Erdoğan hopes for domestic political gains by risking U.S., EU sanctions - analysis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aims to boost his decreasing popularity in Turkey by taking the risk of sanctions from Washington and Brussels over his strongman policies in defence procurement and the eastern Mediterranean, the U.S. geopolitical intelligence publisher Stratfor said on Wednesday. 

In local polls this year, Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control of five of Turkey’s six most populous cities, including Istanbul and Ankara. By taking a combative foreign policy stance, the president is trying to shore up domestic political support as he struggles to recover from the surprising defeat in local elections, Stratfor said. 

“With Erdogan's political popularity in danger, he has apparently made the calculation that his need to solidify support among his political base by pursuing strongman policies in the Eastern Mediterranean, with the United States and at home is worth the economic risks,” the institution said. 

Turkey has recently been facing potential sanctions from two fronts. Washington plans to expel Turkey from F-35 jet fighter programme and impose further sanctions over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems. 

Erdoğan has not reneged on plans to acquire the Russian systems, despite the pressure of its allies, which say S-400s can access sensitive information on F-35 stealth fighters.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey is at odds with Cyprus and Greece over the potentially rich hydrocarbon reserves in the region. At the moment, two Turkish drillships, accompanied by navy vessels, are anchored in areas around Cyprus, where they are exploring for hydrocarbons in defiance on their neighbours and the European Union. 

The EU plans to impose sanctions on Turkey over the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and this week discussed suspending some $150 million in EU funding earmarked to pave the way for Turkey’s accession bid, suspending some European Investment Bank programs in Turkey and canceling high-profile meetings between EU and Turkish officials.  

Last year, the United States imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish metals due to a diplomatic row over the almost two-year detention of an American pastor in Turkey. The lira hit record lows following the decision. Potential sanctions over the S-400 purchase are expected to cause even larger damage to Turkey’s ailing economy and its defence sector.

The European Union is Turkey's most important trade partner, and Ankara values maintaining productive economic ties with the bloc, Stratfor said. Turkey’s EU accession bid is also crucial for Ankara to draw foreign investment to the country.