Erdoğan using politics of disruption to secure place in world order - Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is a strategy priority for him, Reuters said in a report on Wednesday.

Turkey favours disruptions of the status quo in regional politics, as it sees the previous status quo to be counter to its interests, Robert Bosch Academy fellow Galip Dalay told Reuters.

For Erdoğan, Turkey’s military interventions on foreign soil are a strategic flex of muscles to retain support at home, Reuters said.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has continued since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and in the decades since the region has remained an official part of Azerbaijan while an ethnic Armenian majority have held control in the enclave.

“Turkey wants to undermine this,” Dalay said, “even if it cannot fully determine it,” as Russia has traditionally had influence in the region.

Russia maintains good relations with both sides in the conflict, and Turkey is betting on maintaining its relations with Russia despite taking a definitive side in it.

Turkey’s investment in armed drone technologies, implemented by Baykar Defence, which is owned by Erdoğan’s in-laws, has given it confidence in warfare in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Azerbaijan’s army also has Bayraktar drones in its arsenal, and they have been used extensively in the current conflict.

An unnamed senior official in Ankara told Reuters that Turkey provided infrastructure and support for the drones, but was not involved on the ground.

Turkish officials, including Erdoğan himself, have expressed support for Azerbaijan’s point of view, where it says the conflict could end if the Armenian occupation ends. Erdoğan believes the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk group, which spearheads efforts for a peaceful resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh, has neglected the crisis, and is not suitable to lead peacemaking efforts. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has criticised the group’s neutral stance on the conflict, again expressing support for Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s opposition generally agrees with the government on the matter, with main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also identifying Armenia as an occupying force.

Erdoğan’s government has benefited from Turkey’s involvement in military conflicts abroad, appeasing nationalist groups it is allied with, Reuters said, despite the fallout from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the continued depreciation of the economy and Turkey’s currency. Reuters cited a study by leading Turkish pollster Metropoll, saying Erdoğan’s approval rating rose by five percent in the last month following a standoff with the European Union over territorial rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

While “ultimately it’s the economy that determines the political contest,” think tank Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies’ (EDAM) chairman Sinan Ülgen told Reuters, “all of these conflicts out there boost the perception that Turkey is a country under siege, rightly or wrongly.”

Ratings agency Moody’s has warned of a balance-of-payments crisis for Turkey. The lira has lost nearly 25 percent of its value in 2020.

Turkey’s military budget has increased by nearly 90 percent in the last decade, as defence spending reached $7 billion, Reuters said, while the country’s reliance on Azeri gas imports rose by 23 percent in the first half of 2020.

Turkey “cannot think or act small,” with regards to defence spending, Reuters cited another Turkish official as saying. “It’s not preferable but it’s obligatory. Turkey is in the field with the United States and Russia.”

The country is working to fill a power gap in the region as the United States under President Donald Trump have moved to gradually withdraw. Turkish diplomatic efforts continue to contain the conflict in Syria’s northern Idlib province, where Turkey-backed rebels are in control, and Libya, where the country has helped turned the tide in favour of the U.N. -recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Turkey has been accused of sending Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh to aid Azerbaijan, but Ankara has denied them. Syrian mercenaries are said to be involved in the Libyan conflict as well.