Our unpredictable neighbor


Turkey knows that the door to Europe has closed for good as far as it is concerned. The political situation in the European Union leaves no room for such illusions and has hastened the “moment of truth” many were waiting for. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s domestic policies are not making the situation any easier, of course.

Greece had the wherewithal years ago to cover its back by supporting Turkey’s European ambitions, though secure in the knowledge that France and Germany would never allow it to become a full member of the European club. But now that the door has closed so definitively, this is no longer a tactic Athens can follow.

Erdogan is under pressure on many different sides. The International Monetary Fund’s leadership is not hiding its concern about the Turkish economy and many analysts believe that the Turkish president brought forward the elections to June in order get ahead of economic developments before the bomb went off in his hands.

Ankara’s relationship with Washington is also complicated. US President Donald Trump appears to like or trust the Turkish leader, but this is not the case with Congress and a part of the American deep state. The initiative to ban the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, linking it to the purchase of S400 missile defense systems from Russia, point to an escalation in pressure for a shift in the American stance vis a vis Turkey. The White House and the Pentagon are resisting this pressure, though is appears that alternative defense plans are already being formulated – and that Ankara knows this.

Given all this uncertainty and lack of clarity, Greece needs to seek alliances and new means of leverage. The prospect of European membership is no longer there, unless some new Euro-Turkish agreement is made at some point in the form of a special deal. If this happens, it may present an opportunity for a new modus vivendi with Ankara. Until then, however, we have no strong leverage with which to deal with the issue of the two Greek soldiers who are being held without charge by Turkey or with Ankara’s aggression.

The hope is that Erdogan will feel the pressure of the economy and the international markets, and will strive not to appear even more unpredictable than he is in fear of the consequences. Recent experience, however, shows us that when he feels pressured, inside or outside Turkey, he tends to escalate tensions almost to the extreme instead.

With such a difficult and increasingly erratic neighbor, Greece needs to be smart, determined and patient.