Atlantic Council: Turkey caught in a geopolitical jam
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has been caught in a geopolitical jam, trying to balance its ties with both sides, said the Atlantic Council, an American think tank focusing on international affairs.
The think tank asked several of his fellows how long Turkey can continue to play both sides in this delicate act and published their opinions in its blog. Here are some excerpts:
Rich Outzen, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council In Turkey program:
“We can measure the Turkish balancing act along three dimensions: helping Ukraine avoid defeat, avoiding open conflict with Russia while demonstrating solidarity with the West, and increasing Ankara’s regional diplomatic weight. On all three, the Turks have performed reasonably well. (...) As the grain-corridor deal shows, Turkey’s influential—if complicated—role in this war makes it likely that it will also play an influential role in whatever peace follows.”
For [Erdogan], the Ukraine war is inextricably linked to the war in Syria
“For [Erdogan], the Ukraine war is inextricably linked to the war in Syria, because he needs Moscow’s tolerance of the safe zone in northeastern Syria that preserves the anti-Bashar al-Assad opposition and offers hope of resettling some of the four million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.”
“Turkey will avoid picking a side (…) Ukrainian defeat and dismemberment would be an unmitigated disaster for Turkey, but a defeated and potentially unstable Russia would negatively impact Turkish interests in Syria and the Caucasus, as well as its economy. (...) The formulation of supporting Ukraine militarily and politically, but remaining engaged with Russia economically and diplomatically, is an effective hedge.”
Yevgeniya Gaber, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Turkey:
“Ankara has capitalized on its relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, first by offering its mediation services, and then by using its constructive role in the conflict to get a certain “immunity” from the West to develop trade and economic relations with Russian-sanctioned businesses while also militarily supporting Ukraine.”
“Domestically, less than a year ahead of presidential elections, Erdogan’s desire to stabilize the economic situation and financial markets, Turkey’s dependence on Russian gas, the Russian state-owned atomic agency’s work on the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) project, and increasingly anti-American public sentiment make cooperation with Russia a must.”
“Ankara will try to maintain its relations with all sides, but on different levels: political, diplomatic, and limited military support for Ukraine; a certain level of engagement with NATO, while trying to prevent its allies from getting directly involved in the region (for instance, by avoiding NATO ships in the Black Sea); and cooperation in the trade, economic, energy, and tourism spheres with Russia.”
Ultimately, $35 billion of trade turnover with Russia versus $178 billion with the European Union says it all.
“In the short term, cooperation with Russia might seem beneficial. The relocation to Turkey of Russian businesses hit by Western sanctions, Russia’s transfer of billions of dollars toward the Akkuyu NPP, and its introduction of the “Mir” card system in Turkish banks may look like an easy influx of cash and investment without any conditionality. But in the long run, the costs of such deals will largely exceed whatever limited gains they might bring. Turkey’s role in helping Russia bypass Western sanctions is likely to backfire, potentially resulting in the West introducing sanctions against Turkey itself. (Ultimately, $35 billion of trade turnover with Russia versus $178 billion with the European Union says it all.) (...) The balance sheet for Turkey is obvious.”
Brenda Shaffer, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Global Energy Center:
“Ankara is preparing its gas-supply infrastructure to transit additional gas from Azerbaijan to Europe in both the short and medium terms. Turkey is able to transit more gas (instead of stocking up on supplies) because it prepared its energy market much better than most European states through multiple gas suppliers, extensive storage, and even new gas discoveries through continued exploration of its territorial waters.”
Ankara has a long history of promoting its security interests vis-à-vis its neighbors without joining the rhetorical rituals that can escalate conflict.
“On the one hand, the bordering states, such as Turkey, want to keep Moscow’s expansions in check, since their own security is directly threatened by Moscow’s invasions of Russia’s neighboring states. On the other hand, Russia has many tools in its toolbox to undermine and disrupt the security of neighboring states, which is why its neighbors need to identify a policy to check the expansion while not increasing conflict with Russia.”
“Turkey will benefit most from a situation where security and trade is restored in the Black Sea region, while at the same time Ukraine retains as much as its territory as possible (especially the coastal cities). Ankara has a long history of promoting its security interests vis-à-vis its neighbors without joining the rhetorical rituals that can escalate conflict. We see this in its relations with several neighbors, including Iran and Iraq.”