Most tangible results of the Berlin Conference seem to be entangling the Eastern Mediterranean question further with the Libyan War and aggravating the already ever deepening crisis between Turkey and Greece.
On a more positive note, even if the warring parties of the Libyan War, commanders Khalifa Haftar, and Fayez al-Sarraj, could not withstand breathing the air of the same room; Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi managed to tolerate even sharing the same table. That’s a far cry from last autumn, when it was reported in Turkish media on September 26 that Erdogan has rejected an offer to join a meal with the US President Donald Trump upon seeing Al-Sisi seated at the table.
While the Greek-Turkish relations are facing new lows, Turkey may be stepping away from its stubborn stance over not just Egypt, but also Syria. In talks mediated by Russia, Ali Mamlouk, special security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reportedly met with Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan at Moscow on January 13.
Founding Managing Director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) and Hürriyet Daily News columnist Güven Sak pointed out that Israel and Turkey relations are returning on track-at the economic and social level for the time being. But diplomacy and politics may follow the lead. Sak wrote in his column “Israelis are back in Turkey after a lost decade”:
“The architect of Turkey’s Libya policy, Admiral Cihat Yaycı, actually suggested that Turkey extend the same deal it made with Libya to Israel. Anyone who thinks about Turkish strategy in rational terms always comes to the same conclusion: Cut deals with the major market economy and preeminent military power in the region.”
In order to get serious and tangible results in Libya and Syria, Ankara does need to engage in dialogue with Assad, Al Sisi for sure, and render Israel less of an adversary if not rekindle the old alliance. But still Turkey and Israel have a lot to overcome before embarking on diplomatic rapprochement: the Times of Israel recently reported that the counterintelligence unit of the country’s armed forces has included Turkey for the first time in a list of countries considered to be a “threat to the security of Israel”.
55 article “bandage”
The wide-ranging, 55 article agreement coming out from the Berlin Conference on Sunday for the sake of respecting the U.N. arms embargo and ceasing of military support to Libya's warring factions is like bandage on a blood flowing wound. If the rival sides do not agree to a lasting cease-fire, status quo of war will just continue, and “arms embargo” will just remain as lip service.
In fact, Ankara was de facto delegated with the same task of “neutralizing” the dissent of Islamist factions in Idlib. But if “exporting” the mercenaries from Idlib to Libya, luring them with the promises of higher wages and Turkish passports, was Ankara’s “win win strategy”, then Berlin Conference’s “UN backed arms and military aid embargo” may just crush this target.
As main objective of any foreign policy move of populist governments is consolidating the local electoral base, whatever the result is in Libya, it will be marketed as a success in Turkey. Even giving the impression of being “a mover and shaker” in world politics, standing tall together with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin; looking down upon France’s President Emmanuel Macron are very marketable “photo-ops” to the local audiences.
Creating new conflicts on the road to end one?
As aforementioned, one of the most tangible outcomes of the Berlin Conference turned out to be worsening Greek and Turkey relations. Already the Eastern Mediterranean question was the elephant in the room in relations between two countries; now the state of crisis has become permanent and “East Med” issue is right in middle of everything.
Troubles with Greece will lead to worsening of already dreadful relations between Turkey and the European Union institutions, too. Germany did not add any positive highlights to its already negative image in Greece either by leaving Athens out.
If Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (accused by some in Ankara with plotting the 15 July 2016 coup attempt) could be at the same table with Turkey; why not Greece really?
Greece evidently feels cornered and rushes into new military alliances and investments to be able overcome anxieties stemming from tensions with Turkey. One of the alliances is with Riyadh, in a pact apparently crafted to unnerve Ankara: Athens and Riyadh have reportedly agreed on the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles of the Hellenic Air Force in Saudi Arabia.
Structurally, Turkey and Greece relations are swept back to the early 1990s, and even 1980s when let alone political adversary, open hostility and animosity was running amok.
Meanwhile, Turkey is back to three-four decades ago in all fronts as far Europe is concerned: the recent report titled “Journalists Safety and Media Freedom” by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called “Turkey to end its abuse of criminal laws and laws on terror to silence media and journalists”. The report is so déjà vu that it could have been written in the 1990s. It is noteworthy that the Council of Europe represents all 47 countries of Europe, not just the EU. Under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, member states have “an obligation to establish a sound legal framework for journalists and other media professionals to work safely”.
Hence, the PACE report is signal of Turkey’s problems with the Council of Europe beyond those with the EU itself; and its institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights.
Over the weekend of January 18-19, it was reported in the German media that the Instrument for Pre-Accession Funds (IPA) to Turkey will be cut down by 75 percent due to the Eastern Mediterranean Crisis. Although the EU Foreign Relations and Security Policies Office denied the reports with a written statement on January 20, the issue of EU sanctions to Turkey still up in the air and may be in the cards in 2020. And Berlin Conference certainly did not help to clear the air in the Aegean and Mediterranean by adding to already existing tensions; adding fuel to the fire.