Turkey’s Erdogan oscillates between East and West

The Turkish Erdogan commutes between East and West

The Turkish Erdogan commutes between East and West
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been away from Turkey twice in a row in the past few days. One of them was his participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The other was his attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Turkey’s interest in the activities of the SCO was first formulated as a joke in 2012. Erdogan, in order to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, told him: “Allow Turkey as a member of the SCO and we will revise our relations with the EU.” Erdogan’s words actually reflected Turkey’s weariness at slow progress on theirs EU accession process. Then the joke turned into a serious proposal.
Turkey officially applied to participate in the activities of the SCO and was invited to join the organization as a dialogue partner. After this move, there was a flurry of criticism and comment as to whether Turkey should have any ties with such an organization. Erdogan said: “Inevitably, we may look for other ways since the EU has not let us in for 52 years. The EU may ask why Erdogan is going to Shanghai, why he met the SCO leaders. Of course I meet. I don’t think I owe the EU an explanation.”
There will likely be supporters and opponents of Turkey’s full membership of the SCO, but it is only natural for Ankara to work with the world’s most populous countries, such as China and India. In addition, Turkey maintains ethnic and cultural ties with Turkic countries in Central Asia, such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There is also a strong Turkish community in Xinjiang Province in China.
Turkey’s geostrategic position allows it to control Russia’s access to the “warm seas”. Erdogan and Putin are the two heads of state who meet most frequently. Despite this, Turkey does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and considers its invasion of Ukraine illegal. In addition, it played a crucial role in unblocking the supply of Ukrainian grain to world markets.
Turkey is a country that has interests of its own both in the transatlantic community and in Asian countries. It borders two Middle Eastern countries in deep crisis, Syria and Iraq. A change of sides by such a country would have serious repercussions on the balance of power between West and East.
The second visit Erdogan made was to New York for his participation in the UNGA. While almost all world leaders were in London for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral earlier last week, Erdogan was one of the most notable absentees. He probably declined the invitation because he did not want to follow the advice of the British authorities to avoid private planes.

Turkey is a country that has interests of its own both in the transatlantic community and in Asian countries.

Yasar Yakis

His main reason for traveling to New York was actually to try and hold a private showcase meeting with US President Joe Biden. There were no meetings planned in either Biden’s program or Erdogan’s, but the latter reiterated his hopes of holding even a brief private meeting with the president to brush up his image ahead of next year’s elections in Turkey. There was no such meeting.
Erdogan’s disillusionment was heightened when Greek authorities proudly announced that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had held a cordial meeting with President Biden. Turkey must have gotten the message that if the US has to choose between Turkey and Greece, they will choose Greece.
Erdogan met Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons to persuade them to sell Turkey 40 F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits. After his meeting with the senators, Erdogan said his interlocutors used positive language on the F-16 issue. That’s despite Graham tweeting in 2019, “Good decision by President (Trump) to work with Congress to impose crippling sanctions on Turkey.” The profitable defense industry may have made Graham change his mind.
There are other congressmen who oppose such a sale and are keen to put conditions on the use of these planes to prevent them from being used in circumstances not sanctioned by the US, such as against Kurdish terrorists in Turkey and Iraq and Syria. In response, Turkey asks why it should buy defense equipment that it cannot fully utilize. In a way, the US would limit a NATO ally’s defense capabilities.
Erdogan’s visit was over-publicized in the pro-government media, but hiding disillusionment doesn’t change the reality.

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Yasar Yakis is Turkey’s former foreign minister and a founding member of the ruling AKP.
Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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