ANKARA: There could be repercussions for Turkey’s foreign policy following losses for the president’s party in local elections, experts have told Arab News.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control over the capital Ankara and economic powerhouse Istanbul in Sunday’s vote.
International challenges include a clash with the US over plans to buy an air defense system from Russia and a reduced US presence in northern Syria.
The US has halted delivery of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey.
US officials have told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealth fighter aircraft, sources have told Reuters.
Washington’s step to block delivery of the jet comes amid fears in the US and other NATO allies, that radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the F-35, making it less able to evade Russian weapons.
Dimitris Tsarouhas, a visiting scholar at Georgetown University, said Ankara and Erdogan had invested in the partnership with Russia while distancing themselves from the US.
“In that context, relations with countries like Russia will continue to prosper in the coming period,” he told Arab News.
But there would be consequences in terms of the continuing rapprochement with Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Tensions with the US would continue and Washington’s recent refusal to ship training equipment for the fighter jet project was an early indication of the fallout, he added.
Erdogan insists the Adana Protocol gives his country the right to intervene militarily in neighboring Syria. Turkey and its Syrian opposition proxies control part of northern Syria, and Ankara has repeatedly threatened another military operation against Kurdish fighters on its southern border.
But the Foreign Ministry in Damascus has accused Ankara of breaching the Adana deal throughout Syria’s war. In addition, Moscow and Ankara are at odds over who would control a proposed “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Tsarouhas said relations with the EU would continue to be characterized by their transactional nature. Mutual interests would lead to policy cooperation in select areas, he said, but without leading to real convergence between the two sides.
Government officials on the campaign trail often blamed foreign powers for currency fluctuations, with the lira dropping almost 30 percent against the dollar in last year’s currency crisis.
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Erdogan and his party would have to deal with the effects of his “electoral foreign policy” and that tension with the US was just one example of that.
“The situation may induce Erdogan to lead a more pragmatic foreign policy and to reduce the traditional West-bashing,” he told Arab News.
He was not convinced by suggestions that Erdogan would change his tune and become “a perfect” Western ally. “It would be rather the form and not the essence that would change. While Turkey may be less confrontational toward the West, simply because Erdogan wouldn’t need his anti-Western discourse to mobilize his electorate, Turkey would continue to be self-confident and assertive international player concentrated on national interests.”
Dr. Kerim Has, a Moscow-based Russia analyst, said Ankara in the short-term was going to find itself in a huge dilemma and that zigzagging remained the key feature of Turkey’s foreign policy.
“Erdogan urgently needs money and financial support from the West to overcome the deepening economic crisis in Turkey, whereas he is obliged to coordinate its policy and activities with Moscow in order not to get into trouble in Syria,” he told Arab News. “A similar quandary is likely to become more prominent and collisional between the S-400 missiles versus the F-35 fighter jets.”
Ankara may be pushed to reluctantly keep the ball rolling for a little while longer with Moscow, at least until it comes up with a creative solution to its economic problems, according to Has.
“Turkish authorities will also likely soon facilitate the ‘job’ of its Russian partners with the Syrian regime for a military offensive in Idlib. At the same time, Erdogan will probably try to find a tangible compromise with the US on northeastern Syria and the Kurdish issue specifically.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is set to meet with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Washington on Thursday.