Only Hungary’s Viktor Orbán comes close to angering his Western allies like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Anyone who thought longevity in office would reduce the Turkish president’s unpredictability would have been overlooked by his military visit to NATO’s annual meeting in Vilnius this week.
Erdoğan has angered his Western allies – and Vladimir Putin – with his public support for Ukraine to join the 31-nation military alliance, saying the war-torn country “should be a member of NATO.” He quickly followed this up by adding a new, impossible challenge to Sweden’s veto on NATO membership: that the European Union begin to advance Turkey’s call for accession.
It seems that the meeting will be interrupted by what he wants in Ukraine. “No one should expect to compromise or understand me,” Erdoğan said as he left for Lithuania.
And then suddenly he pirouetted. After a long discussion, the Turkish leader shook hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden’s Ulf Kristersson. He withdrew his approval of Sweden’s membership, after putting it on hold for months because Stockholm hosted Kurdish freedom fighters who Ankara calls “terrorists.”
Even with his benevolent behavior, Erdoğan surprised everyone.
Through policy changes and U-turns, Turkey gained legitimacy, said Rich Outzen, director of the Atlantic Council, a think tank. “You have to admit that Erdoğan played his hand well in protecting Turkey’s national interests,” he said.
In fact, Russia also made mistakes. Erdoğan suddenly decided to release the government officials Azov region of Ukraine held under a prisoner exchange agreement. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, complained of a “breach” of trust. “No one informed Russia about the transfer,” Peskov complained. “He should stay in Turkey until the conflict is over.”
At first glance, Erdoğan’s behavior seems harsh and chaotic. But his character has all the signs of the Ottoman culture and the tradition of sneaking into the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, except for the largest parts. For Outzen, Erdoğan this week is doing what he always does – playing both sides, negotiating in vain to get what he wants, not just putting Sweden’s feet to the fire when it comes to Kurdish activists.
When it came to NATO expansion and Sweden’s accession, Washington and Brussels had miscalculated Erdoğan, he said. He sees him as “uniquely wicked and without good cause harassing Sweden about his accession and finally succumbing after being properly and vigorously beaten by the whites.”
But Outzen, who served at the US State Department as an adviser to the military and civilians, working in the Policy Planning Office, says this is a mistake. Erdoğan must have always wanted to let the Swedes join, as soon as they were successful.
Being a member of NATO, the world’s largest defense organization, boosts Turkey’s power, Outzen said, and they are always happy for expansion. “I think that Erdoğan was playing a game knowing that he would let Sweden in but knowing that in the upcoming meeting he could increase the visibility and receive more,” Outzen said.
New jets, please
Among the concessions was the sale of 40 American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey as well as aircraft maintenance equipment in the country’s possession.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has rejected suggestions that there was any link between Turkey and Sweden with the F-16s. But like any good researcher knows that events are rare. And US lawmakers who have been opposed to the sale of F-16s to Turkey have been under pressure in the past two weeks from Biden’s administration to tone down their opposition and step up efforts as the summit approaches.
The Turkish leader’s achievements go beyond military aircraft. Western countries are ready to lift several security and aviation sanctions imposed on Ankara from 2019, said Emre Uslu, a Turkish academic. The sanctions were in response to Turkey’s purchase of Russian military equipment and in response to Ankara’s military offensive in northern Syria.
In a NATO statement released after Erdoğan’s meeting with Stoltenberg and Kristersson, the alliance committed itself “to the principle that there should be no restrictions, barriers or sanctions on trade in security and finance between Allies. We will do our best to eliminate such obstacles.” This was a great victory for the Turkish leader.
He has been attractive for a long time Sanctions against whites in aviation and security in this country promotion for government and family reasons. “Turkey’s airline business is very important in Erdoğan’s construction of a strong military base, many of which are owned by his friends and son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar,” Uslu added.
Although the Western powers may be wise from Erdoğan’s tough measures, Moscow’s actions have also been difficult, and for the first time in front of the Russian people they have criticized Turkey for supplying Bayraktar weapons, which the Ukrainians have been using successfully. The Kremlin is said to be hoping to explain Turkey’s release of Ukrainian PoWs, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained to his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan this week about the “degradation” of Turkish weapons in Ukraine.
Erdoğan’s actions led some to question whether he was about to engage with the West. Western officials and political analysts have long questioned whether the Erdoğan-Putin relationship is sustainable. It started quickly after the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border in 2015. Some questioned whether The threat of friendship ends because of the growth of their political goals, which often have different purposes. They were on opposing sides in Syria and Libya, for example.
But Putin and Erdoğan have been able to share information in the past that threatened to undermine their alliance. Erdoğan has a trump card in his hand – he has so far refused to join the West in imposing economic sanctions on Russia. He hopes welcoming Putin in Turkey will soon discuss the expansion of the agreement to allow the export of grain from the Black Sea ports in Ukraine and should repeat his intention to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv.
According to Outzen, Erdoğan should continue to play both sides, according to Turkey’s foreign policy. “For him to decide that he is in the West now would not be good,” he said.