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CWA # 17, 5 June 2018

Global Politics
Deciphering Turkey's External Push

  Samreen Wani

Turkey attacks to the NATO cohesion has not been without the support of its new ally in the region- The Russians. Ankara’s growing economic rapprochement with Russia has raised alarm bells in many NATO capitals.

Research Scholar
MA International Studies
Stella Maris College (Autonomous), Chennai 600086
Email id: samreenwani.smc@gmail.com

During President Erdogan’s trip to the United Kingdom in May 2018, he offered himself as the spokesperson for the Muslim Middle East as he denounced the decision by the United States to pull out from the Iran nuclear deal calling it reminiscent of the ‘dark times’. What kind of an equation does Turkey have with some of the key players in the region? What concerns define the relations Ankara has with some of these players?

Turkey and EU

Turkey’s relation with the European Union has been on a continuous downward spiral characterised by huge levels of trust deficit on both sides. Ankara has in the recent years whipped domestic political frenzy by propagating narratives of nefarious EU designs against the Turkish state. The EU states on the other hand remain wary of the Turkish aspirations of wielding greater influence among states of the region. There has been bad blood between the two since years primarily due to blockage of Turkish accession negotiations to the EU by certain member states namely Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Netherlands. Ankara on the other hand, has accused the EU of deferring on payments that were promised to Turkey for hosting three and a half million Syrian refugees.

Turkish-EU relations have taken a nosedive after 2016, especially after the coup in 2016. Ankara has been unhappy with EU countries who have refused to extradite individuals Turkey claims help engineer the 2016 coup.  Further, ahead of the 2017 referendum, The Hague and Berlin barred Turkish political parties from holding rallies in their respective states prompting statements from Turkey calling the countries ‘Nazis’, ‘Nazi remnants’. The Netherlands even downgraded its diplomatic presence in Turkey to the charge de affairs level. 
 
Despite the mutual economic benefits the EU and Turkey can enjoy by increasing bilateral trade, the relations between the two have been soured by lingering issues of mistrust and suspicion.

Turkey, NATO and The United States 

Turkish maneuvers in the region have been damaging to the larger NATO alliance. Ankara is being seen as the bad apple that is causing fractures in the NATO bunch. 
 
Turkey attacks to the NATO cohesion has not been without the support of its new ally in the region- The Russians. Ankara’s growing economic rapprochement with Russia has raised alarm bells in many NATO capitals.
 
A two billion USD deal in Russian S- 400 anti aircraft missiles is not interoperable with NATO’s air defense systems. Further, Ankara intends to conclude a 20 billion USD deal in a Russian nuclear reactor and wants a natural gas pipeline from Russia- all of which hang in the balance due to the US imposed sanctions on Russian companies. Ankara, for its part, did not condemn Moscow for the Skripal poisoning episode.

A major NATO partner, the United States features heavily in anxious Turkish conversations. 

A major sticking point in Turkey-US relations has been the tacit support of the United States for the YPG fighters whom the Turkish consider to be a terrorist organisation. Matters took a turn for the worst when in early 2018 Washington announced plans to constitute the YPG militia into a 30,000 strong border security force. This development at its borders with Syria alarmed Ankara. President Erdogan while condemning US support for the Kurdish militia branded their efforts as equal to ‘creating a terror army’ and vowed to ‘suffocate it’. Turkey is unclear about the larger aim of the US-Syria policy especially after vast swathes of territory has been cleared of ISIL fighters leaving space for Kurdish militia to take over. 

Moreover, Turkey accuses the United States of providing a safe sanctuary to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric believed to have orchestrated the 2016 July coup.  Ankara has also accused a senate minority leader, a federal district court judge and a former US attorney of being Gulenists.

Turkey-Iran-Russia Alliance
This newly surfaced alliance of convenience is a perilous block constituted mainly as a counter to the US influence in the middle east and unhinge the NATO.
 
Despite having conflicting aims in Syria and the middle east with Iran and Russia, there seems to be a certain degree of camaraderie between the three. This ‘troika’ has vowed to maintain the Syrian territorial integrity while maintaining their respective military presence on Syrian soil. 

Historically, Turkey and Iran have never really had regional rivalry or an all weather alliance. Recently, Turkish and Iranian interests in keeping the YPG out of Syria overlap. Their opposition to the US support to the YPG has brought the two together, and any change in the US stance may alter the equation between the two.
 
Russia has in the past been critical of Turkish war on the Kurds. However, when Turkey announced its offensive in Afrin, Moscow gave Ankara the green signal to go ahead with the campaign while relocating its troops elsewhere. 

For Iran, strategic allies such as Russia and Turkey can be very reliable defence against US advances against it.

After sanctions on Iran were repealed in 2015, 4000 foreign trade delegations visited Iran. In April 2018, while on a visit to Tehran, the Turkish minister of Economy spoke about the vast opportunities that have opened up because of the JCPOA. In the same month, the first Lira-Rial foreign exchange swap was implemented.

Post US exit from the JCPOA and it reimposition of sanctions on Iran, Turkey and Russia stand to lose millions of dollars in trade. As a result of this, Turkey  vehemently opposed the US decision, supported the Iranian stand and announced that trade with Iran will continue as usual despite the threat of impending sanctions. The last thing that Turkey wants to see in the middle east is a nuclear arms race.

Turkey and the Kurds

For Turkey, the objective of US support to the Kurds is unclear. Moreover, Ankara feels threatened by a domino effect of Kurdish statehood on its territory, if the Syrian Kurds were to gain autonomy or some kind of international legitimacy. They have staunchly opposed Kurdish participation in peace talks and have prioritised their offensive against the Kurds over dethroning Assad in Syria.
For the same reason, the Turks have started appointing governors and mayors to the territories gained under ‘Operation Olive Branch’ in northwestern Syria. 

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