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Turkiye’s expected foreign policy with Erdogan again at the helm

June 8, 2023 at 1:55 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveils Turkiye’s new Cabinet at the Cankaya Palace after he sworn in as president in the Turkish Parliament on June 03, 2023 in Ankara, Turkiye [Halil Sağırkaya/Anadolu Agency]

The Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections have been decided after a battle over the country’s identity and political orientations. Most of the attention within regional and international circles is now focused on any possible changes in Turkiye’s foreign policy, especially following the appointment of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan as foreign minister, succeeding Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Based on the policies adopted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government during the past two years, Turkiye’s foreign policy is fairly predictable for the immediate future unless, of course, any international or other surprises spring up. Compared with the past decade, which began with the Arab Spring revolutions and witnessed Turkiye’s deep involvement in various regional matters, the ongoing foreign policy is expected to become more conservative without compromising the gains achieved or the country’s influential presence in the region extending from the Caucasus to North Africa.

Internationally, Turkiye will remain committed to its cold alliance with the US under President Joe Biden’s administration and will work on managing any differences without much noise. The hope will be that the next presidential election will produce an administration in Washington that is more understanding of Turkiye’s security concerns and its regional and international challenges.

At the same time, Turkiye will not give up its developing relations with Moscow, which backed Erdogan’s re-election, unlike the country’s Western allies which hoped for his downfall. Accordingly, Turkiye will adhere to a policy of “flexible balance” between Washington and Moscow so that it can continue to reject the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and work to thwart Vladimir Putin’s attempts to dominate the Black Sea, in parallel with a refusal to abide by Western sanctions against Russia. Turkiye will likely continue to cooperate with the Kremlin in managing a number of regional conflicts in which the interests of the two parties differ, such as Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus. Economic relations between Turkiye and Russia are expected to grow stronger given each other’s specific needs.

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Moreover, Turkiye will try to impose conditions on the expansion of NATO to include Sweden, after it agreed to Finland joining, while it seeks to obtain more US weapons — F-16 aircraft in particular — to enhance its defence capabilities. Turkiye’s relations with China will continue to grow in light of the common interests that now link them. Accordingly, Turkiye will continue to turn a blind eye to Beijing’s serious human rights violations against the Uyghurs in East Turkistan.

Regionally, Turkiye is expected to continue its open approach of the past two years towards all countries. It will maintain its strong relations with Qatar while strengthening its economic and political ties with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Additional developments are likely to occur in the relationship with Egypt given the economic challenges facing both countries. With cooperation from Moscow, this may help to break the stalemate hindering the political process in Libya after Turkiye launched a military intervention in 2020 to thwart the attempts by General Khalifa Haftar and his regional allies to seize Tripoli. Rapprochement with Egypt may also allow for settling the demarcation of maritime borders, defining exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean and perhaps greater cooperation in energy production.

Turkiye’s economic and political relations with Iran are likely to grow despite the latter’s sympathy for the opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in the presidential election. Erdogan’s pragmatism will prevail on this and other issues, as usual. It is also likely that the improvement in Ankara’s relationship with Armenia, whose president attended Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony, will, of course, be reflected in an increase in Turkiye’s influence in the southern Caucasus at the expense of Iran and Russia.

In the most urgent regional matter — Syria — Turkiye will most likely adopt a sectioned approach, meaning that it will not hesitate to cooperate with the regime and its allies when interests are mutual regarding a specific issue, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces and expelling the Americans from the east of the Euphrates, for example. However, it will not hesitate to engage in a confrontation if needed and take advantage of the weak state of its rivals in Moscow and Tehran, who are also vying for influence in Syria.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 7 June 2023

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