Erdoğan: A ship that could continue sailing in a sea of contradictions

Erdoğan: A ship that could continue sailing in a sea of contradictions

The coalition that supported President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was victorious in the presidential elections in Türkiye (Turkey) held on Sunday, May 28. Although Erdoğan’s victory in this second round was expected, the broad support his coalition received in the parliamentary elections that accompanied the first round on May 14 came as a surprise.

The presidential system established in the country’s constitution after the referendum held in April 2017, guarantees that the head of state has a strong force for the leadership and control of the country. However a parliament with an opposition majority could have played a counterweight role to the presidential authority. However, that result did not occur.

In foreign policy, Erdoğan will continue his management of the “balance” between the West and its institutions on the one hand, and Russia, China and theirs, on the other. His goal is to profit from these contradictions.

In any case, a close analysis should consider that in his new term, the Turkish president will face a critical economic situation marked by a large deficit in the trade balance and a debt that, although not very high, will be affected by the enormous needs of the population. The country’s risk rate is very high, which, together with the aforementioned trade deficit, produces an effect that could generate a tsunami in the economy. We should add to this that calculations made by experts have determined that 108 billion dollars are needed to restore the disaster caused by the earthquake on February 6 of this year.

Likewise, during the electoral campaign, Erdoğan and his coalition spent large sums of money that must be replaced as soon as possible. All this puts the re-elected Turkish president under pressure because he will necessarily have to resort to seeking support abroad. The United States and Europe will take advantage of this situation to force him to make concessions on various issues, but above all in relation to the conflict in Ukraine in which Erdoğan has maintained an apparent neutrality.

Similarly, NATO may put pressure on Türkiye to take a firmer position on Russia’s use of the passage through the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits that connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean and over which the country has full sovereignty. The West will even try to make Ankara violate the 1936 Montreux convention that also grants Russia full rights for the transit of its civilian ships as it is a country bordering the Black Sea. In this way, an attempt will be made to affect and/or prevent Russian trade through this important maritime route.

On the other hand, the actions of Erdoğan government officials to support Muslim Tatars in Crimea, one of whose organizations, the Noman Çelebicihan battalion, has been declared a terrorist organization by Russia, are likely to increase. The United States is interested in seeing Erdoğan play a more relevant role in this area because it simultaneously fulfills two objectives: generating conflict within Crimea and weakening Russia’s relationship with Türkiye.

Another issue that Erdoğan will have to resolve if he wants to win favor with the West is making a final decision regarding his veto on Sweden’s NATO membership. Most likely, he will end up accepting it in exchange for some consideration that is yet to be determined.

Regarding the conflict in Syria, Türkiye has maintained its participation in the quadripartite mechanism sponsored by Russia and of which Iran is also a part. The United States has not expressed total objection to this negotiation, it would aspire to participate even indirectly to manage it according to its interests. Washington would be interested in Ankara putting pressure on Damascus for constitutional reform leading to a transitional government and new elections. In this sense, the United States wants Türkiye to do the job for it. It remains to be seen if Erdoğan accepts this role or limits himself to seeking his own objectives in this negotiation, which are related to confronting the “Kurdish problem” considered to be of transcendent importance in his political objectives.

For the Turkish president, the handling of contradictions is present in the day-to-day of his administration. Its ideology is aimed at rebuilding Great Türkiye, that is, a power that exercises great regional influence and that forces the powers to consider it a leading actor in decision-making in Asia and in the world. This could lead him to disagreements with China given his support for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Uyghur organization that operates in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and is considered terrorist by Beijing. The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim ethnic group with close ties to Türkiye.

It is a real dilemma to know how President Erdoğan will handle himself in the future within this framework of contradictions that configures Türkiye’s international political identity, but it is likely that he will aim to persevere in what has been the practice of his work up to now. On the one hand, a member of NATO together with the United States and the United Kingdom, and on the other, a “dialogue partner” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) together with China and Russia. It has recently applied to join the BRICS group in contravention of Washington’s desire to keep it under its control. Likewise, it is the only NATO country that has relations with Afghanistan and an embassy in Kabul.

Until now Erdoğan has been able to overcome all this incompatibilities, even successfully acting as a mediator with the UN to achieve the grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine that allowed the export of cereals, vital food products whose lack could increase the levels of poverty and famine in various parts of the planet, particularly in Africa. On the other hand, it is a safe exporter of arms to Ukraine, having a leading role in sending drones to Kyiv. It will be necessary to observe if its capacity for “miraculous balance” can be sustained over time. Given the great implications that this has, the world will be very aware of its “performance”.

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
A Venezuelan international relations expert, Gelfenstein was previously Director of the International Relations of the Presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his country’s ambassador to Nicaragua and an advisor for international politics for TELESUR. He has written numerous books, among them “China in the XXI Century – the awakening of a giant”, published in several Latin American countries. You can follow him on Twitter: @sergioro0701

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May 2024