Turkish foreign policy: between changes and uncertainties
For some months now, Turkey seems to have marked a step change to its foreign policy. Following the changes marked by the Al-Ula summit in January and the presence of a new tenant in the White House, Ankara and its president seem to have opted for a reorganisation of its own position regarding various dossiers, with some conspicuous exceptions. The Anatolian power seems to be committing to a new diplomatic effort with some ancient rivals, while embarking on new adventures to elevate its international position.
Let's see the latest initiatives carried out by Turkey and the possible future developments in its international action.
The resumption of the dialogue?
While experiencing a difficult time, between economic crisis and regional isolation, Turkey has seized the thawing of relations between the members of the Gulf Security Council and its ally Qatar to imprint a change of course in the relations with some regional actors. For months, indeed, the Turkish position towards Saudi Arabia has become more dialoguing, in an attempt to increase cooperation and overcome the conflicts of the last decade. Behind this diplomatic initiative, which is intended to improve relations with Riyadh, there is probably also the intention to weaken the understanding between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, the Anatolian power's main regional rival. Similarly, Ankara is trying to bring Egypt of General Al-Sisi, previously considered bitter rival for the deposition of Erdogan's former ally, Mohamed Morsi. Since the fall of the democratically elected Egyptian leader, Turkey has assumed the role of sanctuary for Egyptian dissidents of the Muslim Brotherhood who once supported the deposed leader. Over the past few years, Turkey's revisionist attitude has further widened the distances with Cairo, which has forged deep ties with Greece and Cyprus, regarded by Ankara nearly as structural rivals. To overcome the resistance of the Egyptian regime and demonstrate its goodwill, Ankara is reviewing its relations with Egyptian dissidents and proposed an agreement on the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones.
Regarding relations with the American ally, the most tense moments of the very first months of Biden's presidency have certainly faded, but some issues remain unsolved. Among them, the issue regarding the defense system bought by the Russians and considered by the allies incompatible with the military structures of the Atlantic Alliance. However, at the conclusion of the last NATO summit, the Turkish president supported, together with President, Macron the withdrawal of mercenary troops from Libya. The withdrawal of the foreign proxies, including thousands of Jihadists paid by Ankara, is critical to the completion of the transition process that should culminate with elections set for December.
In addition, the Turkish President's intention to initiate the construction of the Istanbul Canal could be seen as an attempt at reconciliation in Washington. The new section would not be subject to the agreements of Montreaux, and this break of the status quo is lived with concern in Moscow.
New impulses and old uncertainties
While trying to cool tensions with some allies and some of the ancient rivals, Ankara pursues the project of expanding its influence along the multiple geographical directions of its international action.
The incendiary reaction of the Turkish president on the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas did not go unnoticed. As the clashes continued, Erdogan harshly criticised Israel's actions and exploited the conflict to set himself up as the defender of Muslims and the Palestinian cause, inviting co-religionists to react strongly. Several oceanic demonstrations occurred in front of the Israeli embassy.
It was a recent statement by the Turkish president that once again disturbed the tranquility of the waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara seems to be about to establish a base for its own military drones, the Bayraktar TB2, in the northern part of Cyprus - in which long ago Ankara established a puppet state.
In addition, in the wake of the gradual American demobilisation from Afghanistan, Ankara is trying to find its place as a regional power broker in the heart of Asia. Turkey is proposing itself as a stabilising and mediating element in the Central Asian country, wishing to maintain control of Kabul airport, but without wanting to send further military units. Also to try to maintain its influence in the Afghan arena, it wants to deepen the already excellent relations with Pakistan, also in anti-Iranian function. The two countries currently share a radical leadership, and more and more often both leaders set themselves up as the defenders of the ummah, trying to expand their influence through religious soft power. As evidence of the good relations with Islamabad, there are recent joint military aviation exercises of the two countries. In this context, we can notice the participation of Qatar and Azerbaijan, two solid allies of the Anatolian country.
A further component of the Turkish Eurasian projection strategy is the new military base that Ankara would like to establish in Azerbaijan. Should the project see the light, it would be the first base of a NATO country on the soil of a country belonging to the defunct Soviet Union.
Translated by Roberta Sforza