Between the Black and Mediterranean seas, the fuse for several crises has ignited. Its characters are a complex network of allies and opponents. These crises seem to have only one element in common, fighting the growing influence of Ankara.
From Libya and the conflict between the legitimate government and Haftar and his supporters, the Eastern Mediterranean crisis, the Turkish-Greek dispute and the conflicting maritime agreements, to the disputes over dealing with the Palestinian issue and the complex Syrian crises, and finally the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, we find that Turkey is an active party, either directly or through its support of one of the parties.
None of these crises can be read in isolation of the rest, as the complex intertwining of conflicting interests makes each of them a direct influence on the other.
In Libya, where the alignment is clear, Turkey and Qatar are clearly behind the legitimate government in Tripoli, while the UAE and France support Haftar, but the Egyptian and Russian roles in support of Haftar further complicate the scene.
The Egyptian president announced more than once that an attack on Sirte by the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is a red line for Egypt, although this threat was not accompanied by any action on the ground.
On its part, Russia was content with providing support through mercenaries and avoided an explicit stance in support of Haftar. With the fragile ceasefire, each camp continues to mobilise its forces, awaiting the decisive battle.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, the same network of players appears, but in a more complex scene. The dispute here is between Greece and Turkey over the maritime borders, the economic zone, and the rights of the two parts of Cyprus to the Mediterranean, but Greece benefits from Egypt’s support through the maritime agreement, which is confronted by Turkey’s deal with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
France clearly declares its supportive position for Greece, while the UAE supports Greece indirectly in the media and politically. In this crisis, there has been relative calm with the beginning of the Turkish-Greek negotiations, but with Turkey’s commitment to continue exploration and Greece’s demand for greater European support, the crisis remains in the making.
The Emirati-Bahraini normalisation deal with Israel came within the framework of these crises, albeit in different circumstances, but it was related to it in terms of the Emirati-Israeli consensus on limiting the Turkish role in the region.
There is no doubt that the Israeli gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean represents an additional factor in the confrontation between the parties.
The change and fluctuation of the network of interests in Syria is still the main threat to Turkey. Although the American support for the Kurds there has almost completely stopped, the Russian caginess that shifts between coordination with the Turks and directly targeting Turkish forces is draining Ankara politically and militarily.
Behind the scenes, the UAE continues to communicate with the regime, which supports the Syrian Kurds. These developments have delayed Turkish efforts to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and establishing a local government in the areas that are linked to Turkey on the security and military level.
The outbreak of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia confirms the formation of the network of Turkey’s opponents and its allies. Despite the conflict of interests or at least its absence among the supporters of Armenia, they all support it in the face of Azerbaijan, which is supported by Turkey.Russia, France, and the UAE have warm relations with Armenia, and despite the initial positions that seem balanced, these forces have shown political, media, and military support for Armenia in the past. The most recent was the Russian loan to Armenia to buy Russian defence systems and weapons.
Despite the presence of France and Russia alongside the US in the leadership of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is the official mediator between the two parties to the conflict, the French and Russian positions represent a blatant bias in favour of Armenia.
Gas is the most important link between what is happening between Armenia and Azerbaijan with the Eastern Mediterranean crisis. Turkey has worked over the past years to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, which used to provide about 60 per cent of Turkey’s energy needs through the pipeline extending from Azerbaijan and connecting it to Europe.
The Turkish discoveries in the Black Sea and the attempts to explore in the Mediterranean also came within the framework of this goal. Since Russia is the biggest victim of this policy, it worked to support the outbreak of military operations in areas close to the pipeline in Azerbaijan and to support the axis opposite to GNA in Libya in order to reduce the Turkish ability to reduce dependence on Russian gas.
The anti-Turkey axis is made up of players who are united only by concern about the growing Turkish role in the region, and therefore we find a coordinated movement in all these crises.
The Russian role in Libya is linked to Moscow’s policies in northern Syria and is linked to fuelling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the Emirati roles in all of these files come in support of Turkey’s opponents even if there is no direct interest for Abu Dhabi, as is the case in supporting the Kurds in Syria, Greece, and Armenia.
As for France, which is trying to regain the scope of its colonial influence, it represents an advanced position against the Turks, even under the dome of NATO and without regard for other European positions. As for the US, its on-again, off-again role has declined dramatically in recent years.
Today, all of these countries are moving in the vacuum left by the absence of Washington and Turkey is facing enormous challenges to prove its ability to play the role of an effective regional power.
With the increasing degree of hostility towards it from this varied axis, Turkey will have to choose its battles carefully and form solid alliances in the opposite direction, in order to form a united regional front against projects of regional and international domination.
This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 30 September 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.