of the “Idlib agreement” between Turkey and Russia. And the third was the disagreements emerging over the sharing of the natural gas reserves situated in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The picture painted to us by the final NSC meeting of 2018 was one in which the Erdoğan administration would get into increasing difficulty in the region (Middle East). And this has come to pass. The policy of exploiting the contradictions between the imperialists and creating room for manoeuvre for itself that the Erdoğan administration has followed until now had already begun to backfire in the first half of 2019. The policy of exploiting the contradictions between imperialists has reached a point at which the US and Russia have forced/will force the Erdoğan administration to “decide” which side it is on.
The Erdoğan administration is known to have moved closer to Russia following the US’s cooperation with the Kurds in Syria and the 2016 coup attempt. This is a prime opportunity for Russia to create strife between NATO-member Turkey and the US and upset the US’s plans – and the sale of the S-400 defence system to Turkey constitutes the sharp end of this policy.
Well, the “warning” letter deputy US Secretary of Defence Shanahan sent to Minister of National Defence Akar has left the Erdoğan administration in a tricky impasse over the S-400s. The US letter threatens Turkey, which is dependent to a significant extent militarily on NATO and economically on the Western imperialists, with removal from the programme relating to the F-35 warplanes and the implementation of economic sanctions.
However, things have reached a stage as which it does not look easy for the Erdoğan administration to renege on the S-400s because if the administration in Turkey, whose presence in Syria is to a significant extent dependent on Russia’s “approval,” reneges on the S-400s, this will clearly bring a tit-for-tat response from the Russian side.
In fact, for some time developments have been taking place in Idlib that strengthen Russia’s hand against Turkey. The increasing attacks by jihadist gangs contrary to Turkey’s undertakings to broker a cease fire and disband the jihadist gangs enable Russia and the Syrian regime to bring the military operation option back onto the agenda. At this point, a reminder is also called for of the “warning” made recently by Kremlin Spokesperson Peskov that “brokering a ceasefire” and “neutralizing terrorist organizations” was Turkey’s responsibility.
These developments turn Idlib into an impasse for the Erdoğan administration because whether it disbands the jihadist groups by its own doing – and this appears to be impossible – or whether this disbanding is done through a military operation due to its inability to fulfil its undertakings, the end result is that the prospects of engaging in dealings over the Idlib problem are gradually vanishing.
I cannot pass without mentioning the holding the day before yesterday of a mass funeral in Reyhanlı for the militant Abdulbasit Al Sarut who had said, “We’ll exterminate the Alevis,” paid homage to ISIS in 2014 and later joined the Turkish-supported jihadist group Jaysh al-Izza. This funeral paints a picture of the kind of threat the thousands of jihadist militants who have joined, as circumstances dictate, ISIL, Nusra or other jihadist groups pose/will pose to Turkey in connection with the Idlib problem.
Another area in foreign policy where the waters are getting hot is the issue of sharing the energy resources in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. Let me initially state that the recent particular emphasis placed by the administration and its media on this issue that has continued for some time brings to mind the “Pontus” propaganda conducted against İmamoğlu in the run-up to the Istanbul elections. At the end of the day, we are faced with a regime that portrays its own “survival” as the country’s “survival.”
However, this does not alter the fact that energy exploration and the struggle for domination in the Eastern Mediterranean will be one of the prime issues in Turkey’s foreign policy going forward and one of the issues of contention with neighbours. Turkey argues that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also has rights in the areas the Cyprus Greek Administration has declared an “exclusive economic zone” and is thus trying to hamper exploration activities under agreements the Cyprus Greek Administration has made. The comment Erdoğan previously made, “Their bravado is until they see our army, ships and planes,” has the potential to breed tension with countries like Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya, not just the Cyprus Greek Administration and the US monopolies that are entering into agreements on energy exploration with it. And, Northern Cyprus having a legitimacy problem in international law isolates Turkey in this regard.
In conclusion, as if domestic economic and political problems were not enough, the incorrect policies the administration has also pursued abroad are returning like a boomerang in the form of impasse, deadlock and tension.
(Translated by Tim Drayton)