From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017 (Kremlin)

Ten years ago, Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was all the rage. I went so far as to predict Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister at the time, could be remembered as the architect of Turkey’s return to preeminence in the Middle East.

Miguel Nunes Silva saw things more clearly, writing for the Atlantic Sentinel in 2012 that Turkey’s policy of antagonizing its allies and befriending its rivals merited little praise.

Turkish appeasement of Bashar Assad and Muammar Gaddafi meant little when those dictators turned their guns on their own people. Turkish appeasement of Iran was rewarded by unwavering Iranian support for Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Assad in Syria, two strongmen Turkey opposed.

Silva also recognized the on-again, off-again nature of Turkish diplomacy with Russia, which has only grown worse. Turkey and Russia back opposite sides in the Syrian War. Turkey even shot down a Russian attack aircraft near its border in 2015. Yet Turkey has also bought missile defense systems from Russia and is helping Russia build a natural gas pipeline into Europe that circumvents Ukraine. Both decisions were strongly opposed by Turkey’s nominal NATO allies. The United States kicked Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

To form, Turkey has also allowed the construction of a competing European pipeline from Azerbaijan to Greece. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still — somehow — convinced his American counterpart, Donald Trump, to withdraw from Syria, clearing the way for him to invade and attack the Kurds.

Trump’s memory may be short. He responded with sanctions on Turkish officials and tariffs on steel, which he respectively lifted and halved only a week later. But not everyone is so forgiving. Turkey’s tendency to play all sides, far from giving it more freedom in foreign policy, has hamstrung its diplomacy. It now has to use force to get its way. Read more “From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends”

Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya

Vladimir Putin Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey meet in Saint Petersburg, August 9, 2016 (Kremlin)

Days after sending military aid to prop up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has done a deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to halt the fighting in Libya.

Russian mercenaries fight on the side of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls the bulk of the country, including its oil industry.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also support Haftar, who has reportedly received Chinese-made drones and Russian-made air defenses from the UAE.

The Arab states see Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist influences, including the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the Tripoli government. Egypt’s generals overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in their country with the backing of most Arab monarchs in 2013.

It is unclear what, if any, effect the Erdoğan-Putin deal will have. Artillery and missile strikes were reported on the outskirts of Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday. The promised ceasefire could be a test of Turkey’s and Russia’s influence on their proxies in Libya. Read more “Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya”

Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East

Jens Stoltenberg Donald Trump
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and American president Donald Trump answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, April 12, 2017 (NATO)

American president Donald Trump has called on NATO to get more involved in the Middle East.

Speaking a day after Iran retaliated for the assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq by attacking American military bases in the country, Trump pointed out that the United States are no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

He didn’t elaborate, but I can think of at least four problems with the idea. Read more “Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East”

Soleimani Assassination Divorced from Strategy

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump answers questions from reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 18, 2019 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The killing of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani in Iraq could turn out to be a brilliant gamble that in the long term stabilizes the greater Middle East.

More likely, it will be a major political and strategic problem for the region and the United States broadly speaking within the context of renewed great-power competition, particularly with respect to Sino-American competition. Read more “Soleimani Assassination Divorced from Strategy”

The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained

Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016
Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016 (TAP)

After four years of construction, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) has started pumping gas into Europe.

TANAP is part of Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor, connecting the South Caucasus Pipeline (completed) with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (still under construction). It aims to transport natural gas from Azerbaijan all the way through to Italy, where it flows into the European market.

Once the system is fully operational, it should be able to pipe 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas into Europe per year. Read more “The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained”

China-Russia Gas Pipeline Should Concentrate Minds in Brussels

The Power of Siberia natural gas pipeline in Russia's Far East
The Power of Siberia natural gas pipeline in Russia’s Far East (Gazprom)

Russia has started piping gas to China through a new pipeline, called Power of Siberia. After five years of construction, it will be able to send up to 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China per year.

The pipeline marks a reorientation of Russian energy policy away from the European market, which should give European policymakers some concern. Read more “China-Russia Gas Pipeline Should Concentrate Minds in Brussels”

Europe Needs to Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Moldova

Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova's Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People's Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017
Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova’s Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People’s Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017 (EPP)

After five months in power, Maia Sandu’s pro-European government in Moldova has collapsed. President Igor Dodon, whose sympathies are with Russia, has appointed Ion Chicu, a Euroskeptic, as interim prime minister.

The situation worries Moldovans — but it should also worry the EU. Read more “Europe Needs to Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Moldova”

Trump’s Withdrawal from Syria Is a Disaster

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017 (Turkish Presidency)

The calamity of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from northern Syria is hard to overstate.

Serbia Should Break with Russia

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin attends negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, February 11, 2015 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine)

Russia and Serbia share a rich history of religious tradition and support. Russia has stood by what it considers its little brother for centuries and it continues to do so today. Just last week, Serbia received ten armored patrol vehicles from Russia. Thirty T-72B3 tanks are underway.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić has thanked Vladimir Putin for beefing up the Serbian military, but he should be wary of the implications. If Serbia wants to join the EU, it must avoid playing with fire. Read more “Serbia Should Break with Russia”

Different Player, Same Game

Presidents Andrzej Duda of Poland and Donald Trump of the United States answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, June 12
Presidents Andrzej Duda of Poland and Donald Trump of the United States answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, June 12 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump has not exactly shied away from advocating for better American relations with Russia. During his presidential campaign, he argued that “Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other toward defeating terrorism and restoring world peace.” He has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and accepted his denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But even Trump’s Russophilia is no match for geopolitical reality. Read more “Different Player, Same Game”