Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Turkey’s neo-Ottomanism is a dangerous phenomenon making the country’s foreign policy confusing, provocative and fraught with dangerous implications.
Moscow believes that «neo-Ottoman» mindset influences Turkey’s foreign policy. Lavrov was referring to the country’s historical predecessor – the Ottoman Empire. Turkey continues to talk about «safe zones» and a «Plan B» for Syria, which reveals its «expansionist aspirations», Lavrov noted. He said it was not Syria only. Ankara still maintains a military presence in Iraq despite the fact that the Iraqi government never authorized Turkish forces to cross the country’s border and has repeatedly demanded that they leave. Turkey appears motivated to «extend its influence and expand its territory», the Minister explained. For instance, the Turkish Air Force had violated Greek airspace 1,800 times last year while NATO was remaining tight-lipped. «This kind of explicitly expansionist behavior can bring no positive results», the Russian FM stressed.
The West prefers to turn a blind eye on Turkey’s risky foreign policy ventures. It views Turkey as an ally. Western leaders say the country’s political system has checks and balances to prevent radicalization and islamization of the country. In reality, the things are quite different.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been removed from power. Now there is no counterweight to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan anymore. The division of powers has become a thing of the past. The situation is fraught with escalation of tensions in Crimea, the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Erdogan and his inner circle are aggressive and unpredictable. The foreign policy is influenced by neo-Ottomanism and the foreign policy doctrine outlined in Ahmet Davutoglu’s several writings, most important of which is his book «Strategic Depth». He argues that Turkey possesses «strategic depth» due to its history and geographic position and lists Turkey among a small group of countries which he calls «central powers». Turkey should not be content with a regional role in the Balkans or the Middle East, because it is not a regional but a central power. Hence, it should aspire to play a leading role in several regions, which could award it with global strategic significance. There are several factors that make this policy doomed.
First – Turkey’s influence in the Muslim world has been considerably reduced while Russia’s clout in the region has grown. Turkish Birgün writes that Erdogan may still believe that he is the political leader of the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the threats to national security have made Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia sign multi-billion contracts to purchase Russian arms. Emboldened by Russia’s support of Syria, the leaders of these countries have become frequent visitors to Moscow. Birgün editors believe that Moscow is turning into a centre of gravity. It can offer more than the United States or the West in general. With rich experience accumulated, Russia knows well how to counter the jihadist threat and exchange information on terrorists with the states involved in the fight against it. Despite all the predictions, Russia’s participation in the fight against Syrian Salafi groups has not sparked the feeling of indignation among the Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa. Russia has become a global power. Threatened from outside, Muslim countries are inclined to develop military cooperation with it.
Second – Turkey’s plans in Syria have been stymied. The adopted concept of «zero problems with neighbors» showed opposite results than expected. Turkey has failed to make Syrian President Bashar Assad step down. The Kurdish formations are gaining ground in the northern part of Syria. The Russian Aerospace Forces have delivered a severe blow to illegal oil shipments and the groups involved in this criminal business.
As sources report, the defeat suffered by Turkey and the Islamic State in Syria was the decisive factor to make Prime Minister Davutoglu step down. President Erdogan blamed him for the foreign policy failures.
French Slate.fr believes that Turkey is nearing a civil war while President Erdogan continues to implement its aggressive adventurist foreign policy.
Bayram Balci, an independent researcher affiliated with the Paris Institute of Political Studies (CERI Sciences Po), says, Turkey’s regional policy is in doldrums. The very complexity of the situation in the region and the Syrian crisis have clearly demonstrated Erdogan’s propensity for hubris and authoritarianism, something he had displayed before but to a lesser extent. Mr Balci believes Erdogan has failed in his fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Islamic State, the «parallel state» – a transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish New York-based Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan cannot contain Russia’s influence in the region, no matter how hard he tries.
Third – The tensions are rising in the Caucasus, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan lacks power to win. Russia and Armenia get closer collaborating within the framework of Collective Security Treaty Organization and on bilateral basis. Yerevan’s readiness to recognize under certain conditions Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state makes Ankara face a «Karabakh dead-end». There is no way out looming at the horizon.
Fourth – There are no breakthroughs Turkey could brag about when it comes to the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia. These countries continue to interact with Russia. They want to boost relations with China. Despite all the attempts to increase Turkish investments into energy and telecommunications sectors of Kazakhstan, Turkey accounts for only 1-2 percent of the country’s foreign trade. The country is only the fourth largest foreign trade partner of Uzbekistan. In case of Kyrgyzstan’s exports, Turkey lags behind even the war-torn Afghanistan.
Fifth factor – Turkey’s relationship with the West, especially with the United States, is going through a crisis. For a long time, Turkey has been viewed as a reliable partner and a mediator in the Middle East. Ankara’s foreign policy has exacerbated the relationship with Muslim states. They started to look at Turkey as an instrument of US Greater Middle East policy. Balancing between Washington, Arab states and Israel cannot continue forever. The Guardian believes that the Turkish plans have gone up in smoke with the Syrian crisis capping the climax.
Erdogan, penned in on all sides, has directed his wrath at the US for its support of Syrian Kurds.
All these factors, as well as Erdogan’s desire to get rid of rivals on the Turkish political landscape, could make the Turkish leadership raise the stakes. It will affect all directions of his foreign policy to destabilize the situation in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle and Near East.