On 10 July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg released a joint statement with seven points at the North Atlantic Alliance’s Vilnius Summit, announcing that Turkey would relay Sweden’s NATO accession protocol to the Turkish parliament and “strive for its approval.”
A similar statement concerning the “trilateral memorandum” between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland was released at the previous NATO Madrid Summit, yet new conditions were imposed on Sweden while Finland’s membership was passed by the Turkish parliament.
Nevertheless, after this joint statement, Erdoğan will seemingly no longer assume the part of the “roadblock before the NATO expansion”.
Though, the second point of the statement, which states that “Sweden will present a roadmap as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations towards the full implementation of all elements of the Trilateral Memorandum, including article 4. Sweden reiterates that it will not provide support to YPG/PYD, and the organisation described as FETÖ in Turkey,” still seems to leave the timing and conditions of moving the protocol to the Turkish parliament in Erdoğan’s discretion.
However, it has become rather evident that the new “triumvirate” led by Kalın and Fidan is determined to cleanse the Erdoğan regime of its notorious “unpredictability” in the realm of international politics and finances.
Albeit occasional calls for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Ankara’s intent for renewing and declaring its commitment to NATO is apparent and is not simply limited to its stand adopted at the Vilnius Summit.
Prior to the summit, Erdoğan’s statement during a press briefing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ankara was another sign for Ankara’s shift to an ultra-pro NATO position. “Ukraine undoubtedly deserves NATO membership,” Erdoğan told jourmalists – an option albeit it might have pleased the Ukrainian elites who yearned to hear, but a drawback for NATO’s strategic members especially for the United States, for concerns of disrupting the fragile strategic balance with Russia.
And Erdoğan did not stop there. In spite of would-be sharp reactions by Russia, the five commanders of the notorious pro-Nazi Azov Battalion who were transferred to Turkey as part of a limited POW swap between Russia and Ukraine, under the condition that they would “remain in Turkey’s custody until the end of the war”. Still Erdoğan took another step to denounce Russia’s annexation of Crimea and called for the return of Muslim Crimean Tatars to their homeland.
Yet, NATO leaders’ joint statement on Tuesday refrained from an open invitation to Kiev: “When conditions are met, the Allies will invite Ukraine to become a member,” the statement announced, leaving Erdoğan’s “immediate” membership proposal hanging in the air. Berlin and Washington objected to hasty schemes of Ukraine’s becoming a NATO member “as the war went on”.
After condemning the return of the Azov Battalion commanders to Ukraine as “nothing but a violation of the agreements” last Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said on Tuesday that “Ukraine’s NATO membership would have very negative consequences for the European security architecture, which is already half-collapsed, and [would pose] an absolute danger to our country and result with a very clear and tough response from Russia.”
Peskov also warned Turkey: “As a sovereign state, Turkey has the right to develop relations with all countries, including Ukraine. However, as Turkey’s partner, we have the right to hope that these developments will not target us.”
The global and regional landscape shaped by these recent developments shows that through the invasion – which Putin prefers to name a “special security operation” – of Ukraine, Putin has failed in achieving his self-claimed goal of ending Russia’s encirclement by NATO but the new balance of power – with Turkey’s contribution – now leads to the transformation of the Baltic Sea into an inner sea of the West, on Russia’s Western front.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided the Erdoğan regime with the opportunity to approach Moscow through manoeuvres between Russia and the NATO central powers due to its control over the Black Sea-Aegean Sea route provided by international treaties (Montreux) stemming from its specific geographical location and to resettle foreign trade with Russia on favourable terms. On the other hand, in the ongoing conflict in Syria, Ankara, due to mutual interests with Russia, benefited from Moscow’s opening of the airspace over Syria’s Kurdish regions to Ankara allowing invasions of PYD-ruled Afrin, Jarablus and Gîre Spi.
However, Erdoğan’s recent remarks on Ukraine and Crimea prior to the Vilnius Summit, alongside lifting previous reservations to open the path for Sweden to NATO membership and force Russia in a strategically disadvantaged position, exposes the limits of the “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” relationship between Moscow and Ankara.
It is no secret that Ankara is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the urgency of Erdoğan’s return to the West, is not simply related to the fact that the West is Turkey’s major supplier of defence and security requirements but also comprises the main hub of international financial markets. Thus this force majeure would inevitably overshadow all else in Ankara’s international relationships networks.
The benefits that Erdoğan could gain from distancing himself from the Putin regime vis-a-vis prospective advantages of reapproaching with the West are not limited to military and financial cooperation with the West alone; further, the uncertainties arising from the instability of the Putin regime could also be assumed to play a part.
Although no official stance has been declared yet, the vulnerability of the Putin regime in the recent challenge by the military insurrection staged by the Wagner mercenary company, under its CEO Progyzhin, might not have escaped the attention of the Erdoğan regime, like all international players. Erdoğan’s palace should have taken into account that the Kremlin might not display a strong reaction to the latest Turkish coup de grace. Indeed, Peskov’s statement in the aftermath of Ankara’s perpetual blows, sounds rather more an apologetical interpretation from the point of view of a vulnerable partner Erdoğan, than a destructive response.
On the other hand, the new international balances shaped during the Vilnius Summit does not offer fresh opportunities for the resolution of the Kurdish issue, which is dependent on both domestic and international dynamics, but provides Ankara a fresh initiative for countering Kurdish demands across Europe. Further, Ankara’s “anti-terror” norms, which the Venice Commission has kept under constant criticism for its “ambiguous and arbitrary nature” are now spilling over into Europe as a whole and the individual countries’ national laws, including Finland and Sweden.
The “Memorandums” agreed at the NATO Madrid and Vilnius Summits, to be carried on the agenda of the Turkish Grand National Assembly for endorsement of Sweden’s NATO membership carrying on the basis of a “security justification” in contrast with the basic tenets of the European Convention on Human Rights, deserves open rejection by the democratic and libertarian opposition.
Moreover, the program of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), that provides “[…] the struggle against imperialist policies of hegemony and oppression over our peoples and the peoples of the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and the whole world; against military, economic, and political pacts, military bases, and organizations as its first priority”, requires a “No” vote to challenge the hostile nature of these Memorandums’ vis-à-vis the Kurdish people and all the peoples of the world and march forward to take the head in the democratic opposition.
* Ertuğrul Kürkçü is the current Honorary President of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Honorary Associate of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). He spent 14 years as a prisoner between 1972-1986 for his political activism in Turkey. He is also member of Progressive International Council.