Mediterranean conflict – can Turkey defeat the European Union [maps]
This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
WARSAW, (BM) – Turkish foreign policy is a matter of growing concern in the European Union and NATO countries. It is not about the Turkish intervention in Syria, aimed primarily at the Kurds, which everyone – including the United States who once supported the Kurds in their fight against ISIS – swallowed quite smoothly. All the more so, it is not about the regular air strikes and actions of Turkish special forces in northern Iraq, nor about the return of Turkish influence in the Persian Gulf basin, where it has located its military base in Qatar, clearly competing with Saudi Arabia. Likewise, no one in Europe or the USA is concerned with Turkey’s ever closer alliance with Azerbaijan (allegedly pro-Turkish militants from Syria are being transferred to Azerbaijan), which – in the face of the West’s silence – is pushing Armenia deeper into Russia’s embrace.
Even the direct involvement of Turkey in the Libyan conflict, where not only Syrian mercenaries on Turkish wages (estimated at around 5,000) are sent, but also Turkish military “instructors”, of whom there are several hundred, did not arouse any more active opposition in Europe or the USA. All these activities did not directly collide with the interests of the broadly understood West, even if individual countries expressed their dissatisfaction for various reasons.
Only the rapprochement with Moscow, expressed for example in the construction of the first Turkish nuclear power plant in Akkuyu by Rosatom, or the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, and above all in the purchase of the S-400 battery, began to irritate the US. As a result, Turkey was excluded from the program of the most modern combat aircraft, the F-35.
However, what irritated the US was by no means dissatisfied with European countries. On the contrary, some of them collaborated with Turkey, especially in the use of Russian gas flowing through Turkish Stream. Bulgaria has been receiving gas from this source since January 1 this year, and there are other countries in the queue: Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia and Austria, and even Greece. It is not difficult to notice that in this way the countries of southern Europe cooperate with Russia (and indirectly Turkey) in its policy of eliminating Ukraine as an intermediary in Russian gas trade. However, it was gas that caused serious problems in European-Turkish relations.
Course of the conflict:
Turkey’s growing appetite for gas deposits in the Mediterranean basin collided with the interests of other European countries. Since 2009, when an American-Israeli consortium of companies discovered the first large gas field, the Tamar field located in the Israeli exclusive economic zone (the so-called EEZ) (200 billion m3, commercial production since 2013), the eastern part of the Mediterranean has become a field of a technology race and at the same time a political dispute. Each of the countries with a sea coast tried to conduct research and find gas deposits in their EEZ. However, it was known in advance that this would entail political problems, because formally Israel is not recognized by Syria, the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by any country except Turkey itself.
Moreover, the EEZ of individual countries, which, according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, may reach up to 200 NM, overlap from the coasts and are controversial. First of all, Turkey does not recognize the Greek, and even less the Cypriot EEZ, believing that dumps cannot be taken into account in the designation of EEZ and only territorial waters (up to 12 NM) can be designated around them. The basis for determining EEZ according to Turkey should be in the range of the continental shelf, which significantly reduces the Greek EEZ, and in relation to Cyprus, which is after all an island, it means that it has no EEZ at all.
The Turkish proposal treats some of the troublesome Greek islands as non-existent at all, especially the easternmost islet of Kastelorizo, located between Rhodes and Cyprus, only 3 km. from the south shore of Turkey. The Turkish position did not receive international recognition, and the latest talks collapsed in 2017. The differences between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish positions are shown in Map 1.
As long as the dispute was purely prestigious, it did not ignite such great emotions. However, within a few years of its discovery, Israel proved that extracting gas from the seabed can dramatically change a country’s energy position. From an importer of gas, Israel became an exporter by selling gas to Jordan (2017 contract) and Egypt (2019 contract). In addition, in line with ecological trends, it plans to convert its largest coal-fired power plant, Orot Rabin in Hadera, to gas, and since January this year it has lowered the prices for electricity in the country.
Such changes were made possible thanks to the discovery of other gas fields, including the Lewiatan field (470 billion m3) by the American company Noble Energy in 2010 (commercial production from 2020). All these deposits are located south of Cyprus. Egypt has also started to exploit its fields nearby, including the largest Zohr field in the entire basin (850 billion m3), discovered in 2015 by the Italian company Eni (commercial production since 2017).
Lebanon does not count in the race for gas from the seabed, due to its disastrous economic situation, which hinders investment, and due to the location of deposits further from the Lebanese EEZ and the dispute with Israel over its precise determination. Of course, Syria, plunged in civil war, is also not conducting research. On the other hand, other countries in the region, ie Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus, started cooperation a few years ago. It was formalized through the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo in January 2019. Apart from Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are involved. Characteristically, there is no Turkey, even though the participants were initially open to participating.
This is due to Turkey’s difficult relations not only with Greece and Cyprus, but also with Israel. Although Turkey was the most pro-Israeli country in the Middle East in the 20th century, the situation has changed in this century. The reason was the policy of the ruling AKP party in Turkey, and above all its leader Erdoğan, who decided to use the defense of the Palestinians as a tool in Turkish foreign policy aimed at increasing the role of Turkey in the Middle East, especially among Arab states (former subjects of the Ottoman Empire). The effect of this policy was the conflict over the so-called Freedom Flotilla and the death of Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara as a result of the Israeli commando actions in 2010.
Despite the easing of the situation since 2016, Turkish-Israeli relations remained tense, and another source of irritation was the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, which was loudly criticized by Turkey, which hosted the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Summit in Ankara for this reason. In view of this development of the situation, Israel decided to strengthen cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, although of course this had to result in a further cooling of relations with Turkey. Earlier, Israeli companies had started cooperation with Cypriots and acquired some of the rights to the Aphrodite field (130 billion m3), located south of Cyprus.
The deposit was discovered by the Americans from Noble Energy in 2011, and the owners are now approx. 1/3 of the value of Noble Energy, Israel’s Delek Drilling and the Anglo-Dutch Shell (commercial mining has not started yet). On the other hand, this does not prevent Israel from having a dispute with Cyprus, as the Aphrodite field is located on the very border of Cyprus’ EEZ, and the Israeli Yishai field was discovered on the other side. Israel believes that it is in fact one field and is demanding negotiations regarding production.
Regardless of minor Cypriot-Israeli disputes, it is characteristic that Turkish companies did not participate in the discovery, or even more so in the exploitation of any of these fields. This is evident for Cyprus, which is not recognized by Turkey. Likewise, political relations up front prevented Turkish companies from participating in gas exploration in Egypt’s EEZ, as Turkey actively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the deposed Egyptian president Morsi. Certainly, the current president Sisi is not interested in cooperation with Ankara, especially in view of Egypt and Turkey supporting various sides of the conflict in Libya. Finally, Israel also does not intend to cooperate with the Turks for the reasons mentioned above.
In this situation, the Turks felt pushed out of the exploration and exploitation of gas in the Mediterranean Sea. So when the Italian company Eni announced on February 8, 2018 the discovery of another field in Cyprus’ EEZ (Calypso, probably about the size of Aphrodite), the next day Turkish warships blocked its drill vessel. Officially, this was due to Turkey’s claim to part of Area 6 (Block 6), where the new deposit was discovered. Although the Calypso field is located in the south of this area, outside the territory of Turkish claims, this did not prevent Turkey from using its armed forces.
However, the blockade of further exploration was short-lived. As the exploration and production licenses in area 6 are jointly owned (50% each) by the Italian Eni and the French Total, in September 2019, these companies decided to jointly mine the Calypso field in the future. Moreover, these companies cooperate in a further seven Cypriot areas (on the existing thirteen), which makes them the most important financial player in the gas business in Cypriot waters. Other important companies include the American ExxonMobil, Korean Kogas and Qatar Petroleum.
In view of the threat from Turkey, the next drilling work in 2019 by the American company ExxonMobil in area 10 was under the protection of the US Navy, even though the area is entirely outside Turkish claims. This time, Turkey remained passive. The field discovered in March 2019 was called Glaucus (its resources have not yet been accurately estimated at 142-227 billion m3). In view of the encouraging results of the works, ExxonMobil decided to engage in searches also in the Greek (south-west of Crete) and Egyptian EEZ. In this way, the USA, while protecting the interests of its company, became a party to the conflict. Anyway, both the USA and France had previously asked for permanent observer status at the East-Mediterranean Gas Forum.
Moreover, also in March 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the sixth Greek-Israeli-Cypriot meeting. The official declaration after the meeting said, among others about satisfaction with new finds of gas deposits under the Mediterranean Sea and about the diversification of gas supplies. In practice, this meant the Americans turned on a green light for a project to build a gas pipeline from deposits south of Cyprus to Europe. A little earlier, in September 2018, Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline from the Aphrodite field to Egyptian gas liquefaction plants.
Both sides of the conflict tried to operate using the fait accompli method. In May 2019, the Turks sent their drill ships into the waters of Cyprus EEZ under the protection of warships. In response, also in May, France (involved through Total’s extensive investments) signed an agreement with Cyprus regarding the stationing of its warships in Cyprus. Thus, both sides of the dispute began to use military tools in the political dispute, while still avoiding open military conflict. The situation was additionally exacerbated by the first deliveries of the Russian S-400 system to Turkey in July 2019, which of course worsened the already poor relations with the USA. In October 2019, the US renewed its partnership agreement with Greece providing for the stationing of US fleet units in both Greece and Cyprus.
A little earlier, in July 2019, the European Council expressed its opinion on the Cyprus-Turkish dispute, suggesting a solution to the conflict through talks, while suspending further talks on an air transport agreement with Turkey, suggesting the European Commission to suspend pre-accession talks with Turkey (which are fiction) and recommending the European Investment Bank to review its activities in Turkey. Therefore, for the first time in the dispute, possible economic sanctions from the EU appeared. The loneliness of Turkey was emphasized by Saudi Arabia’s declaration of support for Cyprus in September 2019 and joining the cooperation with Cyprus and Greece of the United Arab Emirates, which took place in November 2019.
In this way, Turkey, by pursuing an overly aggressive policy in the Mediterranean Sea, has led to its far-reaching isolation on the international stage. An attempt to exit this position was the conclusion by Turkey in November 2019 of an agreement with the Libyan Government of National Unity under the leadership of Sarraj, which defined the scope of the EEZ of both countries in such a way that in practice the Mediterranean Sea was cut in half from the Libyan Cyrenaica (which, moreover, is under controlled by the opponent of the Government of National Unity, General Haftar!) to the shores of Anatolia.
Of course, the Libyan partner is fully dependent on the Turkish hegemon and has only signed the documents submitted to him. Of course, the Turkish proposal in no way took into account the existence of, for example, Greek islands such as Crete or Rhodes, delimiting only a 12-mile zone of territorial waters around them, just like around Cyprus. Such a unilateral agreement immediately aroused protests from almost all countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and a clear anti-Turkish declaration from the European Council. In December 2019, Cyprus brought a complaint to the International Court of Justice in The Hague about the actions of Turkey.
The problem, however, is that, firstly, the hearings before the ICJ drag on for years, and secondly, Turkey does not recognize the existence of the Republic of Cyprus, and therefore has no intention of participating in the court procedure on a claim that does not exist from its point of view. In practice, therefore, the judicial process may even end one day, but Turkey will certainly not recognize any settlement. This means that the conflict will not be resolved in court rooms but at sea.
The first clear response to the Turkish-Libyan agreement was the conduct of joint sea maneuvers by Italy, Greece and France in December 2019 in the waters south of Cyprus. In turn, on January 2, 2020, the agreement on the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline was signed by the heads of states of Greece, Cyprus and Israel. It is to lead from Israeli (Leviathan) and possible Cypriot fields through Cyprus, Crete, mainland Greece, all the way to Italy, and in another branch to Bulgaria.
The construction details are to be determined by 2022, and the construction itself is to be completed in 2025. The plans are to be the longest offshore gas pipeline in the world (1,900 km) with a capacity of 10 bcm per year, with the possibility of doubling, see map 3. The investor is to be the IGI Poseidon consortium, whose shareholders are half the Greek company DEPA and the Italian Edison. However, attention should be paid to the planned cost of the investment (EUR 6-7 billion) and a fairly preliminary stage of arrangements.
There is no doubt, however, that the project, apart from its economic significance, also has (or perhaps primarily) geopolitical significance. It shows that Turkey is unable to impose its domination in the eastern Mediterranean. The Turks tried to convince the EU that there is already a cheaper, onshore gas pipeline leading from the south to Europe, i.e. the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline, and the EastMed project has only a political motivation. However, the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (apart from the question of its capacity) can bring gas from Iran or Azerbaijan, so it is clearly not an alternative for Israel or Cyprus. In response to the signing of the agreement, in January the Turks sent their research ships to the area of the new “border” between Turkey and Libya’s EEZ and began to transfer troops to Libya.
In view of the tense situation, in April 2020, ExxonMobil postponed its drilling projects in Cypriot waters until 2021. The situation was aggravated by the conflict in Libya, in which in May and June the Turkish-backed Government of National Unity from Tripoli went counter-offensive and displaced the troops of the Libyan National Army General Haftar from the western part of Libya. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates began to intensively support General Haftar with weapons supplies (not counting Russian supplies, of course), and Egypt announced the mobilization of its troops and transferred some of them to the Libyan border. In May, after the meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece, France, Cyprus, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, a joint statement was issued condemning Turkey’s policy towards both Libya and Cyprus.
On June 10, 2020, there was the first incident that actually threatened the use of weapons between a European state and Turkey, although it was related to the Libyan conflict. The French frigate Courbet – in line with the NATO-led Sea Guardian mission – wanted to check that there were no weapons on board the ship bound for the embargoed Libya. Turkish ships escorting him illuminated him three times with their radars, that is, they aimed their weapons at the French vessel, which finally refrained from carrying out control. Following the incident, Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu stated that France was biased in the Libyan conflict and that the ship was carrying humanitarian aid and therefore demanded an unconditional apology from France. In protest, France withdrew from the NATO mission in July.
On July 13, 2020, EU foreign ministers agreed during a meeting at the initiative of France to prepare sanctions against Turkey. President Macron in particular has repeatedly publicly demanded sanctions against Turkey because of its policy in Libya and the violation of the rights of Cyprus and Greece through illegal seismic surveys conducted in these countries’ EEZs. Chancellor Merkel, in turn, tried to ease the situation and hold talks with both Greece and Turkey. However, the talks did not bring results, and at the end of July, the Turkish research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa began seismic surveys of the seabed in the Cyprus EEZ.
August 2020 was already a continuous line of escalating tension. First, on August 6, 2020, the Greek-Egyptian agreement was signed, defining the mutual zones of EEZ and, of course, ignoring the earlier arrangements of Turkey and Libya. In turn, Turkey responded by sending another research vessel, Oruç Reis, on August 10, 2020. Greece called for an immediate halt to the research and demanded an urgent meeting of EU foreign ministers. In support of the Greek position, on August 12, France decided to send its ships and aircraft to the vicinity of Cyprus to “monitor the situation in the region and show its determination to defend international law.”
French ships began joint maneuvers with Greek units, which was supposed to scare the Turkish research vessel. President Erdoğan immediately spoke, declaring that for any attack on Turkish ships the aggressor would pay a “great price”. On August 14, the Greek frigate Limnos, following Oruç Reis, led to a minor collision with the Turkish frigate Kemal Reis, which was escorting a research vessel. The damage was minor, but the tension level increased even more.
President Erdoğan announced on August 19 that Turkey would not shy away from the “colonial powers”, referring to the French history in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, the next day, surprising everyone, he announced that Turkey had discovered a great gas field beneath the Black Sea. The deposit is to have 320 billion m3, and commercial gas production is to begin as early as 2023. Such optimistic assumptions did not inspire confidence among specialists, but they were probably intended to help the Turkish lira, which fell to its lowest level in history at the time of 7.4 for $ 1.
However, the discovery in the Black Sea did not stop Turkish research between Cyprus and Crete, and even Ankara announced their extension. In response, the Greeks announced an extension of their sea maneuvers. Heiko Maas, who visited Athens and Ankara on 25 August, tried to alleviate the situation, but to no avail. The next day, France announced that it would join the Greek-Cypriot maneuvers in which Italy had already participated. Moreover, the planes were sent by the United Arab Emirates.
In response, Turkey has planned its maneuvers in the same area, combined with heavy shooting, for the first two weeks of September. In addition, on August 27, the Turks announced that their F-16s had intercepted six Greek fighters of the same type in the region of Turkish maneuvers. The Americans took another small step by announcing on September 1 that they would lift the thirty-three-year arms embargo on Cyprus, which was, of course, met with an angry reaction from Turkey. On the same day, Greece, despite economic difficulties, announced that the proceeds from the last tranche of government bonds, worth EUR 2.5 billion, will be allocated to fighting the effects of the crisis and to additional military spending. They are to go to all types of armed forces, but most likely the money will be spent on the purchase of Rafale fighters and at least one French frigate.
At the same time, the source of purchases, which is France, is not surprising, due to the political and military involvement of this country in the conflict with Turkey. The direction of acquiring large Heron UAVs from Israel in May this year was similarly obvious. Interestingly, Turkey has also been using 10 of these drones since 2008. They were used by, among others to bomb Kurdish positions in northern Iraq. It seems that the experience of using these drones allowed the Turks to construct their own large Bayraktar TB1 drones, then developed into TB2, also armed.
Obviously, both sides want to show that they are ready to defend their arguments also by military means. Gathering hostile forces in one region can even accidentally break out a conflict. The former foreign minister and then Turkish prime minister Mehmet Davutoğlu, who led Turkey’s foreign policy during the first part of Erdoğan’s rule, warned against this in late August. However, his more peaceful attitude with the repeated slogan of “zero problems with neighbors” led to a divide with the current president. An attempt to resolve the conflict between NATO members was also made by Jens Stoltenberg, who on September 3 even announced that, after talks with the leaders of Greece and Turkey, he had led to “technical talks” between the parties to the conflict.
And although the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed its readiness for talks, the Greek Foreign Ministry quickly commented on the NATO chief’s message that any talks are possible only after Turkish ships have withdrawn from “Greek waters”. President Erdoğan, in his own style, announced two days later that either the Greeks would sit down for talks or they would face a “painful experience.” In view of the growing conflict, Charles Michel suggested calling an international conference on September 4, but at the same time announced that during the European Council meeting at the end of September, he would propose a “carrot and stick” policy, which means the threat of imposing sanctions on Turkey. So for now, a further escalation of the conflict can be expected.
While no one in the EU believes in a real war with Turkey, the adoption of economic sanctions is possible, even with such a sluggish administrative machine as the Union. This is dangerous for Turkey because the European Union is by far the largest recipient of Turkish exports (42.4% in 2019). In addition, almost a third of Turkey’s imports (32.3% in 2019) come from the EU. Finally, European companies are also the largest foreign investor in Turkey. In turn, Turkey is an important trade partner for the EU (sixth in the order), but exports to Turkey are only 3.2%, and imports account for 3.6% of the total EU imports in 2019. This means that if the conflict with the EU moves from a political to an economic level, this can be very problematic for the Turkish economy.
The condition of the Turkish economy is also very important. It has been struggling with significant problems for several years. The Turkish stock exchange has been a real rollercoaster lately. In May 2019, the main BIST index fell below 850 points, only to exceed 1,200 points in January 2020 (i.e. an increase of almost 50%), and in March 2020 it fell below 850 points again. Already in July 2020, the result again approached 1,200 points, and has since been falling again. Needless to say, there are no serious (non-speculative) investors in this situation. International rating agencies rank Turkey very low: Fitch BB- (speculative level) with negative tendency; Moody’s B1 (high risk) negative bias; S&P B + (high risk) with a stable trend.
Despite this, Turkey has for years boasted of a significant increase in GDP. There is no doubt, however, that Turkey’s GDP growth is being fueled by the artificially maintained low interest rate of the Turkish Central Bank (TCMB), which is now completely subordinate to President Erdoğan. Its previous president, Murat Çetinkaya, was fired before his term in office last July because he was reluctant to endorse the presidential policy of supporting GDP growth, no matter what the consequences. Consequently, he was replaced by President Murat Uysal, who is fully slow to act. Such a policy must lead to a loss of international confidence and significant inflation. Currently, it is close to 12%, with the average for the last two years being approx. 14%. Nevertheless, TCMB cut interest rates from 12% to 8.25% in May this year, which is well below the inflation rate.
Of course, this was supposed to help the Turkish economy bending under the weight of the coronavirus, but it also had to increase inflation in the face of the flood of cheap money on the market. This also happened, and the value of loans granted in Turkey in May 2020 increased by 50% y / y. Things are even worse when you look at the value of the Turkish currency. During the year (September 2019-September 2020), it lost approx. 30% against the dollar, reaching the historical minimum and approaching the level of 7.5 per dollar. It should be remembered that recently the dollar has significantly depreciated and the lira has lost about 40% against the euro over the same period.
Considering that Turkey is a country that has to import energy resources and pay for them in hard currency, such a decrease in the value of its own currency is a huge challenge. The prices of fuels, as well as medicines and other imported products, are rising rapidly. This is all the more problematic because one of the main sources of inflows of dollars / euro, which is tourism, has almost completely dried up due to the coronavirus. During the previous crisis, when the lira depreciated sharply in 2018, tourists who came more willingly for cheap holidays and shopping were the rescue.
This time, Turkey cannot count on such a bonus due to the devaluation of its currency. This means that state spending increases significantly, while incomes in hard currency (tourism) decrease, and in own (taxes) decrease in value. In addition, a significant part (approx. 40%) of loans taken from Turkish banks, especially before 2018, were denominated in dollars or euros due to lower interest rates. The subsequent decline in the value of the lira leads to more and more difficulties in paying off these loans and, consequently, bankruptcies, which of course weakens the economy. Taught by the 2018 crisis, the Turkish central bank has tried to react over the course of this year to avoid a significant devaluation of the lira. Thus, TCMB defended the national currency, spending on it only until the end of June, it is estimated, about $ 65 billion. In this way, he significantly reduced his reserves. At the beginning of 2020, they amounted to approximately $ 80 billion. At the beginning of September, however, they fell by almost half to around $ 40 billion.
For comparison: Polish foreign exchange reserves (although our economy is smaller than the Turkish economy) increased from around $ 125 billion to almost $ 140 billion in the same period. This means that our “hard currency” reserves are more than three times larger than the Turkish ones. This situation shows how extremely costly for the Turkish central bank was to defend the lira. Worse still, the TCMB spent not only its reserves in defending the lira, but also the deposits of Turkish banks deposited with the central bank. As a result, TCMB now owes other banks more dollars than its resources. In practice, this means that the Turkish central bank no longer has any reserves. In such a situation, on August 6, TCMB had to announce that it would stop intervening in the market, which resulted in an immediate collapse of the lira exchange rate, deepening even in September. At the same time, on August 10, President Erdoğan called for … a further reduction in interest rates.
The Turkish economy is therefore facing a real challenge. On the one hand, the projected decline in GDP due to the crisis caused by the coronavirus (-9.9% in the second quarter) and the resulting rising unemployment (approx. 13%) should prompt an easing of the monetary policy. However, it already leads to such a significant decrease in the value of the lira that there is no question of further loosening. In order to halt the fall of the lira, it is rather necessary to raise interest rates, which President Erdoğan certainly wants to avoid. Turkey cannot afford to further defend its currency, which now exposes it to various types of speculative attacks and political tensions.
Of course, there is no shortage of the latter. If we add to this potential sanctions from the EU, Turkey’s negotiating position is not one of the strongest. However, Turkey is by no means without a chance in a dispute with EU countries. It has two strong arguments. The first is strong leadership determined to take even radical steps. This certainly cannot be said of the EU. President Erdoğan is obviously aware of this, and therefore may pursue a policy with military means, as he is not afraid of a real large-scale military clash. Perhaps it includes a possible incident “in the cost”, perhaps even loss of life.
However, such a situation would only help to strengthen his power inside. If several Turkish sailors were killed in some armed incident at sea, how easy it would be to dazzle Turkish society with slogans such as: “crusaders attack us” (Islamist version) or “we must defend our blue homeland (mavi vatan) against the colonialists” (Kemalist version), how the seas around Turkey are defined. It is obvious that in the face of internal troubles, it is best to direct the public’s dissatisfaction to an external enemy (see the case of Lukashenka, who accuses Poland of wanting to take Grodno).
So you can be sure that Turkish society will remain faithful to the Turkish authorities in the event of any conflict. While one can imagine support for a hard response to Turkey’s actions, for example, in Greece, it is difficult to do so in the societies of Italy or France, whose ships sail around Cyprus. These countries are involved in the conflict because of the interests of their big companies (Eni, Total), but there is certainly no desire to conduct a real armed conflict. It is not certain, therefore, how the authorities of these countries will behave if there were any actual military clashes.
The second argument that remains in the hands of President Erdoğan is … Germany. Until now, the federal government has avoided clear declarations and tried to mediate in the dispute, although it did not do much. Of course, in the background there are three million German citizens of Turkish origin, as well as another probably three million migrants from Islamic countries staying in Germany. In addition, Turkey has millions of migrants up its sleeve that it can release and even force them to leave Turkey. Of course, most of them will want to go to the country with the highest benefits, i.e. Germany. Therefore, Germany’s diplomacy has so far not provided clear support to President Macron, who urges the EU to react strongly to Turkish claims.
In turn, sanctions are a very strong argument in the hands of the EU. If actual sanctions were adopted to hit Turkey’s weak economy, it would lead to a deep economic and social crisis in Turkey. Such a situation, in turn, may lead to a desire to change power, which may be dangerous for President Erdoğan. Thus, it seems that the Turkish side will strive for a quick solution to the conflict, even at the risk of using armed forces, while the EU can expect attempts to prolong and ease tensions, while using the tools of economic pressure.
Finally, it should be noted that the reaction of the United States remains unknown. They are involved in the dispute due to the participation of American capital in the exploration and exploitation of gas fields in the Cypriot and Israeli EEZ, hence they clearly support the Greek-Cypriot-Israeli side. At the same time, President Trump on the eve of the elections is certainly not interested in escalating the conflict. The US will therefore rather avoid putting the matter on the edge of a knife. Perhaps it will be convenient for US diplomacy to leave the matter (for now) in the hands of Europeans, and they will postpone their deeper involvement after the elections. However, such a decision will be in the hands of the next president.
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