ANALYSIS – Significance of Turkiye in a new era
What the current crisis is proving is the necessity of Turkiye’s well-functioning relations with all neighbors
Türkiye seems to have entered a new and peculiar phase of regional policy based on extensive soft power and public diplomacy. A trend emerged strongly in the most recent international dispute between Russia and Ukraine, but it had already begun to take its course before.
The dialogue and normalization processes initiated with historical regional competitors, such as Armenia, Israel, Egypt and some Gulf Countries, will be read in this frame. On the other hand, the mediation efforts in the Ukrainian war serves as a glue to enforce the relations with Western partners.
The essential need for dialogue
In the Russia-Ukraine dispute, the intention to become a key player in the mediation between the parties for the proclamation of the ceasefire is part of the traditional Turkish approach of protecting national interests while balancing the ties with partners. Although Turkiye is a NATO member and an EU candidate, its main efforts are aimed at defending its neutrality and playing a key mediating role. In other words, in a time when the almost forgotten Cold War logic are revitalized, Ankara has emerged as a balancing actor.
Ankara’s geographical location, as well as its interests in Moscow and Kyiv, are all factors to consider when understanding the reasons for the country’s decision to maintain “pro-Ukraine” neutrality. By firmly expressing full compliance with international constraints, Turkiye has explicitly reported to the Montreux Convention on the regulation of the Straits. The Convention, signed in 1936, regulates not only the passage of ships in the Bosporus but also the size and duration of stay in the Black Sea of non-coastal countries’ warships. In this context, the transit across the Black Sea to some unregistered Russian warships has been recently denied. The full solidarity to Kyiv has also been expressed within the UN, with the firm condemnation of Russian military actions. However, given Turkey’s abstention in the vote on Russia’s suspension from the Council of Europe, which was driven by the desire to keep the conversation with Moscow open, there is some moderation at the European level.
It followed the opposition to the application of economic sanctions and the closure of Turkish airspace against Russia. Despite the fact that preserving open dialogue is a key criterion in every negotiation or peacebuilding process, the most recent dynamics indicate the West making a clear choice of the field: Since the outbreak of hostilities, the US and the EU have tried to put economic pressure on Moscow favoring the sanctions over a search of dialogue.
Thanks to its good relations with both warring countries, Turkiye has proposed itself as a point of contact and guarantor of the negotiations. Many and assiduous efforts are made to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis, hence the continuous telephone contacts at all levels with Western partners and with the parties involved. The proclamation of the ceasefire is the primary objective, and in this light, the first mediation at a high level was formally launched on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, followed by the most recent trip of Minister Cavusoglu to Moscow and Kyiv. After all, the stability of the neighborhood is an essential condition for Ankara, which has various strategic interests in the Black Sea. The Black Sea has historically been the scene of a fierce rivalry between Turkiye and Russia, as well as the defense of certain significant cultural and identity characteristics. Thus, preserving the regional order which arose after the Cold War and protecting its interests is Ankara’s main guideline in the Black Sea.
Pivoting on regional stability
Although the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 created new tensions, Ankara has pledged to limit any upheaval of the regional order, aligning itself very attentively to the policies of its partners. Actually, recently the main threat to Turkish regional interests have been represented by the US, with whom Ankara has experienced many crises of confidence. Ankara has naturally chosen Russia as a strategic counterweight to the US containment, despite the fact that there were different thoughts and positions on numerous dossiers. However, in Syria, Libya and most recently in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia and Turkiye have shown strategic realism by cementing ad hoc alignments. Eventually, once peace prevails, Turkiye will find itself within a new order made upon a recent revival of the iron curtain.
During the Cold War, Ankara’s importance as a containment bulwark against NATO’s southeastern threats had grown. Nowadays, along with the solid diplomatic zeal with continuous contacts with its Western counterparts and major Eastern players, there are margins to believe that Turkiye will gain back the role of valuable interlocutor to the West. The second phone call between Biden and Erdogan occurred just after the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. Hence, it suggests important compromises and a certain willingness to go beyond the frictions of the past.
As a coordinated action for the resolution of the ongoing war is a shared goal with the West, the recent visits of Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and of German Chancellor Scholz, along with to the historical meeting with Israeli President Herzog and the diplomatic traffic in Antalya, proves Ankara’s key role. The West has many concerns, including the differentiation of its energy supply, an issue where Turkiye has a stake as a corridor crossed by the TANAP and Turk Stream pipelines. In terms of credibility, Ankara is gaining back a certain amount of trust, as it was also shown during the most recent Turkey-EU high-level parliamentary meeting held for the first time after three years.
In other words, what the current crisis is proving is the necessity of Turkiye’s well-functioning relations with all neighbors. Although an incredible frustration remains over several dossiers, including the EU accession, the expulsion from the F-35 project and the purchase of Russia’s S-400 defense system, a new awareness is arising. While Europe is undergoing a complicated transformation that will finally result in a new design, Turkiye remains an important part of the Western defense and stability architecture.
Dr. Valeria Giannotta
“The writer is an Italian academic expert on Political Science and International relations. She is the scientific director of Observatory in Turkiye by CeSPI”