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2020 sees Turkey set its sights on the Mediterranean

Syrian refugees, arrive on the shores of Greek Islands in hopes to settle into Europe [File photo]
Syrian refugees arrive in Greece [Anadolu]

Turkey has announced that it is sending troops to Libya at a time when it is dealing with a new influx of refugees from Syria’s north-western province, Idlib. Millions have been fleeing President Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal attacks and the humanitarian crises in Syria. In the last month of 2019, hundreds of thousands of Syrians made their way towards the Turkish border as a result of the attacks launched by the Syrian regime and allied Russian forces on opposition positions in Idlib.

If Syrians start to pour across the Turkish border in 2020, “Turkey will not carry this migration burden alone,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned.

Turkey is already home to some 3.7 million Syrian refugees and it will continue negotiations with the EU in an effort to force the global body to financially contribute to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees, help fight terrorism in the Middle East and deal with the tough situation with Greece regarding the Eastern Mediterranean.

Reviving talks about Ankara’s EU membership are not expected this year.

Last year, Turkey defied increasingly vocal warnings from the US that it could be slapped with sanctions over the $2.5 billion acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system. However, Ankara continued with the deal and took delivery of the first of these systems with the US formally withdrawing its offer for Turkey to purchase its Patriot missile system in retaliation.

Turkish officials have complained that over the past few years the US has not been a reliable partner. Its alliance in northern Syria with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which launches attacks within Turkey and is listed as a terrorist group by the US and EU – and its failure to cooperate on the extradition requests for Fethullah Gulen – who Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt – have driven a wedge between the old allies.

READ: At least 25,000 people fled Syria’s Idlib for Turkey over 2 days

Relations between Ankara and Washington will continue to be troubled in 2020, as Turkey struggles to explain how its purchase of the S-400 system does not mean it is “turning its back” on NATO and the US fails to unequivocally support Turkey’s security interests in the region.

Meanwhile, Turkish-Russian relations will continue to grow based on the two countries’ mutual interests which will see them make agreements on the sustainable energy, trade and the defence industry.

In Turkey, 2020 started with parliament ratifying a motion authorising the government to send troops to Libya at the request of the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The arrival of the Turkish military is part of an effort to protect the rights of both countries.

It came after the GNA and Ankara signed historic maritime and security deals which will determine Turkey’s agenda of diplomacy and security this year.

As a result, the ongoing crisis on sharing the hydrocarbon sources of the Eastern Mediterranean region will be one of the crucial topics for Turkey in 2020. In January last year, Greek Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt held a meeting in Cairo to announce the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum to cooperate in the production, consumption and marketing of regional resources. This year, Turkey will show its willingness to exercise its sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, as per the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which stipulates that all states have rights to the resources in the area surrounding them according to their respective Exclusive Economic Zones.

As Turkey seeks to increase its exports to $190 billion in 2020, it will be looking to transform its economic gains through China’s Belt and Road Initiative which will see trade routes linking China to other Asian nations plus Africa and Europe. Efforts to achieve this may be strengthened by the US and China’s continue trade war.

Moving forward, Turkey’s priority will be to preserve its regional stability and to sustain a balance between soft and hard power in the region. To do this, Ankara will focus mainly on the Mediterranean and Syria while turning its eyes toward the most important interlocutors: Moscow, Washington and Brussels.

READ: The preservation of Turkey’s energy rights is key to maritime stability in the eastern Mediterranean 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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