It’s not that Erdogan has a scheme to head east at the West’s expense. It’s just that the world’s grandest infrastructure, development, and geopolitical projects are all in the East today. The collective West was dying to bury him – yet another strategic mistake that did not take into account the mood of Turkish voters in deep Anatolia.
In the end, Recep Tayyip Erdogan did it – again. Against all his shortcomings, like an ageing neo-Ottoman Sinatra, he did it “my way,” comfortably retaining Turkiye’s presidency after naysayers had all but buried him. The first order of geopolitical priority is who will be named Minister of Foreign Affairs. The prime candidate is Ibrahim Kalin – the current all-powerful Erdogan press secretary cum top adviser.
Compared to incumbent Cavusoglu, Kalin, in theory, may be qualified as more pro-west. Yet it’s the Sultan who calls the shots. It will be fascinating to watch how Turkiye under Erdogan 2.0 will navigate the strengthening of ties with West Asia and the accelerating process of Eurasia integration.
The first immediate priority, from Erdogan’s point of view, is to get rid of the “terrorist corridor” in Syria. This means, in practice, reigning in the US-backed Kurdish YPG/PYD, who are effectively Syrian affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – which is also the issue at the heart of a possible normalization of relations with Damascus.
Now that Syria has been enthusiastically welcomed back to the Arab League after a 12-year freeze, a Moscow-brokered entente between the Turkish and Syrian presidents, already in progress, may represent the ultimate win-win for Erdogan: allowing control of Kurds in north Syria while facilitating the repatriation of roughly 4 million refugees (tens of thousands will stay, as a source of cheap labour).
The Sultan is at his prime when it comes to hedging his bets between East and West. He knows well how to profit from Turkiye’s status as a key NATO member – complete with one of its largest armies, veto power, and control of the entry to the uber-strategic Black Sea. And all that while exercising real foreign policy independence, from West Asia to the Eastern Mediterranean.
So expect Erdogan 2.0 to remain an inextinguishable source of irritation for the neocons and neoliberals in charge of US foreign policy, along with their EU vassals, who will never refrain from trying to subdue Ankara to fight the Russia-China-Iran Eurasia integration entente. The Sultan, though, knows how to play this game beautifully.
Whatever happens next, Erdogan will not hop on board the sanctions-against-Russia sinking ship. The Kremlin bought Turkish bonds tied to the development of the Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power plant, Turkiye’s first nuclear reactor. Moscow allowed Ankara to postpone nearly $4 billion in energy payments until 2024. Best of all, Ankara pays for Russian gas in rubles.
So an array of deals related to the supply of Russian energy trump possible secondary sanctions that might target the steady rise in Turkiye’s exports. Still, it’s a given the US will revert to its one and only “diplomatic” policy – sanctions. The 2018 sanctions did push Turkiye into recession after all.
But Erdogan can easily count on popular support across the Turkish realm. Early this year, a Gezici poll revealed that 72.8 per cent of Turkish citizens privilege good relations with Russia while nearly 90 per cent rate the US as a “hostile” nation. That’s what allows Interior Minister Soylu to remark, bluntly, “We will wipe out whoever is causing trouble, including American troops.”