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Ukraine Crisis, Erdogan’s Dual-Face Game

28 Sep 2022 09:40

Islam Times - Though after Ukraine crisis eruption all of the major actors took neutral stances or supported one side of the conflict, Turkey was the only country that avoided adopting a coherent policy in dealing with the global developments and instead walked a fine line between the two sides. To stay immune to the Russian anger, Ankara opposed the Western sanctions on Moscow and on the other side criticized the Russian military campaign in Ukraine and provided effective drones to Kiev to satisfy the US and Europe. While the Western countries expected Turkey as a NATO member to stand by its allies in the face of Moscow, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose a different path and even tried to blackmail his NATO allies and in order to agree to the membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military bloc, he demanded concessions from them, including withdrawing support to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group on their soils. He also sought privileges from the US in Syrian case. Washington officials, who desperately need Turkey's support in NATO, had to make some concessions in order to eliminate Ankara's excuses for not opposing the membership of the two bidders for NATO. Even at the beginning of the war, Turkey tried to play neutral by mediating between Kiev and Moscow, but it was almost obvious to all that Erdogan started this political show to get concessions from the warring sides.

Contradictory fighter jet purchase plans from rivals 

While the US suspended a fighter jets deal with Turkey for political reasons, it seems that it has changed its mind in recent days and Erdogan on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UNGA said that agreements on F-16 jets are to be finalized in the near future. Although the White House and Pentagon officials have not commented on the deal, odds are Washington will give a go-ahead to the purchase plan. 

However, the interesting point is that Turkey, while trying to buy F-16s, is also looking forward to buy the new generation of Russian fighters. In recent days, the head of Turkey's Defense Industry Agency said that the country may consider buying Russian Su-35 multi-role jets if the US F-16 purchase plan fails.

In 2019, the US suspended Turkey's participation in its F-35 fighter program due to the Turkish purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia, and then completely excluded Ankara from the multi-nation production program. In 2020, the Turkish leader said that Washington offered Ankara to buy the fourth generation of F-16 jets instead of the F-35s, but this plan has not gone ahead yet due to American procrastination. While White House officials have repeatedly warned that they will suspend any military deals with Turkey if Ankara cooperates with Russia and buys weapons from it, Erdogan is still trying to play in the middle of two powerful rivals and capitalize on relations with both sides. 

Turkey, having the second largest army after the US in the NATO, cannot arm with Russian weapons according to the policies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which was founded essentially in opposition to Russia, and now that the West and East are at each other's throats because of Ukraine war, the Turkish interest in buying the new generation of the Russian fighter jets seriously jeopardizes the Western bloc's unity and convergence. Therefore, in this case, too, Erdogan has no coherent policy and it is unclear which front he is on. In recent years, Turkey has been a tameless member of the NATO and leaned to the East. Its serious differences with other NATO members have been pushing the military organization to a divergence. Turkey's dual policy in the Ukraine crisis showed that Ankara skillfully maneuvers and benefits from both camps. In other words , Turkey runs with the hare and hunts with the hound. 

Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership in opposition to NATO 

Though a member of NATO for five decades and approves of its terms and principles, Turkey is not committed to the bloc's policies and goes its own path. There are restrictions for membership in the regional organizations with anti-Western approach for NATO members, still, these days Turkey is running a different way. Erdogan participated in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan on September 16 and for the first time made a membership bid in organization that is dominated by China and Russia. The bid sent negative signals to the West, drawing concerns from the American and European officials. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly said he was "very irritated" by Turkish attempts to join SCO, adding: "This is not an organization that is delivering an important contribution to a good global coexistence." 

Turkey's tendency towards SCO and the Eastern bloc countries comes as the country is a member of NATO and has been yearning for European Union accession for many years. In fact, now Ankara's desire to join the SCO is considered a form of turning its back on European policies. Having in mind that EU has kept Turkey behind its doors for more than two decades for political and human rights excuses and is trying to blackmail it, Erdogan is also taking advantage of the current global conditions to let the Europeans know that he is not willing to join the European Union at any price since there are other attractive options in the East that absorb Turkey at the lowest costs and in the shortest time. On the other hand, China and Russia, as the SCO heads, have been in severe tensions with the West in recent months and Turkey's joining such an organization practically stands against Washington's global plans, which try to isolate Moscow and Beijing. 

Should Turkey join the SCO, it will be the first NATO member to join this Eastern bloc. Full membership in the organization gives Erdogan new leverage against the West and the prospect of stronger economic ties. Erdogan's government, which has been struggling with an economic crisis for the past three years, and rampant inflation in this country has fueled dissatisfaction with the government's performance, he is trying to rescue Turkey's troubled economy before next year's elections. Turkey's presidential elections will be held within seven months, and Erdogan is trying to gain the favorable opinion of China and Russia by announcing his readiness to join the SCO and secure privileges from the unfolding tension of these powers and West to shore up Turkey's embattled economy. Therefore, Erdogan, heavily pressured by his opposition for his erratic foreign policy, is trying to play a key role in the West-East rivalry in order to win over public opinion and retain his post for another four-year term. 

While continuing to engage with Russia economically, Turkey seeks to transit the Israeli gas to Europe to assuage the Continent's energy crisis caused by Russian oil and gas supplies stall. What is certain is that Turkish leaders have come up with the notion that Ukraine conflict has no final winner and its continuation will weaken both sides. So, they are trying to make gains from the confrontation while standing away from it. Actually, Erdogan finds long war beneficial because it allows more Turkish arms sales to Ukraine and at the same time a Russian market sanctioned by the West makes a great opportunity for Turkish companies to replace their Western rivals. 

Although Erdogan advances his foreign policy according to his individual wishes to win the voters' favor ahead of the elections, the politics do not always go as people wish and his ambiguous policy at the end of the road may strike him out of the politics forever. 

Story Code: 1016573

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