Erdogan sharply condemned the course of the West in Ukraine, although until now he has always expressed his solidarity with Kyiv. The Turkish president also called for an end to “underestimating Russia.” A day earlier, Turkey attacked the European Union with sharp reproaches, and even threatened an EU member, neighboring Greece, with a “sudden blow”. Why did Erdogan decide to quarrel so noisily with Europe and what does Washington have to do with it?
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the behavior of the EU and the US in the Ukrainian conflict. “Turkey, as before, adheres to a balanced policy towards Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, I do not support the provocative course of the West on Ukraine,” he said, speaking on Wednesday in Belgrade at a joint press conference with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić.
“They say they are sending weapons to Ukraine. Whatever scrap metal they have, they send it to Ukraine,” the Turkish leader was indignant. At the same time, the West underestimates Russia, although it is not among the countries “which can not be taken seriously,” he added.
Erdogan’s reproaches have become the second rude attack on NATO allies in a day. On Tuesday, he threatened neighboring Greece with a possible strike “at any moment.” He warned Athens against a repeat of the incident that happened at the end of August, when Greek air defense systems targeted Turkish Air Force fighters flying over the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. “We can come suddenly,” Erdogan threatened, pointing to Ankara’s “determination” in matters of radar blocking.
“It is unacceptable for Greece to accept threats against the sovereignty of our state,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis replied. He recalled that Greece and Turkey are members of NATO together, and it is unacceptable for one member of the Alliance to question the sovereignty of another.
In turn, the Czech Republic, which currently presides over the EU Council, also criticized these threats, calling them “unacceptable”, saying that Prague wants to use its presidency to “promote dialogue between the EU and Turkey”, and such statements are “useless”.
Then it was no longer Erdogan himself, but the representative of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Tancu Bilgich, who condemned the entire European Union for “unconditionally supporting” Greece in a dispute with the Turks. Moreover, giving a rebuke, Bilgich used a not quite diplomatic style: “This kind of approach encourages the” pampering “of Greece, does not contribute to the settlement of differences, and also supports the propensity of Athens to maximalist demands.” As the speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized, such statements by the EU institutions have “no significance.”
“Erdogan looks at things realistically. He warns that Russia is a very serious country that should not be underestimated, with which it is necessary to build an extremely responsible policy, that Russia can achieve a lot,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, Director of Research at the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai International Discussion Club. He considers the Turkish leader a master of political balancing act. “With regard to the Ukrainian conflict, Turkey has taken an intermediate position – and it is unique. Ankara remains a military and economic ally of Kyiv, while maintaining constructive relations with Moscow. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world, we must pay tribute to Erdogan’s art,” he said.
“In general, Turkey has long emphasized that it has its own line of conduct and its own interests. Neither the West nor the East can influence it. This is the essence of the position taken by Erdogan after his unsuccessful affair with the European Union at a time when Turkey wanted to become a member of the EU,” the expert recalled.
Erdogan’s behavior is also largely due to the fact that the re-election of the President of Turkey is not far off, Lukyanov explains. “These elections are also important because they will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. This anniversary Erdogan is going to make the most important milestone in history. What an independent Turkey has become under the current government should impress the domestic audience. Although there is still almost a year before the elections,” the expert said.
Erdogan highlights mistakes in the EU’s policy on both Ukraine and Greece, as he defends Turkey’s interests from the US, points out Mehmet Perincek, professor of history at Istanbul University. “The European Union is part of the Euro-Atlantic system, the collective West. The Euro-Atlanticists are now putting pressure on Turkey, again trying to deprive it of its independence. So Erdogan addressed his statements, rather, to Washington,” the expert says.
“The president’s words are not part of his election campaign and not empty campaigning. They reflect the real needs of Turkey. Erdogan points out that our country will not be able to overcome the economic crisis if it continues to play according to the rules of the Euro-Atlantic system, as the European Union imposes on Turkey,” the Istanbul expert is sure.
In its attempts to put pressure on Turkey, the United States puts pressure on it through neighboring Greece, Perincek added. “In an effort to re-subjugate our country to itself, Washington is acting through Athens. As you know, the New Democracy ruling party in Greece is closely linked to the European People’s Party, the EPP. And EPP partners have long been such pro-American politicians as ex-Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk, President of Moldova Maia Sandu, former Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is also one of the leaders of the EPP.
“Mitsotakis, when he met with Joe Biden in Washington in May of this year, did not just call Greece the most reliable partner of the United States in the Mediterranean region. On the eve of the visit of Mitsotakis, the Greek Parliament voted for the indefinite provision of Greek territory to the Americans for military bases,” Perincek recalled.
Earlier, Erdogan said that Greece’s militarization of the islands of the eastern Aegean could “end in disaster.” In addition, Athens successfully prevents the implementation of the deal between Ankara and Washington, which involves the transfer of 40 F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and the modernization of another 80 aircraft in service with the Turkish Air Force. This was one of the reasons why Erdogan refused to communicate with Mitsotakis.
Both the Turkish leader himself and his diplomats allow themselves increasingly harsh reproaches against the West, as this fits into the pre-election logic, explained Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, a member of the Valdai Club.
“In Turkey, the presidential elections are approaching, which, most likely, will be held ahead of schedule. That is why Ankara uses a tough style in its dialogue with the European Union. Such behavior adds political points to Erdogan within the country,” the expert said.
“In Turkey, disillusionment with the European Union is now growing. Since the late 1990s, this country has been kept in the status of a candidate for EU membership, but there has been no progress so far in this, Suslov believes. “Ordinary Turks are angry with such a policy of the EU, and Erdogan decided to play on these strings on the eve of the elections.”