Turkey emerging from pandemic with more assertive foreign policy - analyst

Turkey is inching toward its 2023 centennial by unique pandemic-driven medical diplomacy, coupled with an assertive foreign policy complete with military interventions and challenges to the legal order in the Eastern Mediterranean, wrote Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

The policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which included a heightened repression during the COVID-19 outbreak at home, military assertiveness in Libya and Syria, as well as challenging the Eastern Mediterranean status quo by redefining maritime boundaries, are sure to create increasing difficulties for Turkey’s partners, said Pierini, a former European Union ambassador to Ankara. 

Turkey has provided medical aid to scores of countries, including European and African nations and the United States, in what analysts have called an effort to improve ties with NATO and European nations that have soured over an array of issues.

Last month, Erdoğan called for a revitalisation of Turkey’s EU bid, which has stagnated for years largely due to concerns for his government’s many recorded human rights violations and shortcomings in rule of law.

Meanwhile, at home, “Erdoğan has pressed ahead with repression”, with the government clamping down further on political opposition figures and dissenters, such as officials from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party and the main opposition Republican People’s Party, lawyers and journalists, the article said.

Pierini stated that the ongoing incarcerations of figures such as journalist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala were “only because they are seen as opposing the president”.

On the global stage, Turkey is projecting more military might in Libya, Qatar, Somalia, and Syria, in a bid to exert power beyond former Ottoman territory, he wrote.

Turkey maintains a military presence in Syria, where it has launched three military operations to date targeting Kurdish forces along the war-torn country’s northern region.

In Libya, Ankara backs the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which has used increased Turkish military support to rack up a number of victories on the ground against its rival, the Libyan National Army, in recent weeks.

Moreover, a deal signed between Turkey and Libya’s GNA is challenging the Eastern Mediterranean status qup both “by redefining maritime boundaries through a deal with Libya’s Government of National Accord and by conducting gas drilling operations in contested areas off Cyprus,” Pierini wrote.

The deal establishes a new Turkish-Libyan economic zone, ignoring the territorial waters around the divided island of Cyprus and number of Greek islands while bolstering Ankara’s claims over gas-rich areas of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Overall, Ankara is “angling for a return to prominence in its neighbourhood”, Pierini said, and is unlikely to alter its policies for the sake of mending ties with the European Union.