Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created new geopolitical data in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.
Its multiple consequences prompted NATO to invite Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
This allowed Turkey to play a role in the conflict by avoiding imposing sanctions against Russia and providing Kyiv with drones, and finally, to project the importance of Greece as a factor of stability in the region, which had.
As a result, the increased American military presence in Alexandroupolis in western Thrace.
These external factors, the dire economic situation, the consequences of the recent earthquake and the negative results of the polls for presidential candidate Erdogan obliged the Turkish President, who felt his international isolation, to change his foreign policy.
The first step was taken when he gave the green light to Finland’s membership of NATO, using one of his bargaining chips, which he was holding to secure the purchase of the F-16s from the US, keeping the other of Sweden.
As a result, during the visit of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to Ankara, President Erdogan signed his decision to send the ratification of Finland’s membership to the Parliament of Turkey.
During the joint press conference, the Turkish President, satisfied with the fulfilment of the commitments undertaken by Finland, stated that NATO will become stronger with Finland’s membership in playing a more active role in maintaining international security and stability.
President Niinisto expressed his thanks, stressing that this is the most important news for all the Finish people.
He did not omit, however, to state that Finland’s membership of NATO is not complete without Sweden.
For Sweden’s candidacy for NATO, Erdogan’s position was that Ankara would continue the talks with Stockholm based on NATO’s principles, in particular, that of combating terrorism, stressing that Sweden’s candidacy will directly depend on the measures to be taken based on the trilateral memorandum of cooperation on counter-terrorism signed in Madrid in June 2022.
The reasons which led Finland to seek NATO membership are many.
First and foremost, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine obliged Finland to turn towards NATO, as the security environment for Helsinki and Europe changed radically.
It was, therefore, expected that accession to NATO would strengthen Finland’s security and the stability of the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe.
Given that Sweden is Finland’s closest partner in security and defence, Finland’s NATO membership could not be complete without Sweden.
Finland in NATO could bring its expertise in crisis management and new technologies, among others, to the alliance.
As a member of NATO, Finland could promote the development of cooperation between the EU and NATO on matters of defence.
Another change was the friendly approach towards Greece within the positive climate created by the “diplomacy of earthquakes”.
As a result, the two countries decided that Turkey would support Greece’s candidature for a non-permanent member seat of the UN Security Council for the period 2025-2027 and Greece, Turkey’s candidacy for the post of Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation.
Moreover, a moratorium was agreed upon concerning military exercises in the Aegean until the summer.
These developments should be considered as tactical moves by Turkey because, after the May 14 elections, it is expected that the strategic goals of Turkey will not change, even if in a diplomatic gambit the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sent congratulations to Greece for its National Day on 25 March, anniversary of the revolution of the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire.
The most important move that Turkey has taken was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Egypt, which have been strained since the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s late Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.
To that effect, Cavusoglu visited Cairo on March 18, the first visit of a Turkish foreign minister in the past 11 years.
The same stands for the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who visited Adana after the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria.
The consultations between the two ministers revealed the existing differences between the two countries on three major issues – Libya, activities of the Muslim Brotherhood members in Turkey, and the threats of Turkey against Greece and Cyprus.
On Libya, tensions between Egypt and Turkey rose early in October after Ankara signed in 2019 a series of economic agreements with Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) on hydrocarbon exploration in Libya’s Mediterranean waters.
In 2019, Ankara signed an EEZ delimitation deal with Tripoli to strengthen its hand in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting Egypt to retaliate by signing a similar one with Greece.
Egypt rejected these agreements, asserting that the GNU’s mandate has expired and that it is not authorised to sign such deals.
Cairo holds Turkey largely responsible for the current situation in Libya, which Sisi’s government sees as a threat to Egypt’s national security.
Concerning the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood members in Turkey, as part of the gestures to please Cairo, President Erdogan has taken measures to curb their activities, imposing only restrictions on several television stations run by Egyptian dissidents.
The other side of the coin is that, following the talks with his counterpart, Cavusoglu expressed Turkey’s desire to improve ties in all fields, including diplomacy, energy transportation, and joint military drills.
Any expectation that Turkey’s normalisation drive will change the equilibrium in the eastern Mediterranean to its liking is overly optimistic.
Egypt opts to preserve its partnership with Greece and Cyprus, and any Turkish-Egyptian partnership in energy appears unlikely unless Turkey resolves its problems with Greece and Cyprus.
To sum up, the thaw between Qatar and its Arab neighbours has made it easier for Turkey to seek reconciliation with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
In the future, all depend on how Tukey will behave in a changing world.
At present, her trustworthiness is at stake, not only within the Arab world but also in her relations with the West, particularly the US and France.
By Dr Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos, Ambassador a.h.