Huffington Post Greece – June 29, 2018
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections was clear months before, despite all the figures projected by western media about the decline in popularity. We should, however, stick to the outcome of the parliamentary elections in which the ruling AKP party won only 42.6% of the votes, much lower than the previous elections where it won 49.5%. This is an indication that the economic climate and especially the fall of the Turkish lira has influenced the opinion of a section of the Turkish people. Some may say that this reduction will not affect the power of the Turkish President, but reality confirms the opposite. The current presidential system stipulates that the President has no right to pass or change a law without the approval of the parliament. It also has no right to declare a state of emergency or to stop it without the support of the parliament. All this will be clear in the future.
Turkey is currently at the threshold of critical regional and international developments. I will analyze below the most important obstacles and where things can be driven.
The Syrian crisis is predominant. Turkey’s long hand in Syria will be faced with a difficult test of finding a definitive solution to the future of the Kurdish militias in the region, as well as the future of the Syrian crisis in general. The deal on Manbij, which began to take place a few days before the elections, does not satisfy the Turks. It was a compromise with the Americans. However, the situation in Manbij is simple in the face of the complexity of the existence of Kurdish militias in the provinces of Raqqa, Hassakah and Qamishli in the east of the Euphrates. Separating these armed groups from the local Kurdish population is very difficult or impossible. The Americans will not show the same softness for the eastern part of the Euphrates as in Manbij. Thus, Turkey is faced with only two choices: the first is to accept the existence of these paramilitary groups to the east of the Euphrates and to ask for Arab border guards between them and the Turkish territory, and the second is to take military action against them without the US approval, a move that could bring disastrous results.
As far as Iraq is concerned, the reports coming from the north confirm that the military operations of the Turkish army have been able to enter 40 kilometers deep within the Erbil province. The military support of the Iranian army accelerated the progress of this operation, which will certainly have boundaries. It is not possible for Turkey to go further because this means that it will occupy the whole city of Erbil. As a result, this military operation, in one way or another, will stop on the American red line and, in my view, will not effectively affect the presence of the PKK militia in the region.
The German Chancellor Merkel’s invitation to Erdoğan a week before the election to visit Berlin next month is a confirmation that Europe knew the inevitability of his victory. Lately, we have seen a lull in relations between Turkey and the European Union. Europe has actively supported the Turkish army’s “Olive Branch” operation against the Kurdish paramilitary groups in the Afrin region and has given Turkey one and a half billion euros a few days before the elections as part of its agreement for support in the refugee crisis. This support, which came at a time when the Turkish pound is oscillating, is a clear example of the European desire to open a new page with Erdoğan. Despite the Turkish government’s decision to cancel the agreement with Greece on refugees, the figures confirm a significant reduction in flows to Greek territory, a positive move on the part of the Erdoğan party government to Greece. It is certain that the issue of Turkish soldiers who have asked asylum in Greece will be at the top of the files of the next Turkish government, and Greece should expect a tough reaction by rejecting Turkey’s request for extradition, so the Greek officers being detained in Adrianople will inevitably be used as another means of pressure.
Finally, what I personally noticed in Erdoğan’s speeches during his election campaign is that he did not make any reference to the Lausanne agreement and the Greek islands, which I consider positive for the future of bilateral relations.
Washington and Moscow
The agreement for the purchase of the S-400 system by Turkey is still under dispute with Washington. The US is not entirely satisfied with this agreement, which is seen as a threat to the unity of the NATO countries’ systems. Washington continues to try, through ongoing talks with Turkish officials, to postpone the delivery of the system and reopen the agreement on the Patriot system purchase. In my view, the first F-35 given to Turkey was in the context of Washington’s attempt to ease tensions with Ankara, without this meaning that there will be no further deterioration of relations between the two countries in the future.
Yes, Erdoğan with great political skill has managed to pull the rope from both sides into many international crises. He managed to strengthen Ankara’s relations with Moscow while taking what he wants from Washington. He was able to overcome the pressure of media and EU governments and to impose himself as a reality, which they had to support. He was finally able to impose Turkish views and interests regionally. But that does not mean that things will remain the same. Those who wanted to overthrow him in the summer of 2016 still want it in the summer of 2018.