Erdoğan pushes confrontational, reckless ambitions for Turkey - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken on increasingly confrontational, reckless and overambitious geopolitical moves for Turkey, as if reversing former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt’s “talk softly and carry a big stick” policy for diplomacy, analyst Andrew Leonard wrote for Eurasia Review on Saturday.

Turkey has become alienated from its neighbours as it pushed for more challenges to territorial waters in the Mediterranean, disavowed international law with its deals with Libya, and courted “unsavory non-state actors,” Leonard said, while rebuking its long-term allies in the West. “These ill-advised initiatives have left it with fewer strategic partners and a growing number of geopolitical adversaries,” he added.

Ankara has stood strongly behind Azerbaijan in its recently flared-up conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, and allegedly transported Syrian mercenaries to help its ally. The country denies doing so, but confirmatory reports have emerged on the ground after journalists interviewed Syrian fighters and their families.

Russia, the main power broker in the region, which also has a security pact with Armenia, brokered a ceasefire last week, but both Azerbaijan and Armenia have accused each other of violating the terms. Turkish officials have repeatedly said that the only path to peace would be for Armenia to completely withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and other disputed territories internationally recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan.

This position “highlights Turkey’s intransigent stance on the conflict,” Leonard said. “Bewildering as it may sound, deconfliction through heightened hostilities appears to be Ankara’s modus operandi at large.”

Turkish-Greek relations have also plummeted over Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean, and the European Union has been considering imposing sanctions on Turkey for violating the territorial rights of member states Greece and Cyprus. The U.S. State Department has also come out urging Turkey to “end this calculated provocation.”

The country’s involvement in Libya stems from several issues: Turkish companies have construction contracts in the war-torn north African country that may fail if the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) is overrun by rival forces led by General Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey is also interested in Libya’s significant energy resources and recently signed a maritime deal with the GNA in a bid to strengthen its hand in negotiations with Greece.

Although Turkey succeeded in turning the tide in the Libyan conflict by providing military support to the GNA, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France, and Egypt back Haftar, and Turkey “cannot compete against the combined forces of the four aforementioned militaries in a protracted conflict,” the analyst said.

Turkey has “failed to secure a 20-mile buffer zone” in Syria’s Idlib, “due largely to Russia’s backing of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA),” he continued. Turkey’s armed forces and the militias it supports in Syria have managed to drive Kurdish groups away from the southern border, but the prospect of another wave of Syrian refugees seeking to enter the country remains.

Turkey continues to fall out further with the United States and NATO, which opposed its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems and continue to oppose the system’s activation. As long-standing allies of the Turkish republic, they say the S-400 poses a security risk to NATO, particularly the U.S.-developed F-35 stealth fighter.

“Ultimately, Turkey must decide where its loyalties lie, because its NATO membership may eventually be at stake,” Leonard said. 

Ankara has entrusted securing its strategic goals to foreign mercenaries and jihadis, he said, but involvement in overseas conflict has “yielded little in terms of substantive geopolitical gains.”

Turkey must scale back its polarising policies to “salvage its legitimacy,” and realise its foreign policies are not sustainable, he said.