On January 23, the Turkish parliament approved Sweden’s accession to NATO. This event was expected by some, and some, referring to the position of marginal Turkish political forces such as the Patriotic Party with its Chairman Doğu Perinçek or the local Communist Party, held out hope for Turkey’s intransigence on the Swedish issue. However, the hopes of the latter did not come true due to Turkey’s traditional diplomacy, which is linked to its strategic security with the US and NATO.
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov warned that NATO accession of Finland and Sweden was groundless due to imaginary threats from Russia. However, their accession to the North Atlantic Alliance will have negative consequences. It will force Moscow to take adequate measures to ensure military security in the northwestern direction. What does that really mean? Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia was forced to build up military units in the Leningrad Military District and the Northern Fleet. In this context, it is important to consider Russia’s provision of a nuclear component, specifically the Iskander-M, a mobile short-range ballistic missile system with nuclear warheads, to Belarus.
Thus, the notion that Turkey and Hungary’s reluctance to support Sweden’s NATO accession is due to a supposed Turkish-Russian alliance is unfounded. Moscow understands Ankara’s and Budapest’s diplomatic intrigues on this issue.
Turkey linked the positive resolution of the Swedish issue in its parliament to the restart of Turkish-American strategic relations. This includes the military deal on modernized F-16 Block70 fighter jets, preferential loans to the Turkish economy in acute crisis, promotion of European integration, and satisfaction of Turkish ambitions in the settlement of a number of regional conflicts, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, Gaza Strip, Syria, and Libya.
In particular, the Karabakh issue is not limited to Turkey’s establishment of Azerbaijan’s control over this disputed territory in the conflict with Armenia. Ankara also hopes to get the Zangezur corridor in southern Armenia — the shortest route to Azerbaijan and other Turkic republics of Central Asia, within the framework of the Turan geopolitical project.
In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip, it is well known that Turkey is proposing to recognize Palestinian independence within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and giving Ankara an international mandate — a guarantor of the security of the Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East. The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s proposal is linked to the declaration of the “Turkish axis” political doctrine and Ankara’s aspirations to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council as a representative of the Islamic world.
As in Syria, Turkey, under the pretext of fighting Kurdish separatism, is establishing a 30-kilometer “security zone” in the north of the Syrian Arab Republic and intends to redraw the ethnic map by replacing the Kurdish population with the Turkoman population, as well as to gain control over the strategic oil transit routes by relying on them.
In Libya, Turkey supports the UN-recognized Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj and opposes General Commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by the House of Representatives of the unicameral parliament. Fayez al-Sarraj controls only the capital Tripoli and its surrounding settlements, that is partly because of the Turkish military aid and troops. The rest of the devastated country is left to Haftar.
As a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist organization, Erdoğan aligned himself with Fayez al-Sarraj. Meanwhile, the Turkish leader anticipates obtaining contracts from Tripoli in the oil and gas rich Libya to secure Ankara’s right to extract and process Libyan hydrocarbons, particularly in the oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. This has strained relations with Greece and Cyprus due to the dispute over the ownership of the relevant economic zones. Finally, Turkey’s main objective in Libya is to solidify its position as a major player in accordance with the Turkish axis doctrine which aims to influence the political situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
The final point in the “Swedish story” was set by President Erdoğan on January 25 when he signed the ratification agreement. As you know, according to the regulations, the decision of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM or Parliament) requires the signature of the decree by the President of Turkey within 15 days. Of course, this is a technical procedure. The speed with which Erdoğan acted is surprising, not only because it occurred just two days after the parliament’s decision, but also because the decree was signed during the night. However, it is worth noting that the Turkish parliament also voted during the night.
The dynamics of events are highly variable in today’s turbulent world. Could Erdoğan have not signed the relevant decree regarding Sweden? In theory, anything is possible. As long as there is a reason for it. Erdoğan is known for his tendency to change his decisions abruptly based on the “political climate” rather than his personal mood.
In other words, if the Turkish leader does not see adequate solutions from the United States within the next two weeks, as previously agreed upon in talks with President Joseph Biden and at the meeting with Antony Blinken on January 6 in Ankara, there is no guarantee that, when signing the decree to ratify the Swedish issue, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could have had his pen’s ink “dried up” or the 18-carat gold nib of the Parker 51 Deluxe fountain pen “broken.” But this is not the right way to resolve serious matters.
First, although Sweden is not a formal member of NATO, it is an important strategic partner of the alliance. Sweden participates in NATO’s military exercises, has a high-tech military-industrial complex, and is well-equipped with modern weapons.
Second, Turkey’s geostrategic position remains a crucial factor in its alliance with the West and its key role in NATO’s southeastern flank.
Thirdly, Turkey is interested in expanding its influence towards the East, particularly in the region known as Turan. It has already established a significant geopolitical, geo-economic, and military presence in Azerbaijan, and is actively involved in the affairs of other Turkic countries in Central Asia. Why would the US want to lose a partner that could leverage its interconnectedness with Russia to impose its own conditions on the latter that might potentially reduce Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus and Central Asia?
Ankara is anticipating a shift in Washington’s approach. It is not a coincidence that Erdoğan made a “historic visit” to Athens in early December 2023 and declared a restart of Turkish-Greek relations based on peace and partnership. Through this visit, Turkish diplomacy is signaling to Washington to avoid military escalation between the two NATO members who have irreconcilable differences. This alleviates concerns from the US and France regarding the balance of power between Athens and Ankara. Turkey in exchange offers to the US to repair the frayed relations between the two countries and satisfy US interests in air force modernization, investment, and regional themes.
The unexpected shift in Turkish banks’ position at the start of the year regarding the acceptance of Russian payments for “parallel transit” goods should also be taken into account in this context. The recent easing of Turkish banking policy, led by Hafize Gaye Erkan, a pro-American businesswoman, will be likely linked no only to the pressure of the US Department of the Treasury on Turkey for possible sanctions to comply with the embargo against Russia. Additionally, but also related to a change in the White House administration’s attitude toward Ankara.
The future will reveal the outcome of Turkish-American relations. Since US President Joe Biden appealed to Congress to approve a deal to sell modernized F-16 fighter jets to Turkey right after the Turkish parliament’s decision on Sweden’s NATO membership, Erdoğan expedited the signing of the decree on January 25. It is evident that Russia will need to reinforce not only the Leningrad Military District and the Northern Fleet, but also the North Caucasus Military District with the Black Sea Fleet. The restart of Russian-Armenian relations is currently relevant in terms of both the economy and control of the Zangezur corridor, as well as military relations.
Some Armenian experts who are opposed to Russian control of the Zangezur corridor mistakenly believe that this process violates Armenia’s sovereignty. However, it is quite obvious that if Turkish-Azerbaijani control is established over the Syunik Province, Armenia’s statehood would be at risk. At the same time, Russian military control over such an important section of multimodal transit along the Middle Corridor will frustrate Ankara’s ambitious plans related to the “eastward thrust” and, if misunderstood by Baku, will threaten Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
Such is the fickle nature of the dynamics of political events.
Alexander SVARANTS — Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”