Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

The Trump factor

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics, US, Turkey

There has been much ado around Greek-Turkish relations. To some extent, this is justified. It is also, to a certain degree, a result of sensationalism and ignorance about the substance of the problem. 

Unfortunately, there is an abundance of both sensationalism and ignorance, which means that the task of dealing with the issue will be extremely difficult for any government. 

There is, however, another factor that requires serious consideration, and this has to do with one’s ability to accurately predict, or, more precisely, to guess what Washington will do from now onward. And when we refer to Washington, we mean President Donald Trump. We may read about about the emphatic messages sent out by US officials, but at the end of the day, it is one person that takes the decisions that count in the US capital. 

US-Turkish relations have entered a period of tension. The persistence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with regard to the purchase by Turkey of the Russian S-400 missile system has come up against the cross-party resoluteness of the US Congress, which is refusing to give the green light for the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to the Turkish military if the missile delivery goes ahead. 

The one time that the US sent a stern message to Ankara not to disrupt the exploratory activities of ExxonMobil, Erdogan read it correctly. 

The question is whether the White House will continue sending the same message now that tensions are rising. Will the US continue to back Cyprus? Will it warn Turkey not to proceed with exploratory activities in the sea area between Cyprus and Kastellorizo? 

Washington has a clear picture of what is at stake. Greece’s defense minister has explained very clearly what any Greek government will do if Erdogan makes such a move. 

The United States is the only country that could react effectively. Trump has the capability to exert economic pressure on Erdogan to the point of Turkey’s political and economic suffocation. The dense presence of American forces in the region could also have a decisive impact. But no one knows how Trump will respond and what kind of family connections will come into play behind the scenes.

In short, it’s a difficult situation. Not only do we have an unpredictable neighbor, we also have an unpredictable leader on the other side of the Atlantic.

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