On March 22, two “breaking” news were published on Turkey’s news outlets indicating how heated the domestic politics and diplomatic policy actions of Ankara amid Ukraine-Russia crisis. The first was from Moscow. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that if President Vladimir Putin sees an “existential threat” to Russia, the president may resort to “use nuclear weapons”. This statement pointed to a dangerous escalation, increasing global political heat, which virtually confirmed the “Third World War” warning of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the day before.
The second news was from Ankara. Some websites published a news under “breaking” title announcing that President Tayyip Erdogan’s weekly AKP parliamentary group meeting to be held on March 23 has been cancelled. Was this cancel meant a precautionary measure to cool down the heat that started to come from the AKP base due to the economic crisis and the overlapping price hikes? In addition, AKP members has been voicing their criticism to the statements of the Minister of Treasury and Finance Nurettin Nebati, who recently claimed that “Turkish Lira seen its lowest thus cannot went any lower. So citizens should not worry.” Was it related to the leaked footage showing police violence towards political Islamist Furkan Foundation demonstration in Adana, which the AKP administration found “unacceptable” as Party Spokesperson Ömer Çelik said and where Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu was targeted?
Not domestic but diplomatic reasons
The excessive use of violence by the police against the demonstrators – just as in the demonstrations for women’s rights, human rights and workers’ rights – this time caused reactions in the AKP but it was once again MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli who defended Soylu, in his weekly parliamentary speech. Due to these outbursts of Bahçeli, Soylu began to be perceived as an extension of the MHP in Erdoğan’s AKP government.
Shortly after, it was understood that this second news, which raised the heat in Ankara, was published with “breaking” or “latest” labels was just because of the “click” race.
The AKP parliamentary group meeting was cancelled for the National Security Council (MGK) meeting to be held.
The most important item in the MGK meeting was the tension that started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The MGK meeting was important not only because of the Kremlin statement that raised the global heat, but also because of the Extraordinary NATO summit to be held in Brussels the next day, on 24 March. Putin obviously aimed to attract the attention of the NATO leaders who will attend this meeting, where the attitude to Russia will be discussed. In any case, Erdogan was on his way to Brussels right after the MGK meeting.
Ukraine Crisis brought Turkey to the fore
It was evident from the final declaration of the MGK meeting held on January 27, one month before Russia’s invasion, that Turkey was not completely unprepared for the Ukraine crisis. The statement emphasized on the “increasing tension” between Russia and Ukraine and that tension to create “consequences for noone’s benefit” was discussed.
Turkey’s restriction of the passage of Russian warships to the Black Sea in accordance with the Montreux Convention, emphasizing the NATO alliance without disturbing Russia, then the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov and Dimitro Kuleba, hosted by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on March 10 brought Ankara and Erdogan to the fore in international politics.
As a result, Turkey, which was trying to be isolated within the Western system until mid-2021, became one of the focal points. Contacts with the United Arab Emirates and Israel were scheduled before the Ukraine Crisis though. However, Erdogan had met with Western leaders and authorities at an unprecedented frequency since the crisis, even in the first years of the AKP’s when it had a high use-value in the eyes of Europe.
Busy diplomatic traffic
Ankara had a busy diplomatic schedule since the Russia’s offensive to Ukraine. Latest was Dutch Prime Minister Mart Rutte’s visit to Ankara on March 22. Erdogan and Rutte had a telephone conversation on March 1, during the initial stages of the crisis. Erdogan also had a telephone conversation with Romanian Prime Minister Klaus Iohannis on March 21. On March 16, Polish President Andrzej Duda was in Ankara. Turkey, Poland and Romania cooperate separately within the framework of the US “Missile Shield” project within NATO.
On March 13, Greek Prime Minister Kriyakos Mitsotakis and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Turkey on the day Erdoğan spoke on the phone with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. On March 11, Erdogan met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who was in Turkey within the framework of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. US President Joe Biden called Erdogan on March 10, a day after Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit. Earlier, Erdogan had meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Council President Charles Michel on March 4.
Meanwhile, there were phone calls with Putin on March 6 and 17, and with Zelensky on March 16; they were also important for Turkey’s own diplomatic operation.
NATO Summit, Turkey, USA, Russia
Prior to the Extraordinary NATO Summit, US President Biden started using “Financial Nuclear Bombs” for the first time against Russia. Despite diplomatic efforts, “Financial Nuclear Bombs” are based on the principle of paralyzing the economies integrated with the global system with the pressure applied through the banking system. We do not yet fully understand the details of this weapon, but we can identify it to the extent that it is used by the US in cyber universe.
Putin’s rhetoric of “nuclear weapons” does not only threaten a country and its national economy. If it is used, it does not only destroy the civilian population (as the USA did in Japan in 1945) where it is used; it also poses a transboundary threat through the radioactive fallout it can cause. Turkey is Ukraine’s Black Sea neighbor. Let’s remember that the failure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 also affected Turkey.
Until now, Turkey has followed a careful diplomatic line, without fully confronting Russia, but clearly fulfilling the NATO membership requirements. It seems that the USA has been careful so far not to make demands from Turkey against Russia that it cannot fulfill. The praise of the EU is limited to an applause for Turkey for security reasons; and it continues to keep Turkey at a distance in strategic shortsightedness.
It would be beneficial for Erdogan to continue the diplomacy on Ukraine without breaking the current line. So, the foreign policy carried out without the “tough brother of the neighborhood” attitude brings more positive results