A day after he meets with US President Joe Biden, President Tayyip Erdoğan answered the questions of the journalists in a press conference. Frankly, I felt envious of our foreign colleagues. In Türkiye, only certain agencies, certain newspapers, and certain TV channels can ask questions to him without being subjected to the covert ban under the name of accreditation. Our foreign colleagues asked their questions to the president freely without the concern of being excluded from future press conferences or even losing their job. And the most curious of all, he answered all of those questions. While answering he staked it all.
The reason I say he staked all is that before his press conference, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde had said “We did not give in to Erdoğan” adding that they would not extradite all the names that Türkiye alleged as a terrorist. Finnish President Sauli Niistö spoke even more in defiance, saying that they did not declare the PYD, YPG and FETO terrorist organizations and that they could continue “humanitarian aid” to the YPG. Here we have to ask the Finnish President what kind of humanitarian aid he is talking about to the armed wing of the PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is also considered a “terrorist organization” by Finland.
But that’s not the point.
Who is the first to stake all?
The issue is that Sweden and Finland, which got the NATO visa they wanted from Türkiye, defied Erdoğan just after the tripartite memorandum was signed. In fact, Sweden’s position was clear from the start. They depended on the USA to find a way to persuade Türkiye. Now, just before the September elections in the country, was there a point in conflicting with the Kurdish lobby under the influence of the PKK? As soon as they received the NATO invitation as Türkiye lifted its veto, they showed that they would go their own way, while Erdogan’s meeting with Biden was still going on.
Finland could not stay away from this competition, it also staked on helping the YPG in a way that presses Türkiye’s nerves.
One step ahead of this is Sweden and Finland to re-impose the arms embargo on Türkiye, which they promised to lift with the June 28 Triple Memorandum, after the Syria operation, which Erdogan has been saying that he would launch for a month now. Would they? Will they agree on a joint defense agreement with Türkiye on the one hand and display this hypocrisy on the other hand, out of domestic policy concerns on a subject that Türkiye considers being the most serious security problem? Why not? They may think that the USA and the EU are behind us.
Erdogan’s stake at NATO Summit
Being asked about Sweden and Finland’s dare, Erdoğan did not get angry as we are accustomed to in Türkiye, he made a statement with a calm expression:
“This will not work if we do not pass it through our parliament anyway. First of all, Sweden and Finland have to fulfil their duties, which is already included in the memorandum. (…) But if these are not fulfiled, it will be out of the question to send it to our parliament“ he said at the press conference raising his stake.
He also gave detail about the additional documents of the Triple Memorandum:
“Sweden has promised us that they will update on 73 people [requested for extradition] with this text. They do or not. We will follow up according to this text, and we will make our decision accordingly,” he said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says, “We did not give in,” while Erdogan says, “They accepted the list of 73 people.”
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s saying “We are loyal to the agreement,” right after Erdogan’s press conference, on the condition that ” not giving everyone away” shows that the agreement reached with Turkey in exchange for NATO membership has stirred a debate in Swedish politics.
Why did he staked all?
It was Erdoğan who emphasized on 73, in English, as the number of people who are requested to be extradited in the press conference, correcting the journalist who asked the question as 33 people as it was covered in the media. It is just a detail to be noted, let’s come to another issue: the timing of the membership. The international media reported that the NATO membership process of Sweden and Finland would normally take up to 8 months; Unless, of course, the USA and EU countries try to accelerate it due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Erdogan showed yesterday that Turkey would not accept such pressure, pointing out that Macedonia’s membership was blocked by Greece for 20 years; eventually, the country had to change its name to “North Macedonia”.
Erdogan imposed two conditions
The first is “the erasure of PKK/YPG/PYD, FETO terrorist organizations”. Considering demonstrations, that are legal in EU countries, as terrorist acts in Turkey will cause problems. On the other hand, there are people directly related to armed attacks on the list. The second one is the extradition list.
In other words, if Sweden does not provide the requested extraditions until the membership process proceeds, would Erdoğan not send the membership applications of Sweden and Finland to the parliament just before the election eve of February-March 2023?
The easy answer is “No, he cannot make the economy more vulnerable against foreign interventions. He will confirm it saying that he got what he wanted”.
The hard answer is that he would prefer to postpone this decision until after the election. This will be a choice between “the economy not getting any worse anyway”, or building the election propaganda on the theme of a “hero who defies the world”. Moreover, this also has the dimension of softening Russia’s anger and not burning bridges.
Is it risky? It is risky. Both economically and politically. But this will not be Erdogan’s first risky move.
Bygones be bygones
This is Erdogan’s stake. Will the world see this? It depends on the conditions at the time. Yesterday, we also witnessed the pragmatism of former President of Türkiye Süleyman Demirel who had said “yesterday was yesterday, today is today”.
When that time comes, no one can predict what the political balances in the world, the balances between the USA, the EU, Russia and China, and the balances within NATO will be. Erdogan also somewhat relies on this uncertainty; When that time comes, he seems to have let things flow a little, with the confidence that a manoeuvre suitable to the situation can be made.
He already uttered the phrase “Yesterday is yesterday…” in response to a question about relations with the United States and the F-16. After Greek Prime Minister Kriyakos Mitsotakis visited Washington, which angered Ankara, the F-16 decision from Congress seemed more difficult. It is easier as the Black Sea and the Balkans come to the fore in NATO strategy after Türkiye’s Sweden and Finland decision.
What was the benefit of this crisis?
Türkiye did not get what it wanted in a way that Erdogan pushed for. He gave that approval a few hours later he gave a statement saying that he intends to leave the decision after the NATO summit.
However, if Erdogan had not caused this crisis, it would not have been possible for Türkiye to draw the world’s attention to the PKK issue that much at the NATO Summit, and for Erdogan to hold such a crowded meeting with the international press.
In that respect, it should be noted that it is good public diplomacy and PR work. Another note in this respect was that foreign colleagues who asked questions at the press conference used Türkiye instead of Turkey to refer to the country as it recently changed its international name. The fact that most of the interlocutors, especially NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, used the word “Türkiye” during the negotiation process also played a part in this.
The debate is going on in domestic politics in Turkey as well as in Sweden and Finland. The public is tired of Erdogan’s constant high-pitched statements and then u-turns. Neither the desired outcome can be taken exactly, nor can anyone believe what is said and can see the future in politics, as in the economy.