Turkey’s allies, old and new

Turkey’s allies, old and new

French President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with a delegation from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and his promise to support Kurds in northern Syria caused a furor in Turkey last week.

Ankara views any deal with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) or the SDF as an offense because it defines the PYD as a terrorist organization and says Turkey’s allies should acknowledge Ankara’s sensitivities on the issue. What’s more, Turkey has recently been engaged in a military operation in Syria’s Afrin against the PYD and has vowed to extend its operations west of the Euphrates if necessary.

Although the U.S. response to Turkey’s plans is still unclear and it speculated that France may replace the U.S. in the region, it is most likely that Turkey will confront both allies over northern Syrian Kurdish enclaves west of the Euphrates if it does indeed extend its military operations. Unlike some international relations experts, I do not think that France is trying to replace the U.S. in Syria, or that France and the U.S. have very different opinions on the question. Rather, I think the main issue is Turkey’s shift of policy from the Western alliance to alliance with Russia. The Afrin operation has been carried out with Russian approval and Turkey seems to be satisfied with Russian support so far. However, Turkey’s steady drift away from NATO and the Western alliance in general is more in the interests of Moscow than Ankara.

Another foreign policy crisis has been overshadowed by the tension between France and Turkey: In a secret operation Turkish intelligence officers brought six Gülenist suspects from Kosovo to Turkey on March 29. The move resulted in the firing of Kosovo’s interior minister and intelligence chief, with the Kosovan prime minister saying Ankara had not informed him about the operation.

Apart from problems with the legality of such missions, the incident is yet another case exposing Turkey’s foreign policy shifts. When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Turkey was among first countries to recognize that controversial international act as legitimate.
At the time Russia perceived it as a major irritant and defined as illegitimate. Now it seems that the Kosovan government is not as close to Turkey as before, as Kosovans are complaining about the recent secret operation. It is also worth noting here that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently called for an easing of tension between Kosovo and Serbia over the detention of a Serbian politician in Kosovo, at a time when it seems that Turkey’s relations with Serbia are warmer than ever.

As for secret operations and foreign missions by intelligence services, unfortunately no country’s record – including those of Western democracies - is clean enough to justify preaching to others. Nevertheless, Turkey’s new intelligence offensive, which is in tune with its new ambitious but shaky foreign policy, may well lead the country into serious trouble. As a historian as well as a political scientist, Turkey’s new approach to international relations and intelligence policy reminds me of the troubled final years of the Ottoman Empire under the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks). God forbid any more resemblances.

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