Recent diplomatic moves from the Istanbul government indicate that Turkey is now striving for a multilateral foreign diplomacy basing its long term strategy on a possible Turkey-Saudi-Iran cooperation.
As USA and Russia continue to compete for trade links with Arab nations, Turkey welcomes Syria ceasefire as it is very keen to see the end to Russian bombardments in Syria, targeting Turkish interests there. There are many tasks before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to work out and in a fragile and ever-changing environment in Middle East as Israel and Russia also coordinate their roles in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey boiled over late last year when Turkey in November shot down a Russian warplane that had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace, authorities claimed. Turkey, a member of NATO, has long called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—who Russia supports—to step down. But Russian forces have intervened in the Syrian civil war in support of the Syria’s Assad government. Russia and the USA recently announced plans for a cease-fire in Syria to take effect on Feb. 27.
Turkey welcomes a ceasefire plan for Syria worked out by the USA and Russia and hopes that Moscow will now cease air strikes that have killed civilians. Moscow says it views a ceasefire will be reached and it will not be like previous ceasefires and will have the capacity to be implemented.
The USA and Russia have agreed on a new cease-fire for Syria, even as major questions over enforcing and responding to violations of the truce were left unresolved. Syria’s warring government and rebels still need to accept the deal. The timeline for a hoped-for breakthrough comes after the former Cold War foes, backing opposing sides in the conflict, said they finalized the details of a “cessation of hostilities” between President Bashar Assad’s government and armed opposition groups after five years of violence that has killed more than 250,000 people. Also, the truce will not cover the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council. But where in Syria the fighting must stop and where “counterterrorism operations” can continue must still be addressed. And the five-page plan released by the US State Department leaves open how breaches of the cease-fire will be identified or punished.
Facing problems to its assertive diplomacy in recent times and clash of super powers in Syria, the Turkish AKP government is now trying to develop a multilateral foreign policy, based on the energy axis surrounding the sensitive area above and beneath Syria and Iraq.
After the deep rupture in relations with Russia that is seen increasing its trade profile in the region, Ankara is now emphasizing the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the fostering of enhanced ties with Azerbaijan, a former republic of Soviet Union. Both states are distancing themselves from any strong Russian influence.
Turkey is enlarging its trade ties beyond the traditional West and West Asia by bridging good relations with Central nations. Cooperation with Azerbaijan, for instance, is important to the extent that Ankara sees beyond unsettling Moscow. Both states have deep historical ties and Turkey can buy cheap gas from Baku in exchange for huge investments in the country. This partnership can have limits, especially for Ankara, as long as it does not broaden into adjacent Central Asian and other states in the region. A bilateral cooperation alone cannot step up Turkey’s wider geopolitical involvement and address ever increasing China’s market seizure and delicate penetration.
Regarding rapprochement with Saudi Arabia cease-fire, the key issue is the ongoing lethal struggle in Syria complicated by Russian involvement there, especially with respect to postwar developments if the ceasefire holds. Turkey and Justice and Development Party want to eradicate the Kurdish movements and militia that create problems for it and against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and block the creation of a federal state in Syria, in which the Kurds, as in Iraq, will have their say. Such a development would mobilize even further the Kurds in Turkey, something that the AKP is afraid of.
Both USA and Israel try to get Turkey back into the Zionist hold. Israel backed by USA and Europe could always damage Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia. Tel Aviv like USA uses militarism to threaten Arab nations, particularly Palestine. Israel perceives the Islamic radicalization and warfare of the Saudis as a direct threat.
The advancement of Iran in the Middle East, the clearer role it assumes in regional policy-making, and the endorsement it gradually receives from Western powers after the nuclear deal and the opening of the domestic market terribly worry an arrogant and rogue Israeli regime, deadly focused on murdering the besieged Palestinians.
Iran is now perceived as a definite player in the region by everyone, including the EU, China and Russia. Tehran will now play a more active role in terms of intervention and multilateral diplomacy, and this is something Israel fears and Turkey needs to take into consideration and re-evaluate its stance. Israel seeks alliance with Turkey to contain Iran but Turks support Iran.
On the Cyprus issue, progress should finally be made. This cannot happen with Turkey keeping its troops on the island at a time it is endlessly negotiating EU membership. Similarly, should Turkey succeed to enter the EU, it would be without legal precedent for a country to hold troops in another one, except USA and NATO. Even the UN should not have any involvement, or just keep it at a consultative level.
A clear stance from the Turkish government is also needed on the refugee crisis. Turkey has received a huge number of refugees and it needs assistance. But this assistance in financial and technical terms should come from the EU. The control of refugees also connects two related policies for Ankara: The first deals with the end of the war in Syria, about which Turkey can have a say and press for a peaceful solution; the second is ending the bombing of the Kurdish militia in Syria and opening a sincere dialogue with them.
Turkey cannot avoid the discussion of the Kurdish issue in order for the legitimate EU seat. For years, Turkish governments preferred to close their eyes to the demands of the Kurdish population, and now that the issue is strongly internationalized, largely due to the effective mobilization of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), there seems no way back. Negotiations and respect is the only credible way ahead for the AKP, unless USA openly supports Turkey on that issue.
The Muslim Brotherhood ideology that dominates the Turkish ruling party focuses on creating an Islamic regime in Syria backed by the Muslim Brotherhood party. Kurdish-led forces are considered America’s most effective ally in the fight against ISIS. By shelling Kurdish troops and allied Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) in northern Syria, killing civilians, Turkey threatens to derail the fight against ISIS in order to weaken Kurdish aspirations. Turkey opposes an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan, as they opposed the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Since Turkey is truly committed to protecting the Syrian people from Assad’s repression it should stop fighting the Kurds.
AKP should view its policy from a futuristic perspective taking into account emerging geopolitics. The Turkish government should now make considerable efforts to re-launch the peace process and abandon its politics of hatred against the Kurds. Reconciliation and respect of one another should prevail and, especially for the Turkish government, it is time to face reality and acknowledge the balance of power and the new alliances in the region.
Turkey also has to deal with the advancement of domestic reforms, cope with the incessant refugee flows, accelerate the Cyprus negotiation process and come along with Israel, rebuilding the military alliance with Tel Aviv as per US designs for West Asia.
The outstanding performance of the ruling party in the national elections and its gaining the outright majority should be used as a powerful tool to push Turkey forward. The same goes for the geopolitical challenges that Turkey is always facing.
Meanwhile, European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, warned of the risk of a “hot war” between Russia and Turkey. “we risk a hot war among different actors than the one we always think of. Not necessarily Russia and the United States, but Russia and Turkey, could be. And, as Europeans, we have a clear interest in trying to contain and scale down the tensions,” Mogherini said during a debate at the EU Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Turkey does not want to spoil relations with Russia, however. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said he expects Russian tourists to keep coming to Turkey and did not expect any decline in their number, despite tensions between the two countries over the shooting down of a Russian jet last year. Davutoğlu unveiled a plan to support Turkey’s tourism sector, hit by tensions with Russia and domestic insecurity, including a 255 million lira ($87 mln) grant and measures to help tourism firms restructure debt. Turkey is especially popular with German tourists, but has seen demand fall after a suicide bomber killed 10 Germans in İstanbul in January. Russians have been told to stay away by Moscow following the shooting down of a military jet last year.