Saturday

4th Apr 2020

Opinion

Calling time on European-Turkish strategic relations

  • The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to meet in Ankara on Wednesday (4 April) and focus on latest developments in war-torn Syria. (Photo: Tolga "Musato")

Over the weekend, Ankara stated that France could become a target for its backing of Kurdish forces in Syria.

This follows the comments of Turkey's firebrand president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who had earlier threatened to "Ottoman slap" US forces fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS in Syria.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Last week, (26 March) in Varna, Bulgaria, president Erdogan together with a string of other Turkish officials met their EU counterparts in an attempt to heal relations.

Nothing came out of the summit. While, the leaders were shaking hands, Turkey announced that it would lay the foundation stone of a $20bn (€16.2bn) nuclear power plant being built by Russia's state atomic energy corporation (Rosatom) in southern Turkey.

Meanwhile, the US, Canada, Australia and 14 EU countries including Germany and France expelled Russian spies following the chemical weapon poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.

But Turkey refused to do likewise. It took Ankara three weeks to whisper a condemnation. This, despite Turkish and British officials describing their ties as a "strategic partnership".

Time to face facts, Turkey's ties with the West are no longer strategic. When Europe goes hither, Turkey deliberately goes thither.

Iran

Take Iran, for example.

In December last year it was revealed that Turkey helped Tehran to bypass the Iran Sanctions Act in a scheme that involved a Turkish state owned bank to weave a complex web for the trade of Iranian gas for Turkish gold. The key witness alleged that not only was the then Turkish economy minister involved, but the process was ordered on the behest of Erdogan himself.

Another example is Russia.

Not only has Moscow intervened in Ukraine and occupies the Crimea, but Russia also distributes fake news and propaganda against the West, violates the airspace and exclusive economic zones of European nations, murdered Russian nationals living in the United Kingdom, and involved itself in the lawlessness and chaos in Syria by propping up the Assad regime and sanctioning Iranian involvement.

What does Ankara do?

It joins talks over the future of Syria with Iran and Russia, legitimising their nefarious involvement. Turkish ministers schedule multiple meetings with their Russian counterparts. Turkey pledges to boost bilateral trade with Russia to reach $100bn and continues with its plans to purchase S400s, the Russian surface-to-air missiles completely incompatible with NATO hardware.

ISIS is another significant threat to Europe.

Not only has the terror group had a destabilising effect on Syria and Iraq, but there is also the threat of returning recruits to European nations.

But Turkey has done little to help. Ankara allowed Turkish territory to be used by Jihadists traveling to Syria. It turned a blind eye to oil and weapons smuggling across its border. When Ankara did wake up to the ISIS threat, it was, let's face it, too little too late.

Even Turkey's position on Syrian refugees is practically blackmail. Europe pays six billion euros or Turkey threatens to open the floodgates. Hardly strategic cooperation. "Don't keep delaying it; give us the money", Erdogan recently warned.

What is more, Ankara used its might against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara claims is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). But the YPG is an undeniable asset in the West's fight against ISIS.

No real basis for alliance

And here lies the core of the problem. Turkey's strategic threats are different to those of the West.

Ankara is concerned with the activities of the Gulen movement, which Ankara blames for the 2016 attempted coup.

But this organisation poses no real threat to the West. Ankara is also in an all-out war against the PKK. But although considered a terrorist group by Europe and the US, the PKK doesn't attack Western targets.

In other words, there is no real basis for Turkey and the West to maintain a strategic alliance.

Shared values are also not a factor. Ankara has ignored the EU's concerns about Turkey's human rights record including its democratic deficiencies, the erosion of checks and balances, the politicisation of the judiciary, the continued state of emergency and severe restrictions on the media.

At the Varna Summit, Erdogan told Europe to stop "rambling" on about human rights.

So, if Europe's relations with Turkey are not about shared values and are not of a strategic nature, all that is really left is trade.

Fine. Let's buy and sell stuff to each other.

NATO bases in Turkey can be relocated, military cooperation can be limited and intelligence sharing can be scaled down. With a little bit of planning and foresight, it is unlikely that this will have much long or medium-term impact. At least the charade will end and the sides will know where they stand.

Surely this is better than the maintaining the unproductive status quo?

Dr Simon A. Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and a visiting research fellow at King's College London. He is the co-author of the recently published, The New Turkey and Its Discontents

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU-Turkey summit ends with 'no solutions'

Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov described a meeting at the Black Sea resort of Varna between the presidents of Turkey, the EU council, and the European commission as "charged with great tension." Disputes remain far from resolved.

Appeasement will not work with Erdogan

As EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker meet president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria, their reluctance to use their diminishing leverage with Ankara means his dismantling of Turkey's democracy only speeds up.

Analysis

EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery

The EU-Turkey deal was agreed two years ago in Brussels. Focus has largely been on reducing migrant flows across the Mediterranean and helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, while the plight of those on the Greek islands are ignored.

Ankara and Kremlin in charm offensive

Turkey's president Erdogan met with his Russian counterpart Putin in St. Petersburg. The first visit for Erdogan since last month's military coup.

Column

Only democracy can fight epidemics

As Li Wenliang, the deceased Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for reporting on the virus, said: "There should be more openness and transparency".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU's 'Irini' Libya mission: Europe's Operation Cassandra
  2. Slovak army deployed to quarantine Roma settlements
  3. Lockdown: EU officials lobbied via WhatsApp and Skype
  4. EU: Athens can handle Covid outbreak at Greek camp
  5. New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP
  6. EU launches €100bn worker support scheme
  7. Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation
  8. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us