President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no peacemaker. He looks for regional vulnerabilities in the form of feuding entities and instead of behaving like a statesman offering mediation he escalates the violence by picking a side.
Turkey on Erdogan’s watch has emerged as a regional predator that punches way above its weight due to its usefulness to NATO and its weaponization of up to four million refugees that the president threatens to unleash on EU states should they attempt to interfere in his dealings.
Libya, which he flooded with many thousands of Syrian mercenaries in return for the establishment of bases to train militias and a potentially lucrative maritime demarcation deal, is a case in point.
The deal has not been ratified by the Libyan Parliament as mandated by the constitution and is considered to have violated international laws and norms. It may be that the surprise decision taken by the head of the UN-backed Islamist-dominated Libyan Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj to resign could render agreements with Ankara null and void.
Clearly Erdogan isn’t a man who allows international law or the clamour of condemnation from Turkey’s neighbours to prevent him getting what he wants—and he is determined to grab a piece of the Mediterranean energy pie currently shared by Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel, all members of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum.
He has ridden roughshod over warnings from Greece, Cyprus and the EU that his provocative gunboat diplomacy in the oil-and-gas Aegean Sea that encroaches upon the territorial integrity of Greece will be met with sanctions.
An unnamed Turkish official said “If the EU applies sanctions this will not deter us. On the contrary this would increase our resolve.” In the meantime, Erdogan has expressed his wish for dialogue and Athens has agreed to resume exploratory talks that ceased in 2016.
But the Turkish would-be neo-sultan isn’t content with slaughtering and displacing Kurds in northern Syria, many of whom stood shoulder-to-shoulder with US troops battling Daesh. His fighters have committed war crimes away from the media spotlight that is firmly fixed on the US elections and COVID-19.
Yet he gets away with hiring terrorists to occupy Syrian territory because he appears to be President Trump’s favourite world leader, plus he has reached some kind of accommodation with President Putin based on mutual interests such as trade and the Turkstream gas pipeline set to deliver Russian gas to Europe via Turkey.
Leaping into the Azerbaijani-Armenian fray
Now the Turkish president has leapt into the Azerbaijani-Armenian fray — a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Naturally he has taken the side of Baku given that Turkish-Armenian relations have always been fraught.
Fierce fighting and drone attacks have led to the deaths of over 200 including civilians and could escalate into an all-out war. Once again Turkey has tipped the balance, this time in Azerbaijan’s favour. One can only speculate what favours Ankara expects to receive in return.
Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, has revealed that Turkish military personnel are stationed at command posts and are directing Azerbaijan’s military operations.
Without doubt Turkey has blotted its copybook when it comes to its once coveted EU membership. President Emmanuel Macron is one of Erdogan’s most fierce critics and would certainly block any such suggestion.
But NATO has taken a different tack. Instead of taking the moral high ground, NATO’s chief marshall and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Sir Stuart Peach, recently praised Turkey’s role within NATO and “its essential contributions to NATO operations and activities. He went on to bless Turkey’s operations in Syria, saying no other ally has suffered more from terrorist attacks”.
So, in effect, as long as Donald Trump is in the White House and NATO places the importance of retaining the second largest military as well as the Incirlik Air Base where US tactical nuclear weapons are stored above the principles upon which the organisation was founded, President Erdogan will listen to volleys of condemnations but without meaningful repercussions will always have the last laugh.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.