West lacks leverage over Turkey - columnist

Europe’s ever diminishing ability to exert leverage over Turkey adds to the difficulties Greece and Cyprus face in their relations with their neighbour, wrote journalist Nikos Kostandaras in an editorial appearing in Greek paper Kathimerini.

Characterizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as being in “survival mode”, Kostandaras said the only way he can retain power is by presenting himself as a protector of Muslims and as a “great victor”. To maintain this image he engages in actions that challenging the sovereignty of Greek Cyprus and place continual pressure on Athens.

Greece and Cyrus are currently in dispute with Turkey on multiple fronts. Turkey deployed its navy this year to prevent the Cypriots from exploring hydrocarbon reserves around the shores of the island, and has questioned the Treaty of Lausanne that delineates borders between Greece and Turkey, as well as ramping up tensions over disputed islets in the Aegean. To cap things off,  Turkey arrested two Greek soldiers at the start of this month, who had allegedly strayed across the border in bad weather. Greece’s defence minister has since said that they are being held hostage, a charge Turkey denies.

“Even as he undermines the heritage of Mustafa Kemal, with his restoring Islam to the center of political and social life, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is investing in the great currents that have driven Turkish nationalism for over a century. He managed to turn his own need into a national cause. And it is stunning to see how a whole, sophisticated nation has bent to his will with such ease. The news on Wednesday that the Dogan news group was being sold to a pro-Erdogan company signaled the fall of perhaps the last citadel of an elite that envisioned Turkey’s ever closer relationship with the West.”   

In response to all of this, European condemnation of Turkish behaviour s falling on deaf ears, says Kostandaras, illustrating the lack of leverage Europe has over Turkey. Indeed, the only country that can exert pressure on Turkey is Russia, as Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin find themselves in a marriage of convenience.

However, as Russia’s relations with the West are at a low ebb, there is little prospect that Russian pressure on Turkey will benefit the West. “As long as this situation continues,” says Kostandaras, “Turkey will be able to act as if in its own parallel universe – turning black to white, acting as it pleases.”