In the gas dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey pisses on the US and its last advocates among the major EU powers – the Germans. With its tactics of aggressive progress and conciliatory signals, the Turkish government is gambling its credibility in a conflict in which it is already isolated.
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas no longer wants to participate in the Turkish “interplay of relaxation and provocation” and has canceled a visit to Turkey. During his talks on Tuesday in Cyprus and Greece, Maas emphasized the solidarity of the German Council Presidency with the two EU countries. The debate on EU sanctions against Turkey is back on track.
By returning its research vessel “Oruc Reis” to a Greek island, Turkey is undermining the German government’s attempt to find a solution in the negotiations. Greece made it clear on Tuesday that it would not begin planned talks with Turkey to draw the border into the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas while the “Oruc Reis” sails in controversial waters.
The US State Department accused Ankara of “calculated provocation” and “coercion, threat and intimidation” over the journey of the “Oruc Reis” – strong tobacco showing that the vote against Turkey has also turned in the Trump administration. Ankara also has problems with Russia due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
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Turkey’s foreign policy from the Caucasus to Libya is based on a military-backed actionism: Turkey wants to be involved everywhere in order to gain a say in regional issues and, if necessary, blackmail them. When there are serious headwinds, such as with the threat of European sanctions before the recent EU summit, Ankara temporarily downshifts, but then goes on the offensive again.
Europe cannot count on Turkey’s willingness to talk
Turkey may well show its willingness to speak again – after Maas’s visit to Ankara has been canceled. But recent weeks have shown that Europe cannot rely on it.
As the Turkish economy slips deeper and deeper into crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also wants to keep his voters engaged by calling out alleged threats from abroad.
The Turkish government is like a cyclist who has to keep moving in order not to fall, wrote a commentator critical of the government in Turkey: The most important thing is noise. This increases the risk of an unintended military escalation, for example in the gas conflict, even if Turkey does not want war.
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Erdogan is following this course not only for domestic political reasons. His government is convinced that going it alone will give it more freedom of movement than integrating Turkey into alliances. In the gas dispute, Erdogan has now angered the federal government, which has so far opposed EU sanctions.
Ankara cannot expect Germany to show much sympathy for Turkey’s position in the dispute after Turkey has opted for the open provocation with the re-dispatch of the “Oruc Reis”. What was meant to be a Turkish show of power could turn out to be a purpose of its own.