Deliberating the sanctions on Turkey, the EU Council on Dec. 10-11, punted towards the incoming Biden administration. The Council also instructed High Commissioner Borrell to study alternative scripts for the future of Turkey and the EU relations other than full membership, in a blatant and unfortunate violation of the “pacta sunt servanda” principle.
Biden took over the presidency on Jan. 20, Like Netanyahu, President Erdoğan also had only a cold shoulder untill today. Secretary of State Blinken and his Turkish counterpart Çavuşoğlu were at long and last expected to have a phone conversation today. On the theoretical backbone of the bilateral relations the military front, there were no news either: The defence secretaries Austin and Akar did not talk.
The only belated communication happened between National Security Advisor Sullivan and his Turkish counterpart Kalın. According to Kalın’s account he would have enumerated three problematic areas between the two countries: U.S. support to YPG (hence to PKK), Fethullah Gülen’s presence and organization on the U.S. soil and the sanctions related to the acquisition of S-400 air defence system from Russia.
Kalın says (via the official Anadolu Agency) that even on the YPG issue there is room for manoeuvre as the two countries’ positions are more or less aligned against the Bashar Al Assad regime. Akar on his part declared that, referring to South Cyprus’ procurement and mothballing its’ S-300s in Crete to a “Cretan” solution for Turkey’s S-400s.
U.S. senators called on President Biden to keep Turkey more accountable on human rights issues -and by throwing Gülen’s propaganda tool NBA player Kanter into the mix they committed a grave error. White House and the State Department, issued statements concerning Boğaziçi University and Osman Kavala.
In return, Erdoğan made clear his exasperation and his frustration by letting steam off towards both Macron and Mitsotakis almost simultaneously. With the former letters were exchanged, common ground was found to start to talk again. Macron criticizing Erdoğan at an Atlantic Council event let Erdoğan to believe that he was being cheated and publicly humiliated.
With Greece, the sixty-first round of exploratory diplomatic talks were held in Istanbul. Yet Mitsotakis’ self-confident behaviour and Greece holding meetings, cutting side deals with its Mediterranean partners like Israel, UAE, Egypt etc were perceived by Erdoğan that again he was being short shirfted. His ire was more directed actually towards those in his inner circle who convinced him to adopt a softer stance.
It became clear that there were no low hanging prestige fruits to fall on Erdoğan’s lap. The direct line to Biden against S-400 give and take did not materialize. Actually, S-400s were altogether rejected as a starter. U.S. administration appears to be decided to keep those off the menu. That in turn brings us back to square one.
With a bungled military operation on Gara Mountain, shortage of adequate COVID-19 vaccination, the economy going from bad to worse Erdoğan rolls out a space program and offers to change the constitution –meaning a probable referendum will precede the elections officially to be held in 2023. Also to note as a curiosity that, for one reason or the other, he leaves Berlin and Tel Aviv embassies vacant for the time being.
The political survival of Erdoğan is translated as a life or death struggle of Turkey against the West. Voicing concerns about basic liberties equals treason. The main opposition block is in tatters as they appear to buy the dominant narrative as not the government’s but the state’s foreign policy. Counterterrorism argument is weaponized to muzzle the society. The media is effectively owned by lackeys.
The final prognostic then? Hard to tell. But most of “action” happens in the narrative sphere. The real action is limited to military forays in northern Iraq as if hardliners push forward within the last remaining window of opportunity. Much depends on Biden administration’s diplomatic tact. Internal tension will increase as Turkey searches for its soul towards the hundredth year of its republic.