Ambassador Crisis: Erdogan Challenges His Western Allies

Ambassador crisis: Erdogan challenges his Western allies

This Saturday Erdogan announced his intention to declare persona non grata and expel the ambassadors to Turkey from the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Canada and New Zealand. “Either they understand Turkey or they should go,” the president declared. Seven of them are allies of NATO, of which Turkey is an important member due to its military power and its geostrategic situation.

The affected countries maintained a low profile until this Monday afternoon, when they all published the same message on social networks, in which they affirmed with calculated amibgüedad “maintain compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”, in charge of regulating non-interference in internal affairs. Most limited themselves to retweeting the text published by the US, but others published their own tweet with an identical wording to that of the North American partner.


It all exploded for a joint statement of the 10 embassies in which they called for the release of Osman Kavala. Kavala has been detained for four years without being convicted and despite a 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling demanding his release. He was first charged for attempting to “overthrow constitutional order” during the Gezi Park protests in 2013, but was acquitted in February 2020. However, just hours after that court decision, he was detained again. This time for an alleged participation in the 2016 coup.

For Erdogan, the ordeal worked and he withdrew his threat. “With a new statement from the same embassies, a step back has been taken in this slander against our country and our nation. I believe that these ambassadors will be more careful in their statements about the sovereign rights of Turkey.” “Those who have shaped our country to their own liking in the past panicked when Turkey took its own stance,” Erdogan added.

However, in the opinion of the expert Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkey program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book on Erdogan ‘A sultan in autumn’It was the Turkish president who this time had to back down. “It is the first incident since 2016 in which Erdogan takes a step backwards. Since the attempted coup, Erdogan has been quite contemptuous of the US and since the 2015 refugee crisis he has maintained a policy of confrontation with most countries. Europeans, “he says.

“This withdrawal is something unusual and I think it is based on a recognition that declaring these ambassadors persona non grata would have a serious impact on the Turkish economy, defense policy and the investment environment,” he says. the expert. “Among those 10 countries are half of Turkey’s main trading partners. The Netherlands is the main source of foreign direct investment, Germany is Turkey’s biggest export market and the US is Turkey’s main defense ally.”

With victory or not for Erdogan, both parties have put out a fire whose embers are still alive. This is the latest episode of tension in a long series of clashes that increasingly hinders the relationship between supposed allies. At the same time, Erdogan has turned towards Russia, although both countries are “historical competitors”, according to Cagaptay.

At the end of September, Erdogan also announced that Turkey intends to buy more Russian S-400 missiles and to expand defense cooperation with Moscow in terms of fighter jets and submarines. The first purchase of the S-400s in 2019 already triggered a serious crisis with the US and Turkey became the first and only NATO country to use this Russian weaponry. “The S-400 is the main dividing element between Turkey and the US right now,” says the analyst.

“Turkey and Russia remain competitors in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and disagree on many issues, such as the annexation of Crimea and the aggression in Ukraine. However, Erdogan and Putin have a link that dates back to the coup of State, “says Cagaptay. “In the aftermath of the 2016 coup, as Turkey’s western allies sat idly by, Putin extended a hand to Erdogan and saw a strategic opportunity.”

“Erdogan’s first trip after the coup was not to Washington, Turkey’s main ally, or to Brussels for a NATO summit in support of the president, but he went to Russia just two weeks later,” he recalls. “That handshake means that Turkey has been able to enter Syria to fight the Kurdish YPG. It is a great public diplomacy strategy for Putin because the US fights with the YPG, which in turn derives from the PKK, a group designated as a terrorist by members of NATO, including the US. ” “But more importantly, Putin has established himself globally as the protector of threatened leaders.”

The S-400 is an anti-aircraft missile system with a range of 400 kilometers and can hit targets up to 27 kilometers high. In response to that purchase, The US has prohibited Turkey from acquiring the F-35 fighters, in whose manufacture it was also going to participate, because it fears that Russia may obtain sensitive information in this regard. “I would say Putin offered Erdogan the missiles on that 2016 visit, but his concessions are not free. Putin allowed Erdogan freedom of movement in Syria, but the price was to buy the S-400s, which has created a permanent rift. in the defensive ties between the US and Turkey, “says Cagaptay. “Putin has managed to pit NATO’s second largest army, Turkey, against the first, the US, and he has Ankara in the situation he wants: as an irritated member of the Atlantic alliance.”

“For Turkey, NATO is very valuable. If it remains in NATO, it has military power against Putin, it is not completely exposed and it has allies. If it leaves, Turkey would have to come under the regional influence and military power of Russia, like Kazakhstan. “, He says. “That’s why Erdogan sees NATO as a store to buy security from. Being a store, you don’t have to buy everything or agree to everything.”

Within the Turkish army great changes are also taking place as a result of the immense purge of the military after the coup attempt. Many of those expelled soldiers say they have nothing to do with the Gülen Movement, which Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the coup, and they affirm that the military who are closest to the West are being replaced by others with views closer to Russia. “July 15 is the beginning of the process of liquidating pro-Western soldiers,” says Ersin Demircan, a military man who was part of the Personnel Investigation Department (ATİİİ ŞB) of the Navy until he was expelled.

In a secret diplomatic telegram revealed by Wikileaks, the US ambassador already identified in 2003 a division in the Turkish Army that would generate future problems for the US. The cable identifies three different and conflicting groups: “Atlanticists”, “Nationalists” and “Eurasianists”.

“First, the ‘Atlanticists’ accept that Turkey’s strategic interest is in maintaining strong ties with the US and NATO. Second, the ‘nationalists’ are upset by the need to maintain ties with the US, they oppose accession to the The EU, prefer not to trust anyone and insist on the inflexible maintenance of the Kemalist state. Third, the ‘Eurasianists’ seek an alternative to the US and consider closer relations with Russia. ” “Part of the motivating force is the ‘Rapallo Syndrome’, the feeling that Turkey and Russia are alone, equally victims of mistreatment and disrespect by an arrogant West,” the cable explains.

Far is the Turkey of Erdogan’s early years, which started a great modernizing project with its sights set on joining the EU. Between 2001 and 2005 [el AKP ganó las elecciones en 2002] Turkey approved 34 constitutional reforms and eight packages of legislative changes, among others the authorization to use Kurdish in schools and the media, reforms of the anti-terrorist law and the penal code to make it difficult to ban parties, the abolition of the death penalty, the recognition of gender equality and the lifting of the state of emergency in the southeast of the country, among others. Between 2002 and 2007, Turkey improved considerably in the rankings for press freedom and political freedom, among others.

Today, access negotiations are blocked and the EU denounces the authoritarian drift of President Erdogan, while Turkey accuses the community bloc of not following a fair criterion. Cagaptay states in his book ‘The new sultan: Erdogan and the crisis of modern Turkey’, that the EU always lacked political will. The confrontation has not, however, broken the controversial migration pact of 2016 despite continued cross accusations of non-compliance.



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