Saturday, April 1, 2023

Explainer: what Turkey’s Erdogan could gain in NATO debate

ANKARA, Turkey ( Associated Press) — Within a span of two weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked fellow coalition member Greece and announced a new incursion plan, breaking Sweden and Finland’s historic request to join NATO. Made a stir. in Syria.

It appears that Erdogan is using Turkey’s role as a mediator in the Ukraine war and its ability to veto new NATO members to fuel a variety of grievances and force other countries to act against those groups. those whom the Turkish government sees as terrorists, including the Kurds. extremist.

Enhancing its strong image by focusing on international disputes may also resonate domestically as Turkey prepares for a general election next year.

Here’s a look at Erdogan’s latest brickmanship and what he can hope to accomplish:

What does Turkey want?

Turkey, which commands NATO’s second-largest army, is pushing for long-held demands that Sweden – and to a lesser extent Finland – crack down on entities that Ankara says are the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Or associated with the PKK.

In threatening to stop the two Nordic nations from joining the Western military alliance, the Turkish government also wants them to end their alleged support for the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States. It has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, and the conflict has killed thousands. Turkey maintains that PKK and YPG are one and the same.

Turkey is demanding the extradition of wanted terror suspects from Finland and Sweden. Two NATO candidates deny allegations that they support the PKK or other terrorist groups.

Another major demand is the lifting of arms sales sanctions that several European countries, including Sweden and Finland, imposed on Turkey in 2019 to crack down on the YPG after its incursion into Syria.

Merv Tahiroglu, Turkey’s program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said Erdogan believes NATO needs Turkey to give it a bargaining position.

“They (NATO allies) want to demonstrate to Russia that NATO is more united than ever and that even Erdogan’s Turkey will not be able to spoil it. So Erdogan knows he can get away with it, Tahiroglu said.

Why threaten a new attack in Syria now?

Turkey has made three major incursions into Syria since 2016 that have strained relations with the United States. Washington views Syrian Kurdish groups as key allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, but Turkey considers them to be terrorist organizations.

Erdogan on Monday announced plans for a new Turkish offensive in northern Syria to create a 30-kilometer-deep safe zone along its southern border. The long declared objective would be to push the YPG militia away from Turkey’s borders.

Time suggests that such an offensive could be used to rally nationalist voters while providing an opportunity for the momentum created by Turkey’s role as a mediator in the Russo-Ukraine war to advance Ankara’s demands in NATO negotiations. Can be used.

Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said the Turkish government feels that its NATO allies do not fully appreciate the threat to Turkey from the PKK and its branches.

At the same time, Turkey has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv. In the midst of the war in Ukraine, its position “provides some advantage to Ankara for attempting to address these issues of great concern to the Republic of Turkey,” Tanchum said.

But another incursion into Syria on top of Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO could expose Erdogan to the “goodwill” Erdogan built up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Tahiroglu of the Project on Middle East Democracy.

“They certainly reinforced the idea that many NATO allies believed Turkey to be a problematic ally under Erdogan,” Tahiroglu said.

How does Greece consider this?

NATO’s nominal allies Greece and Turkey are regional rivals, with long-standing disagreements on a range of issues, from maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean to the future of ethnically divided Cyprus. Tensions between them escalated in 2020 over offshore energy rights.

Erdogan was angered by remarks by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a recent visit to Washington. Addressing Congress, the prime minister suggested that the United States should not sell F-16 jets to Turkey to avoid creating “a new source of instability” in NATO’s southeastern side.

In response, Erdogan said he would no longer speak to Mitsotakis and canceled a strategic council meeting between his two governments.

The Turkish President noted the hostility with Greece in discussing Sweden and Finland’s opposition to NATO applications. Erdogan said his country made a mistake by approving Greece’s re-entry into the coalition’s military wing in 1980 and is determined not to make the same mistake with Sweden and Finland.

Speaking at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mitsotakis said it would be “a mistake if Turkey continues to use these (NATO) negotiations to extract gains for its own national interests.”

What role does electoral politics play?

Turkey is set to hold next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections by June 2023 at the latest. Incursions into Syria to drive out the YPG have supported Erdogan in previous elections. Turkish leaders will be hoping to rally nationalist votes again at a time when the country’s economy is in decline, with inflation running around 70%.

Erdogan also saw his popularity rise earlier as he stood up to Greece and other Western countries.

“I think his plan at present is to demonstrate to his voter base that he can strengthen the US and NATO allies,” Tahiroglu said. “And he has the right to do so, to act in this way, because these allies have been pleasing him since the beginning of the Ukraine war.”


Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.


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