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What Prompted Erdogan to Come to Terms with Putin? What Will be the Consequences?

Blocs sliced
Labyrinth, courtesy René De Bondt/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 13 July 2016.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou | Professor, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University, Istanbul

As if out of the blue, but not really a surprise at all, Turkey has in the last week announced both a rapprochement process with Israel and an attempt to mend relations with Russia. It has also made overtures to Egypt to improve bilateral commercial and economic ties, though its relations with the Sisi regime remain politically complicated. The flurry of diplomatic activity on the part of Turkey’s government indicates that the situation before diplomatic overtures was becoming increasingly unfeasible, and that Turkey’s isolation was growing. This isolation found Ankara increasingly at odds with its neighbours and partners, threatening Turkey’s self-cultivated image as a soft power. This image has been eroding with the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the surge of violence in the country’s southeast in the state’s fight against the PKK, and the series of bombings both by Kurdish militants and the Islamic State across the country. In other words, Turkey was becoming an unreliable and ineffectual contributor to the region’s security.

Reaching out to Israel and Egypt implies that the AKP government is turning away from its proclivity for ideology-laden foreign policy. It also suggests a realisation by Ankara that, based on a power politics assessment, its continued ambivalence toward the Islamic State was further marginalising Turkey and weakening its ability to shape and influence the future of the region, especially the eastern Mediterranean (including the resolution of the Cyprus problem), together with the other relevant stakeholders. The latest terror attack at Istanbul’s main airport, although planned and orchestrated before diplomacy took centre stage, suggests that the policy reversal in now complete. Although further attacks are a very real possibility, Turkey is bound to expect more empathy and support from its allies. The reopening of the airport the day after the attacks indicates a degree of state and regime resilience that it will not easily be broken. The turn toward Tel Aviv and Cairo also suggests an understanding that Turkey has potentially much to gain from a developing Western regional security complex in the eastern Mediterranean, which should also include Greece and Turkey together with Israel and Egypt. The opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU during the same week is also indicative of its enhanced status.