November 17, 2018

Turkey–an unavoidable player in the Middle East

By Corneliu Pivariu.

On July 9th, 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated his second mandate which marked, at the same time, turning the parliamentary system, in place since almost 100 years, into one where the political power is more concentrated at the presidency level.

The change takes place under the circumstances of the complex developments in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, as well as within the geopolitical global context of great powers’ repositioning, of their shifting spheres of influence and the acerbic economic competition for energy sources and markets. We will see how beneficial this context will be for Turkey’s political and economic developments in the coming years.

The developments of the international situation, too, will represent a challenge for the team the president Erdogan has at his disposal and where the loyalty to the president is considered an at least as important factor as it is the competence if not even more important, given the circumstances. Turkish foreign policy should find the best solution between the anti-Western fluctuations and the neo-Ottoman dream of regional hegemony on the one hand, and the need of better relations with the European Union and the United States, on the other hand. These relations are, for the time being, extremely important when the economic growth begun to dwindle and foreign investments are not at the wished for level, something that could have an undesirable impact for the current Turkish leadership at the next local elections in March, 2019.

The situation got more complicated following the hike in inflation and, on August the 1st, the Turkish Lira decreased to under 5Liras for 1US dollar. Moreover, the 10th of August President Donald Trump’s announcement on doubling the tariffs for Turkish exports of steel (+50%) and aluminum (+20%), triggered a new devaluation of Turkish Lira by about 25% while a slight recovery was registered lately (Note also the Qatar financial aid for 15 billion $).

Having in mind Turkey’s economic integration in the world’s economy that lead to deepening its dependency on the latter especially as Turkey has no important energy resources and depends on imports, president Erdogan announced, on August the 3rd a 100 days program and appealed to all citizens to release” the foreign currencies and the gold kept under the pillow” and turn their savings into Turkish Liras, an appeal that did not seem to have the expected effects.

On the other hand, Erdogan said that Turkey will not accept being dependent on the West and will change its focus on the Chinese market for loans (including the issuance of Yuan government bonds), without explaining why the Chinese would treat Turkey differently from the European or American lenders. Moreover, president Trump’s decision of increasing the custom duties on steel and aluminum was assessed by the Turkish president as an economic war and addressed a message to his American counterpart: “At a time when Evil continues to haunt around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the USA, our ally of decades, would do nothing but harm the USA’s interests and security”. President Erdogan added: “if this current of unilateralism and lack of respect is not reversed, we will have to look for new friends and allies”, and said that president Trump would do well to seriously consider this “before it is too late”.

President Trump himself acknowledged that the USA-Turkey relations are not in good shape currently. In all likelihood, he will wait some time in order to adapt and reconsider his position towards this important ally which cannot be circumvented in case of finding a solution in the Middle East and in other geopolitical issues. And now here on this background, the Caspian Sea Treaty, which has been negotiated for decades, was abruptly signed, offering Russia a relevant position in this area. Russia took expediently the opportunity and Serghei Lavrov, the Foreign Affairs Minister, declared that in the near future a four-countries summit (Turkey, Russia, Germany, France) on Syria will take place in Ankara with other countries invited, too, including international organizations (UN, OSCE, etc.). Turkish sources say the summit could take place on 7th of September.

The significances of these developments are complex and indicate that Germany and France could return to more important positions in the Middle East, wishing to invest in the major joint Russia-Turkey projects. It would be possible that a new Middle East emerges where Turkey keeps an unavoidable place.

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About the author:

Corneliu Pivariu, former first deputy for military intelligence (two stars general) in the Romanian MoD, retired 2003. Member of IISS – London, alumni of Harvard – Kennedy School Executive Education and others international organizations. Founder of INGEPO Consulting, and bimonthly Bulletin, Geostrategic Pulse”. Main areas of expertise – geopolitics, intelligence and security.

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Corneliu Pivariu, Ingepo Consulting / Photographer Ionus Paraschiv

 

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