October 16, 2019

The Black Sea — Middle Eastern Tiger

Turkey As a New Centre of Power in the World

 

Victor Hvozd

The main peculiarity of the current geopolitical situation in the world is the new multi-polar system of international relations. In previous articles, we repeatedly raised this topic in the context of discussing the USA, China and Russia as world centers of power that determine the development of global military-political processes, including around Ukraine.

At the same time, we almost ignored other centres of power, the role and importance of which is growing. One of them is Turkey, which considers itself a successor to the Ottoman Empire and is actively strengthening its positions as a basis for realizing Turkey's current and strategic interests. Today, the main ones are: restoring Turkey's leadership in the Middle East and Black Sea regions; strengthening its influence in the Turkic world (especially in Central Asia), the Balkans and Europe; creation of conditions for stable growth of the Turkish economy; ensuring the country's external security and internal stability.

…Near our country is rapidly growing a new center of power, striving for regional leadership…

The latter is of particular relevance to Ankara in the presence in the country of a strong opposition to the current leadership of the country headed by R. Erdogan, and the intensifying activity of Kurdish separatists and other extremists.

Within the framework of its foreign and domestic policies, Turkey largely proceeds from its own interests, which in some cases do not align with the interests and positions of other countries, its NATO allies included. It is for this reason that a problematic and contradictory situation arises during the implementation of its geopolitical plans.

Thus, Turkey is objectively interested in developing positively relations with the EU, Russia, China and the USA, which are its main trading partners. Despite this, it still has significant disagreements with them, which sometimes escalate into conflicts with elements of demonstration and, even, use of armed force. As a rule, this happens when such contradictions directly relate to Turkey's security interests.

An example of this was Ankara's refusal to let the United States use Turkey's territory during the Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In particular, while the Kurds in Iraq acted as the main US allies in the fight against S. Hussein's regime, they also remained Turkey's main opponents. Despite the fact that US troops were stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey bombed the camps and positions of the armed Kurdish militants in the region.

Ситуація в сфері безпеки навколо Туреччини
Security situation around Turkey

A similar situation was observed in Turkey's relations with Russia. Based on its own economic interests, in 2014 Turkey refused to support the US and EU's sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and for provoking the conflict in the Donbas. However, this in no way prevented Turkey from shooting down the Russian Su-24M bomber in November 2015, when it disrupted Turkish airspace during Russia's military operation in Syria. The result was a severe crisis in Russian-Turkish relations, which was accompanied by mutual sanctions between the parties and threats to use force.

However, after the attempted military coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016, Turkish-Russian relations began to improve again. Instead, relations with the United States became more complicated. According to the conventional vision of this problem, the reason was the different perceptions by the West and Russia of the events in Turkey. Namely, Russia backed the Turkish government, while Western countries accused Ankara of using excessive force against the opposition. And the United States sheltered the opposition leaders.

At the same time, the real reasons for this situation are more profound, as they are the result of Turkey's intentions to gain more leeway from the USA, to weaken its influence in the region as part of Turkey's struggle for regional leadership. In particular, this is evidenced by the purchasing of Russian S-400 air defense systems, rather than similar US-made air defense systems. Which, in turn, has created a number of new problems in Turkish-American relations.

 

To the same row belongs the Turkish leadership's decision to conduct a military operation and create a buffer zone along the Turkish border in the Kurdish regions of Syria. The issue is fundamental to Ankara in terms of preventing Kurds from creating their own state within the adjacent territories of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and blocking the possibility of Kurdish extremists' infiltrating Turkish territory. Turkey also seeks access to Kurdish-controlled oilfields in the North-East of Syria.

On 9th of October 2019, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring in Syria
On 9th of October 2019, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring in Syria

With this in mind, on the 9th of October, for the third time since 2016, Turkish troops began to invade Syria`s territory, despite the fact that such a decision does not at all correspond to the interests of the USA and Europe.

Thus, by analogy with Iraq, the Kurds in Syria have been the main ally of the United States both in countering Islamic extremists and in curbing B. Assad's regime. As a result, Washington helped the Syrian Kurds retain their autonomy, including by initiating the creation of a security zone in north-eastern Syria and deploying a peacekeeping contingent consisting of the US and its allies' military. Under the circumstances, Turkey's military invasion of Syria has not only destroyed such US plans, it has also put US troops in the Kurdish territories at risk of collision with Turkish troops.

At the same time, the exacerbation of the situation in Syria as a result of Turkey's actions has caused a new wave of refugees to Europe, which is of real concern to the leadership and members of the European Union. Especially when the problem of refugees has already caused considerable economic damage to the EU countries and has led to an aggravation of disagreements between them over quotas and allocation of migrants.

All this was extremely negatively perceived in the United States and the European Union, which accused Turkey of undermining the international coalition's efforts to fight Islamic extremists in Syria. On the basis of such allegations, the USA and EU imposed a series of sanctions against Turkey, including the suspension of arms supplies to Turkey. However, this did not stop Turkey, but just again showed the firmness of its position in pursuit of its own interests, despite pressure from the leading powers of the world.

 

…Undermining of the USA, NATO and EU's positions in the Black Sea region, is in line with Russia’s geopolitical interests…

By the way, Russia uses these problems for its own advantage. Including in the way of pursuing a double policy towards Turkey. Thus, Moscow condemns Turkey's invasion of Syria as undermining the so-called Astana process on peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict (launched in January 2017 during the meeting in Astana of representatives of Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Syrian leadership and opposition). At the same time, Russia is actually contributing to Turkey's offensive in Syria. In particular, according to R. Erdogan, Moscow has agreed to including into the zone of the Turkish operation in Syria the eastern regions of Aleppo province, where Russian troops are located.

The purpose of such a policy is to strengthen Moscow's influence on Ankara, and to deepen the disagreements between Turkey and the USA and the EU, and, in fact, with NATO. In doing so, Russia is undermining the USA, NATO and EU's positions in the Black Sea region, which is in line with its geopolitical interests. Besides, according to some assessments, Russia is playing a multi-pronged combination aimed at accessing oil fields in the Kurdish territories.

 

Although the invasion of Turkish troops into Syria was seen by the Syrian authorities as an act of aggression, it essentially played into Damascus' hands. Thus, the threat from Turkey has forced the leaders of the Kurdish autonomy to agree with the Syrian central government on joint counteraction to the Turkish offensive. Under this agreement, the Syrian government army entered the Kurdish regions of the country and began deploying its units at the border with Turkey.

This, in fact, ended the confrontation between the Syrian government and the Kurds, which was one of the greatest domestic problems for the Assad regime. At the same time, Syrian authorities and, through them, Russia, have got an access to Kurdish oil fields. In addition, it was a powerful blow to the USA's positions in Syria, which previously had been supported by Syrian Kurds.

 

…Due to its geographical position and role in the balance of forces in the region, Ukraine will be drawn into regional contradictions between the leading centers of power…

In general, these circumstances allow us to draw several geopolitical conclusions concerning Ukraine.

Thus, in the form of Turkey, near our country, is rapidly growing a new center of power, striving for regional leadership and making efforts to achieve its goals, despite the interests of other countries, Ukraine included.

As part of its plans, Turkey is increasingly confronting the USA, NATO and the EU, and is moving closer to Russia on an anti-American basis. Nevertheless, in the future we should expect worsening of Turkish-Russian relations due to the aggravation of the rivalry between the parties.

All this will increase tensions in the Black Sea region in general, and the level of threats to Ukraine from the south in particular. At this, due to its geographical position and role in the balance of forces in the region, Ukraine will be drawn into regional contradictions between the leading centers of power.

And this is no excogitation or exaggeration of existing problems. In October 2019, in exchange for Moscow's support for Turkey's actions in Syria, R. Erdogan for the first time met with Russian parliamentary delegation, along with “deputies” from the annexed by Russia Crimea.