German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Ankara for his first visit to Turkey as the chancellor on March 14. He and President Tayyip Erdoğan discussed complex relations between the two countries, but the real issue was the Ukraine crisis. The day before that, on March 13, Erdoğan met with Greek Prime Minister Kriyakos Mitsotakis in Istanbul. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg came to the Antalya Diplomatic Forum (ADF) on March 11; the main subject was the crisis that started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On March 9, Israeli President Isaac Herzog was in Ankara. That meeting also focused on energy projects in the shadow of the Ukraine crisis. Are these an effort to close ranks against Russia?
One thing these connections had in common was that the parties visited Erdoğan. A month ago, Erdoğan went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but in that case, it was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed who took the first step with his trip to Ankara on November 24, 2021. Does this common ground get us anywhere? Not much.
However, if we change the lens as the ophthalmologist does, we can see the letters clearly and make sense of them.
Intensive US-NATO oriented diplomacy
We can find the lens we are looking for in the statement made by US President Joe Biden after calling President Erdoğan on the phone on March 10.
The statement made by the White House referred to two elements. The first is that on March 9, Turkey was able to bring together the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers, Sergey Lavrov and Dimitro Kuleba, in Antalya for the first political meeting since the invasion began. We can understand this from the expression “Turkey’s efforts to support a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.” In the following sentence, Biden also says he “appreciates” Turkey for “recent engagements with regional leaders that help promote peace and stability.”
Before the White House statement, the US Embassy in Ankara—rather unusually—praised Erdogan’s meeting with another leader, Herzog. Also, on March 10, US Deputy Undersecretary of State Erika Olson and Istanbul Consul General Daria Darnell visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeo the First. They talked about freedom of religion in Turkey and “condemned the unprovoked attack” by Russia on Ukraine.
Bringing troubled allies close
I should emphasize that, the announcement that Mitsotakis would come to Istanbul on March 13 to attend the Sunday Service of Bartolomeo and have a meeting with Erdoğan was made on March 8, one day before the Antalya meeting and Herzog’s visit. Scholz’s visit to Turkey on March 14 was announced on March 11, on the day Erdoğan met with the NATO Secretary-General.
If it’s a coincidence, I leave it up to you, but there is intense diplomacy on the US-NATO axis. Talking is better than fighting, of course.
It is possible to read Turkey’s contacts in the last month as an effort to get closer with the countries with which it has problems in foreign policy. The US policy can be interpreted as bringing allies at odds to get closer amid the escalating tension with Russia.
It’s almost as if the United States is saying with the attitude of a neighbourhood’s big brother, “Now, don’t bother me with your troubles, kiss and make peace, battle with the other side.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the US puts pressure on Turkey, and that’s how it happened. The US seems to be saying to all its allies, from the UAE to Israel, from Turkey to Germany and Greece, that it wants to unite against Russia: “Now is not the time to fight each other.”
In the words of TÜSİAD President Simone Kaslowski, “The West is tightening the ranks”.
Closing the ranks: The new Cold War
In Greece, the day’s topic was Mitsotakis’ return to Athens from his meeting with Erdogan and tested positive for the coronavirus. It is debated whether Mitsotakis, who had attended a crowded mass in the Patriarchate just before, caught the Covid-19 virus from Erdogan, who recently recovered from the disease. So let me make a guess: for a while, we may not hear “violation in the Aegean” statements from both the Greek and Turkish governments as often as before.
Turkey and Greece were included in the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan aid, which was created in 1947 to help rebuild war-torn Europe and prevent Moscow from expanding into the Mediterranean and Middle East. The reason for their joint admission to NATO in 1952 was the same.
Turkey was the frontline country of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union; The Missile Crisis in 1962, when atomic warheads were discussed, was a concrete example.
Germany-Turkey relations were revived with the start of worker migration from Turkey as of 1961 to compensate the workforce required for the development of Germany. Although Germany was not a NATO member (along with Italy), it provided Turkey with US-sourced weapons “against the Soviet threat”. Today, Germany is Turkey’s largest trading partner.
The ranks of democracy should also be closed
Now there is a new Cold War. Washington is once again closing the disintegrating ranks against Moscow. It is a profound contradiction that the reason for closing the ranks is the Ukrainian operation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. That’s why the arguments on “being trapped” are widespread these days.
The essence of the Cold War was to avoid the Third World War, in which atomic weapons could also be used. Under this veil, the contradictions between the allied countries and the problems of democracy, rights and freedoms within the countries can, unfortunately, have become mere details.
The three military coups in Turkey and the grave human rights violations that followed were also experienced under the veil of the Cold War.
That’s why those who are in favour of democracy, rights and freedoms in Turkey also need to close their ranks among themselves.