Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be visiting Greece in a few weeks. As the Turkish president plans his trip across the Aegean with his aides and his experienced ambassador in Athens, they have every reason to focus on Ankara’s long-term strategic interests. The fact is that Turkey’s behavior of late points to very little in that respect.
Maintaining good ties with Greece and, if possible, improving those relations should be a top priority in Turkey’s foreign policy. Erdogan needs to realize that Greece is the biggest champion of Ankara’s European ambitions among the states of the 28-member bloc. It also has a keen interest in a stable Turkey.
Political instability, economic uncertainty and military nervousness make for an explosive mix that accentuates discomfort in Athens.
For its own reasons, Greece wants a moderate, stable and prosperous neighbor. And it is working toward this on the bilateral as well as multilateral levels, from Brussels to Washington.
For his part, Erdogan has to help Greece so that Greece can help him – to the extent that it would be expected within the EU.
It’s not too much to ask of Erdogan. Lifting the unacceptable casus belli against a NATO ally would not cost him any significant advantage. And he would not suffer any strategic loss if he were to put an end to the violations of Greek air space and territorial waters in the Aegean. He would only benefit from offering Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios the respect and recognition he is due.
Likewise, he would benefit if he stopped insisting on maintaining his country’s anachronistic and interventionist rights on Cyprus. In doing so, he would facilitate a peace settlement on the divided island and his country’s involvement in energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The zero-problems-with-neighbors policy introduced by Turkey’s former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu is no more. Now Ankara faces many serious problems with most of its neighbors. Greece is the only country that offers support and positive prospects without asking for anything in return that would come at a substantial cost to Ankara. This is a reality that Turkey’s strongman could make use of by making the right moves.