President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses his ruling party’s legislators, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday. Erdogan said Turkey would closely follow moves by the two sides in Libya and vowed to teach Khalifa Haftar, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, ‘the lesson he deserves’ if attacks on the Tripoli government continued.
The situation in Libya does not seem to be unfolding in the way Greece would like it to. Repeated meetings between officials in Athens and Nicosia are mostly aimed at domestic consumption. Meanwhile, Turkey is obviously trying to consolidate its status in the region, in cooperation with Russia. It is a situation that is being tolerated, if not encouraged by Europe (whose stance is dictated by weakness and fear) and one that is evolving under the opportunistic and indifferent gaze of the Trump administration.
Put simply, Erdogan is growing into a key player amid the geopolitical changes in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, as Turkey is acquiring regional superpower status. Worse, all that is creating the impression that, in the eyes of the West – the United States and the European Union (perhaps for different reasons) – Greece belongs to the Middle East and not Europe. It is thereby left at the mercy of Ankara.
Exaggerated as it may sound to some, this conclusion is based on recent developments. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who supports Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s Tripoli-based internationally recognized government) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (who supports Sarraj’s rival, Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army) once more came to an understanding during their meeting in Ankara after talks between Turkish and Russian ministers of foreign affairs and defense in Moscow. The two leaders tried to forge a truce, if fragile, between the two rival sides in the North African country. At the same time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to accept the Russian initiative.
But even if that has not exactly been the case, the international conference on the Libya crisis to be held at Merkel’s own initiative later this month in Berlin is set to include Turkey, but not Greece. Meanwhile, France and Italy, the two European countries that have played the most intrusive role in Libyan politics, have failed to reach an understanding. In fact, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (note that Italy believes it has no dog in the fight when it comes to Turkish provocations in the region) is keen to meet with Erdogan in Turkey while French President Emmanuel Macron is only asking Putin that the Libya cease-fire deal he is busy hammering out with Erdogan be viable and credible.
All that means that Erdogan has managed to be involved in everything: He is considered a key factor in any Libya developments and he is treated as a major player in geopolitical readjustments in the wider region. By extension, his Libya protege Sarraj will most certainly survive in the near future, which in effect means that the maritime delineation agreements that Ankara has signed with him will remain in effect.
It is not known if the Greek government and the Greek political class can see other scenarios that are not clear to the average citizen or if they interpret ongoing developments differently, but protesting about Turkey’s international law violations does not seem to be enough to curb Ankara’s aggression. The chances of that happening are poorer when most of the space on the chessboard is occupied by power, interests and fear.