Erdogan playing with fire
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists on keeping up his well-known nationalist rhetoric to which we have grown accustomed. He does not hide his neo-Ottoman dreams and visions and continues his provocative actions not only against Greece and Cyprus, but also a number of other countries, including France, as evidenced not only by his verbal attacks against Emmanuel Macron, but also by the recent incident between the two countries’ naval forces.
The Turkish president behaves as if he were leading a superpower, but one wonders whether the man who wants to replace the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, in the Turkish subconscious, really understands his and his country’s limitations. We hear statements about a “Blue Homeland,” about the “borders of our hearts,” but nothing about the difficulties facing the Turkish economy and the enormous dangers that lurk for the stability and course of this populous and large country, which is not far from an economic collapse. International organizations are sounding the alarm, the markets are sending out messages, but the Turkish ruler continues unfazed.
One cannot conquer the world – not even one’s region – if there is no healthy economy reflecting real power to back the political declarations and military moves. Economic might is a prerequisite for any authoritarian ruler to make these kinds of cynical announcements and direct threats. Greece does not have Turkey’s military strength; however, it has sufficient deterrent firepower, while it acts effectively in a number of regional and international alliances. In this light, it has the potential to deal a severe blow to Turkey, something that no sensible and responsible leader in Ankara should minimize.
Erdogan chooses to magnify his country’s potential and ignore the dangers it faces. Turkey is not as powerful as he thinks it is, and Erdogan’s aggressive unilateral behavior in the wider Eastern Mediterranean is totally unjustified. As for Turkey’s confrontation with Greece, the equation is a complicated one as Ankara also has another front in its southeast permanently open. It is clear that Athens wants a peaceful settlement of the situation and seeks de-escalation, but it insists that if Ankara chooses to behave irresponsibly and cross its red lines, it will do what its national interest demands.
It is strange that while Erdogan himself took an action a few months ago that most countries describe not only as provocative but also legally unsound (he signed an agreement with a country in a state of civil war, and with a government that rules only part of the country, while the agreement has not been ratified by the parliament which does not recognize it), he opposes the recent partial demarcation of an exclusive economic zone between Greece and Egypt – i.e. an agreement between two governments whose legal status is not disputed by anyone.
And he used this development as the reason for canceling the agreed exploratory dialogue with Greece before it even started. The Turkish president sees enemies everywhere. He attacks all the countries in the region – Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt – which he even describes as an “alliance of evil.” If he is not careful, he may pay dearly for this.
Greece is on the alert, taking advantage of its alliance with the US – tomorrow Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (today he is visiting Israel) – while it has military, but more importantly political and economic capabilities through the European Union, which will not remain inactive. Trapped in his nationalist rhetoric, instead of producing glorious victories, as he may be fantasizing, Erdogan may eventually cause significant damage to his country. And the responsibility will lie exclusively with him.