Turkey’s 2022 foreign policy agenda kicked off more quickly than expected…
A phone call between Moscow and Ankara gave the first signal that January would be a difficult month for Turkish foreign policy. On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Erdogan by phone. In statements made following the phone call officials indicated the two leaders discussed issues including Syria, Libya, and Ukraine.
Russian jets attacked Idlib the day Putin called
Though details of the meeting were not disclosed, developments in Syria indicated what was discussed.
It seems that Putin called to indicate to Ankara that Russias patience has reached its end in Idlib, a fact that Russia repeatedly hinted at in 2021. On the same day as Putin’s phone call, Russian jets bombed water distribution lines in Idlib, where approximately 3 million people live, and announced that the UN water distribution center was severely damage.
It’s not difficult to imagine that these attacks will only increase in frequency and intensity as long as the AK Party government is not able to root out terror cells in Idlib within the scope of the Astana process. Withdrawal from Idlib is gradually becoming inevitable for Ankara. Otherwise, it could put Turkish soldiers serving in the region in serious trouble.
This doesn’t just apply to Idlib. The Russians want Russia to increase its bombardment in the new year, and they want both the Turkish armed forces and other armed forces to withdraw from the regions they control. It is clear that this Russian pressure will increase gradually until all of Northern Syria is under Assad’s control.
Critical visit from Libya
The Libyan elections, scheduled for December of last year, have been postponed until later this month (January 2022). This situation alone is enough to put Libya at the top of Turkey’s foreign policy agenda for the start of the new year.
As a matter of fact, the state visit from Libya at the end of December to Ankara gave further clues as to what the AK Party approach to Libya will be in the near future.
The visit came from the Eastern Libyan authority, which Turkey sees as the “opposition” in the Libyan war and which AK Party politicians and pro-government outlets have criticized with harsh, sometimes insulting, statements. The visiting delegation was comprised of deputies from the parliament serving in Tobruk, Libya, whose legislation Turkey does not recognize. It is clear that Ankara, considering the forthcoming elections and the ever-changing alliances in Libya, is opening a channel of communication with a group it has long considered an “enemy.” The announcement of a visit by General Hafter – who has long been insulted by the ruling party – was even announced by Foreign Minister Cavusoglu himself.
It is not time for military measures but for diplomacy and politics. As the election process progresses in Libya it seems inevitable that the AK Party government will adopt an even more “flexible” stance towards this country and its political actors.
Ukraine crisis: Ankara’s job will be difficult without a diplomatic solution
The third pillar of Turkey’s urgent foreign policy agenda is the Ukraine crisis.
As a result of CIA reports leaked to the international press that showed a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, the world began to believe that Russia was preparing to directly invade eastern Ukraine. The increasing military buildup only cemented these beliefs. NATO member countries, especially Britain, even began to deploy military units in the name of aid to Ukraine.
The video conference between Russian President Putin and US President Biden in December did not yield any real results. However, the the decision made by the two leaders to continue talks indicates that a diplomatic solution to the issue has not been counted out yet.
In this context, the world is focusing on the next meeting between Putin and Biden on January 12. The way that this crisis evolves is of great importance to Ankara. In addition to Turkey being a NATO country, the AK Party government’s recent arms sale negotiation with Ukraine shows clearly where Ankara actually stands.
Ukraine’s transition to the Western camp, while Russia sees the country as its “backyard,” is among Moscow’s critical red lines. Moscow holds the same view on Georgia’s NATO membership.
From this point of view, it is not hard to guess what message Putin may have sent to President Erdogan on Ukraine.
The AK Party’s message of “Let’s be a mediator between Ukraine and Russia” has not been taken seriously by Russian authorities. However, it is possible that Putin expects support from Ankara against NATO.
If we go back to the beginning, it’s impossible to read Russia’s bombing of Idlib separately from Ukraine.
It seems that Putin has introduced a “carrot-stick” policy with Turkey. The issue of Idlib is one of the weakest points of foreign policy currently pursued by the AK Party government.