Europe has stood united in the face of Russian aggression and the barbaric invasion of sovereign Ukraine. Fierce sanctions have been distributed by all nations, including Switzerland which, in doing so, seemingly broke its ‘historical neutrality’. However, one nation is bucking this trend - Turkey.
Turkey’s stance over Ukraine has Aggravated Western Nations
President Erdogan has placed no sanctions on Russia and continues to oppose sanctions implemented by other western nations; criticism of Putin has been minimal and cautious.
Despite being on opposing sides during the Syrian War, the two nations have come to develop an unexpected friendship over recent years. One which is underpinned by a shared ideological hostility toward Western hypocrisy over human rights and democracy. Both authoritarian leaders share the same aims of restoring their nations to previous historical glory. The relationship became stronger after Putin was quick to support Erdogan after he survived an attempted coup in 2016, unlike western nations who dawdled.
Turkey is also a large consumer of Russian energy and many Russian energy exports transit through Turkey. Ankara has recently purchased Russian S-400 air defence systems which have angered its NATO allies.
However, Turkey has displayed some action, they have aided Ukraine by blocking Russian Warships from advancing towards Ukraine as they control the two areas of international access to the Black Sea. Turkey often looks to other Black Sea nations for support to counterweight Russian power in the region thus Erdogan has condemned the invasion as a full takeover would prompt serious security concerns for Turkey.
Erdogan is playing a balancing act between supporting Ukraine whilst still keeping his relationship strong with Russia. At the start of the war, Erdogan tried to play a mediator role by holding peace talks between the two nations which evidently failed. Turkey remaining on the fence will result in delight for Russia but will increasingly agitate the western alliance.
Turkey's unusual position of being a NATO member with close ties to Russia means that Turkey has an oversized influence on the geopolitics of the Ukraine War. Erdogan has begun to use the recent increase in influence as leverage, most notably over the proposed new NATO membership of Sweden and Finland.
Turkey has rejected their membership arguing they are, especially Sweden, incubators of terrorists. He is referring to the countries’ inability to crack down on members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who have been fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for over 3 decades. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the US but they received aid from the US during the Syrian War.
New NATO membership needs a unanimous decision meaning Turkey holds a very powerful position. Erdogan is refusing to budge and has rejected NATO invitations for bilateral talks with Sweden and Finland claiming NATO is not taking Turkey’s security concerns seriously.
Sweden will also be unlikely to compromise as they have parliamentary elections in September. Signing up to NATO damaged the popularity amongst the left and ex-communist supporters of Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party; conceding to Turkey would damage their authority even further.
Erdogan is also planning an attack on Kurdish militants the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) who are affiliated with the PKK. It is to prevent a Kurdish statelet from forming on their border with Syria. The YPG were allies of the US during the fight against ISIL in Syria.
The timing of this proposed assault is no coincidence; previous Turkish assaults on the Kurds have been condemned by the US and NATO. However, due to Erdogan's power surge and his stranglehold on NATO, the attack will likely occur without questions raised.
Turkey has also recently withdrawn from talks with rivals Greece over historic territorial claims and energy exploration rights in the Aegean Sea.
Ukraine War has shifted Europe's Balance of Power
Erdogan is benefitting from the misfortunes of Ukraine. He has been lenient towards a nation that has committed thousands of war crimes and has no respect for sovereign boundaries. His agenda is widely viewed as egotistical and insensitive.
As a result, Erdogan is becoming increasingly unpopular in the West. However, with his emboldened position the west should tread with caution as Erdogan is not afraid to use his power to get what he wants. Turkey’s heightened influence over the international agenda indicates that the War in Ukraine has wobbled Europe’s balance of power.
Russia will argue that Turkey's disagreements show the West lacks resolve and the European alliance is fractured and split. However, Europe is united and through diplomacy, these issues will be resolved.
This Tuesday Turkey had their first bilateral talks with Sweden and Finland. Erdogan has more recently taken up the role of negotiating a deal with Russia to remove the blockade of Ukrainian ships carrying grain which would halt the fears of shortage and hunger issues.
If Erdogan fulfils these recent promises he has the opportunity to come off the fence and move Turkey onto the right side of history.