The “Tug-of-War” for Turkey in the New Cold War
A “tug-of-war” for Turkey is taking place after the US-led strikes on Syria.
Macron alleged that the strikes had “separated” Russia and Turkey because of President Erdogan’s support for them, though the Mideast leader held a phone conversation with President Putin soon thereafter where the two sides agreed to “intensify bilateral cooperation…in Syria”. Furthermore, Turkey reiterated earlier this week that “[its] Syria policy isn’t to stand with or against any country” and that it “will take joint actions both with the United States, and with Russia and Iran” so long as this course of action advances its national policy. This “balancing” approach confirms that President Erdogan is the consummate geopolitical “opportunist” and that he’s masterfully playing his role on the Neo-Realist “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” as best as he can in order to promote his and his country’s interests, and it also signals his intent to lead what can only be described as a new Non-Aligned Movement (Neo-NAM) in the New Cold War.
In pursuit of maintaining this so-called “middle ground”, President Erdogan has rhetorically oscillated between the West and Russia in order to provoke the unipolar and multipolar “blocs” to compete with one another for Turkey’s loyalty, which is pivotal for geostrategic and civilizational reasons, and thereby offer his country the “best deal” in the emerging world order. That’s why Turkey welcomed the strikes because they align with its existing policy of public hostility against the democratically elected and legitimate Syrian government, but also why it didn’t allow the US-led forces to use the Incirlik base for carrying them out. To reference the clichéd saying, “actions speak louder than words”, and in this case Turkey is signaling that its support for the West is only limited to words because the underlying Kurdish basis of their ever-growing strategic divergence hasn’t been addressed nor looks likely to be anytime soon.
On the other hand, the fast-moving Russian-Turkish rapprochement is proceeding along without a hitch, as the two Great Powers have overcome their historic rivalry with one another in order to enter into a new paradigm of win-win relations. Energy ties are fantastic with Russia constructing Turkey’s first-ever nuclear power plant and both parties cooperating on the Turkish/Balkan Stream megaproject to Europe. Not only that, but Russia passively supported Turkey’s controversial “Operation Olive Branch” and its “Operation Euphrates Shield” predecessor, while the Syrian “de-escalation zone” in Idlib is – whether deliberately or inadvertently – de-facto functioning as a Turkish “sphere of influence” with Russia’s implicit “acceptance”. Furthermore, President Erdogan will never forget how President Putin supposedly saved his life by warning him of the failed summer 2016 pro-American coup attempt right before some of the plotter’s bombers planned to strike his residence and assassinate him.
For these reasons, the momentum in this New Cold War “tug-of-war” over Turkey is clearly on the side of Russian-led multipolarity when one looks at Ankara’s actions instead of its rhetoric, but the West could conceivably change that if it had the political will to “betray” the Kurds and Trump ended up extraditing Gulen. Neither of these two game-changing moves are expected to happen though, and if anything, the US and its allies might even be preparing to exploit Greece as a Hybrid War proxy against Turkey in the coming future, a scenario that President Erdogan is keenly aware of and which might explain why his support of the West in this instance has only been limited to words and didn’t cross the threshold into action by allowing them to use the Incirlik base for their bombing run.