On the threshold of big elections in Turkey, presidential and parliamentary, as always, there is a lot of talk about the chances of candidates and parties.
But the main question becomes something more: the choice of the strategic course of the state, which has remained unchanged over the past fifteen years or so.
Around the turn of 2005-2008, Ankara formed a clear view of its own interests in the region and the world as a whole, which differed significantly from the views of the previous Turkey, “before Erdogan.” Turkey’s political leadership understood that the stability and security of its borders did not always coincide with the plans and contours of NATO and those times when the country unconditionally followed the Western course. And if, following the results of the May 14 elections, Erdogan’s positions falter, this will automatically mean a weakening of Turkish positions throughout the entire geopolitical radius: in the South Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and so on.
At the same time, Turkey itself will enter approximately the same format in which it stayed until the early 2000s, sitting in the reception area of the European Union and endlessly waiting to join this organization. Thus, in mid-May, the Turkish voter will have to make not a political, but a geopolitical choice, determining the external course of the state for decades to come. Domestic policy largely depends on foreign policy, and if the external contour of Turkey’s influence significantly shrinks, then we should expect a narrowing of the gross domestic product, or simply put, income and social guarantees for the Turkish population.
Over the past decade and a half, under the dominance of Erdogan and his party, the Turks have become accustomed to feeling differently, as if straightening their shoulders, becoming a prominent, influential part of the Eurasian space and influencing key conflicts, in particular, such as in Karabakh. An equally important issue, in the event of a weakening of the positions of the Justice and Development Party and its founder Erdogan, will be the fate of the Organization of Turkic States, which has become a noticeable phenomenon among the world’s interstate associations.
In general, there is too much at stake, and it is in this sense that the upcoming Turkish elections should be considered fateful, not to mention what is happening around Ukraine. The Turkish factor is also becoming one of the main balances here. The Kurdish issue has always been a special issue for Turkey. The Kurds are also waiting for the end of the elections to program their actions.
Many power lines of the world have converged on Turkey, including the European Union and the United States, Russia and China. At the start, everyone froze, waiting for the elective finish.
It is well known that the collective West does not want to see Erdogan and his political supporters at the head of Turkey again. Erdogan clearly understands this, for which the balance between the West and the East is vital to him, a key place on the map of Eurasia, where Turkey and Russia are two giant transit, infrastructure bridges. Taking into account the current state of affairs, Ankara understands that in the conditions of growing international tension and the transformation of the system of international relations, it needs to adhere to a foreign policy course independent of the United States and the EU that meets its own national interests. It is difficult to achieve this. But Turkey has come too far, from which it would be dangerous to turn back for itself, since everyone will take advantage of abrupt changes in its foreign policy, up to attempts to split the country from within.
At the same time, Turkey may well quickly turn into a third world country, hardly noticeable on the world map, as it was, by the standards of history, not so long ago. Turkey may not be able to withstand such a return to the past, a sharp decrease in weight and status.
The Turkish side’s comprehensive adherence to the tasks of the collective West set for Ankara in the event of a new leadership will lead to an irreversible decrease in Turkey’s influence in the international arena and its transformation from a global geopolitical player not even into a regional power, but a backward country, closed in itself.
Turkey is trying with all its might to hold its positions in the western direction. However, unlike the vast eastern, fully equal field of cooperation, it is much more difficult to do this there. The most prominent problems of interaction with the collective West were manifested on the Turkish “visa” for membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO. Turkey froze here in the middle of the road, having made one, forced step, towards Finland, but not making another, towards Sweden. The Kurdish factor, heavily involved in the “buffet”, does not allow Turkey to overstep its interests.
The question of the practical benefits of NATO membership for Turkey itself requires the initiation of a series of expert and political discussions. In this regard, in the interests of preserving internal political stability, the Turkish leadership needs, including at the municipal level, to organize public discussions of these problems on a regular basis. But Turkey has not yet used this very effective international analytical tool. Turkey may be late.
Such a delay may have a negative impact directly on the course of the Turkish election campaign. Indeed, in the framework of the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2023, it is important to prevent provocative protest actions in the regions of Turkey organized by opposition political forces with the direct assistance of the United States and the EU. In addition, the most dangerous excesses, such as the attempted coup of 2016, should be kept under control.
Turkey needs a wider field to strengthen its voice, including in the form of designated expert platforms. Otherwise, any outcome of the elections will not insure Turkey against future problems.
By Grigory Trofimchuk
Expert on International Relations