How Biden could change Turkey’s ties with Greece, EU

How Biden could change Turkey’s ties with Greece, EU

The result of the American elections, which brought the Democrats back to the global political stage is expected to impact the geopolitical balances between Turkey and its neighbors, as well as Turkey and Europe.

For some, like the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, the re-election of Trump was almost certain. But the result proved him and several others wrong. Ankara, although at obvious ease with the Trump administration, kept a cautious approach to gauge the new balances. Greece is in two minds. It is undecided whether the new Biden era would contribute to de-escalating the tension with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, which brought the two countries to a near collision last summer.

Hostility between the two countries has climbed dramatically since last November after Turkey signed a Maritime Boundary agreement with the Government of National Accord in Libya (GNA), thus establishing an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in an area, which Greece considered its own. Since then, Turkey has launched a program of underwater energy research in areas in the eastern Mediterranean that are considered “disputed” by the U.S. and the EU but claimed by Greece based on “international law.”

A diplomatic initiative by Germany, the current president of the EU to mediate between Greece and Turkey, failed while a parallel process by NATO for a military dialogue between the two countries has not produced any concrete results either. Turkish research and drilling vessels continued to sail in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean close to Greek islands and off the island of Cyprus.

Back in the summer, Greece and Greek Cypriots embarked on a diplomatic race to persuade their EU partners to impose “sanctions that hurt” against Turkey. During the EU leaders summit back in October, they were sure that they had secured such an agreement so that Turkey abstains from unilateral actions against Greece in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We have a toolbox that we can apply immediately,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels. A deadline for December was set for such sanctions to be applied if Turkey misbehaved. It was understood that such a list of harsh sanctions was already prepared.

But between October and December, there stood the American presidential election in November. Trump was defeated whereby Biden emerged as a winner.

On a first reading of the results, a Biden presidency with a non-isolationist, pro-globalization, pro-EU, pro-NATO and more internationalist approach, could be expected to act in a stricter manner towards Turkey. At any rate, not long ago, Ankara showed its unhappiness over some harsh comments made by Joe Biden some time ago.

Yet, Erdogan in his congratulating message to Biden chose to underline his “determination to work closely with the U.S. administration in the coming period” adding that “the challenges we face today at the global and regional level require us to further develop and strengthen these relations based on common interests and values.”

If Trump would have been “good news” for Erdogan, would Biden be “bad news for the Turkish president” as several commentators rushed to conclude? Not so sure.

Actually, we have the first signs to the opposite.

Only three days ago, Michael Carpenter, a key foreign policy advisor to Biden, stated clearly that the new U.S. administration “does not intend to push Turkey into a corner” by imposing sanctions. “We don’t want to be slapping sanctions on Turkey and seeking to create some sort of economic collapse or consequences that cause the regime to further rely on aggressive tactics and bellicose rhetoric,” said Carpenter, adding that the Biden administration will go to build closer ties with the EU.

Regarding Turkey and NATO, Carpenter underlined that it would be up to Turkey to return to the arms of NATO, provided that it forgets the activation of the S-400 project.

“I do think and I am hopeful that when President Erdoğan sees a united front, [presumably EU, NATO and the U.S.] that suggests that there is room for cooperation, but also that there are very negative consequences to pursuing a more aggressive policy, then he will have to rethink,” said Carpenter during a video conference organized in Greece which was also attended by the American ambassador in Athens.

Interestingly, though, during the last few days, tension with Greece was again on the rise. Turkey issued a new Navtex for the continuation of survey activities of its Oruç Reis vessel south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo through Nov. 23 (the current Navtex expires on Nov. 14). And yesterday, the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, referring to the bilateral agreement signed by Greece and Egypt on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions,” made Turkey’s position crystal clear. “We could not stay indifferent to the moves of Greece and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean, so we too, have taken the necessary measures to protect our country’s rights and interests.”

Carpenter’s statement indicates that a now united front of the U.S. and Europe will try to tackle problems with Turkey adopting a new “softer” approach at which sanctions or punitive alternatives may still be present but as a last option after long negotiations. Perhaps we may have to forget the EU deadline of December. And perhaps that is the reason behind the rising temperature in our seas.