FT: Erdogan’s Great Game – Soldiers, Spies, Turkey’s Quest for Power

At Freedom Square in Baku last month, thousands of marching Azerbaijani soldiers in fur hats and braided coats celebrated their victory in the Caucasus. And it was Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who made it possible.

Turkish leaders invited as honorary guests considered that the drone supplied to Baku, who fought to reclaim the lost land in Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, was given to a prominent place in the military parade. “Today is a day of victory and pride for all of us and for the entire Turkish world,” said Erdogan, surrounded by the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The decision by Prime Minister Erdogan to put all his energy behind Azerbaijan is ready for uncompromising foreign policy and hard power, despite Western nations demanding a ceasefire after a new battle broke out last fall. It was the latest manifestation of his increasingly muscular foreign policy stance, which is characterized by that.

Over the past five years, Prime Minister Erdogan has launched a military invasion of Syria and northern Iraq, dispatched troops to Libya and engaged in a naval stand-off with Greece.

In recent weeks, Erdogan said he would “turn a new page” after agreeing to his friend Donald Trump’s defeat in the U.S. election and the need to bring back foreign capital to deal with Turkey’s growing economic hardship. It was. With the west.

But is Erdogan willing or able to compromise on the issues that plague Turkey’s relations with the EU, the United States and the Middle East, or the newly discovered words of reconciliation will soon be new. It is unclear if it will be replaced by the predicament.

“There is a small thing [that Turkey has done] It can be thought of as an olive branch, but nothing practical, “said a European diplomat. “Looking at the issues we are fundamentally opposed to, both sides see the ball on the other’s court, so it’s very difficult to go anywhere.”

A failed coup that changed Turkey

The 66-year-old Turkish president, who came to power in 2002, has long sought a visionary position to “make Turkey great again” at home and abroad, in the words of historian Soner Cagatay. I have come.

However, analysts said the attempted bloody coup by a fraudulent military faction in 2016 showed the collapse of trade between Turkey and other parts of the world. It makes Erdogan even more suspicious of the West, forcing him closer to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and forging a new political alliance at home, allowing him to take unprecedented control of the Turkish state. I made it.

In a speech three months after the attempted coup, Erdogan said he would no longer wait for problems and adversaries to “knock on the door.” Turkey instead “goes wherever they build a house, finds them, and comes down to them hard,” he said.

Although Erdogan may play a religious conservative foundation by establishing himself as a leader in the Islamic world, he makes great use of the image and language of nationalists. He likes to say that his country is experiencing Salanis — “Rise” or “Rise” — on the world stage.

Diplomats and analysts warn that this strategy poses significant risks to both the economy and its relations with regional and world powers. Ten years ago, Turkey’s foreign policy policy was “zero problems with neighbors,” but Turkish analysts are now joking that the new mantra is “zero problem-free neighbors.”

Erdogan’s foreign policy has been described by critics as “neo-Ottomanism” in connection with the empire that spans Southern Europe, West Asia and North Africa and precedes the modern republic. Turkish officials say their country simply protects its interests. “When France intervenes, it’s just France. No one calls them Napoleon,” said one.

This approach is costly. “I don’t think Turkey is so isolated in its history,” said Sinem Adar, a researcher at the German Institute for International Security in Berlin. “The front lines of countries in conflict with Turkey are expanding.”

Purge, President, Centralized State

The 2016 coup attempt and subsequent purges gave Erdogan more control over the military. He also formed an electoral alliance with the transnationalist MHP, adopting a hawkish right-wing outlook on national security, especially Kurdish separatism.

“They have a similar idea. That is, Turkey has to rise. It needs to increase its power,” said Evren Balta, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ozyegin in Istanbul. “Both AKP and MHP [also] Share this basic idea that Turkey is under attack from home and abroad. ”

At the same time, the transition to the presidential system in 2018 weakened the role of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the home of mandarin oranges, which saw Turkey’s natural direction as westward.

Many are critical of what a former ambassador calls addiction to “soldiers and spies” rather than diplomacy. On overseas trips, Erdogan is rarely seen without intelligence director Hakan Fidan and defense minister Hulusi Akar.

Blanquism abroad also had little backlash from political rivals. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has criticized “non-diplomatic languages” with the motto “Peace at home, peace in the world”. The party has proven to be popular with the general public.

Erdogan, who most analysts want to maintain as much power as possible, used foreign policy for the benefit of domestic politics. “Psychological treatment” to French President Emmanuel Macron, comparing the German government with the Nazis. However, this attitude has not declined well in the European capital. An EU diplomat accused Turkish leaders of acting like “schoolyard bullies.”

Terrorism, refugees, international backlash

Erdogan’s willingness to make Turkey a regional power was reflected in the dramatic expansion of Turkey’s diplomatic relations with the Middle East, Africa and Latin America through trade and aid in the mid-2000s, and soon failed. finished.

The country’s hopes for EU accession have diminished in the distrust and malice of both sides. A popular uprising rushed across the region, backfired plans to build stronger relationships with Arab neighbors. The Syrian war spilled over into Turkey in the form of terrorist attacks and the arrival of millions of refugees. Turkey’s military operations in Syria and Libya, as well as support for the Muslim Brotherhood, have pitched Ankara to a strong Arab League led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Currently, Europe is desperate for the decline in human rights of countries that are technically still candidates to join the block. Washington is angry with Erdogan’s decision to buy an S-400 air defense system from Russia, which caused the long-awaited US sanctions last month.

The relationship between Turkey and new partners is also not simple. His relationship with Putin is complex and often frustrated. This was revealed last year when 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack in Syria by the United States accusing Moscow.

Still, Erdogan has had some success. Turkey’s support has changed the course of the civil war in Libya. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara’s support of Azerbaijan has revealed the limits of Russia’s influence in the Caucasus.

Financial predicament and milder rhetoric

The turmoil in foreign policy has blocked the coveted foreign direct investment and, combined with concerns over the economic management of Prime Minister Erdogan, has created a source of pressure on the Turkish lira. German car maker Volkswagen has suspended and later canceled plans to build a new factory in response to international protests against Turkey’s attack on Syrian Kurdish troops in 2019.

Critics say Turkey’s hostile foreign relations undermine its interests for all exaggerated rhetoric. Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of Istanbul’s think tank Edam, said: “The way to judge the success of foreign policy is whether Turkey helps protect its national interests better, and whether it helps Turkey secure a more sustainable economy. Growth. By these criteria, It’s not a big success. “

The $ 750 billion economic crisis in the country, exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, caused turmoil in November, resulting in the resignation of Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berato Albairak, as Minister of Finance.

Since then, with Joe Biden being elected President of the United States, Erdogan has overtured to the West. “Turkey’s future lies in Europe,” Erdogan said in a video call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday, calling for greater cooperation on issues such as immigration and trade.

The Turkish president has long been a practitioner who is willing to make tough choices as needed to maintain power. However, some analysts suspect that Erdogan will not be willing to make the necessary compromises to improve relations with NATO’s allies, especially the United States.

“I think the goal of staying within NATO and having a strong, independent foreign policy remains,” said Alan Makovsky, a former US State Department employee at the Center for American Progress, a think tank. “Maybe he will soften the rhetoric, but I don’t think he will soften the vision.”