Turkey is falling into the Russian trap
The top 10 countries that Turkey exports to are listed as follows, according to the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM): Germany, the U.K., Italy, Spain, the United States, France, Iraq, Holland, Israel and Belgium.
While Ankara complains about the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization’s (FETÖ) “financial black boxes” in London, and condemns Italian energy giant ENI’s drilling efforts off the shores of Cyprus, the U.K., Italy and Spain continue to enjoy relatively good relations with Turkey.
However, relations are strained with the remaining seven countries on the list. The leaders of most of these countries are frequently targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while France is about to join the list of “countries to be bashed on a weekly basis.”
Ideally, your biggest trading partners should be your neighbors. Russia and Iran are Turkey’s two biggest neighbors, one to the north and one to the east. Indeed, it would not be completely wrong to suggest that with their military presence in Syria and political clout over Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran are now Turkey’s southern neighbors as well.
Neither country can be seen in the top 10 exports list, but due to their energy resources both are in the list of the top 10 countries that Turkey imports from. Russia is almost always among the top three.
The Russians often say they compensate by sending millions of tourists to Turkey. But as soon as relations went sour after the downing of the Russian plane in 2015 by the Turkish Air Forces, the flow of Russian tourists was cut off like a tap. In contrast, even when relations between Ankara and Berlin were particularly tense last year more than 3 million German tourists came to Turkey. Tourism sector representatives predict a rise in the number of from Europe in 2018, and the number of German and Russian tourists is expected to be around the same this year.
Turkey’s trade imbalance with Russia will be crowned today, April 3, with the groundbreaking ceremony for the Akkuyu nuclear plant. The plant comes with a price tag of $25 billion and, according to energy expert Mehmet Öğütçü, this figure is likely to rise further. Öğütçü also questioned whether it makes any sense to build a large new nuclear plant when the international trends now favor smaller ones at smaller costs.
But for Turkey’s rulers size matters. Money must be no consideration for a “big country” like Turkey. After all, it resonates well in public rallies to talk about having the “longest bridge,” the “biggest airport,” etc. Never mind the fact that smart countries are increasingly going for smart solutions: Smart countries are not surrounded by enemies and multiple security threats on all four corners!
But then again, smart countries also do not allow themselves to become cornered by their opponents. For Turkey, just look at the situation in Syria and how Ankara is allowing itself to fall into a trap formed by Russia, Iran and al–Assad.
Turkey has opted to weaken the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by pushing back its Syrian offshoot the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from its borders. The 2016 Euphrates Shield Operation against Al-Bab was as much about preventing Kurdish forces from establishing a land corridor between two territories they control in northern Syria as it was about targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That operation took place with the blessing of Russia but at the expense of gains by regime forces against opponents. Ultimately, Turkey could not say a word when regime-led forces backed by Russia and Iran launched offensives against territories under the control of regime opponents. This started with Aleppo, went on with Ghouta, and is now continuing with Douma.
Turkey’s military campaigns and regime offensives mean that Syrian Kurds are being distanced from the Turkish border and anti-regime fighters are leaving their last bastions for Idlib. The Moscow–Tehran-Damascus trio wants all jihadists to seek refuge near the Turkish border, which is an extremely smart move on their behalf.
Officials in Ankara are now talking about going on to Manbij and all the way to Iraqi border. While Turkey says officially that this is part of “cleansing the border of a terror organization” (the PKK), the reality is that the country will end up having other terrorist organizations stationed on its borders. There is no guarantee that these Islamist and jihadist groups will not end up hitting back at Turkey in the future.
Turkey should not fall in this trap.