July 22, 2016
Five years ago, a coup attempt in Turkey would have had a totally different impact on regional affairs than it does today. From about 90$/barrel in 2011 the oil price dropped to about $50/barrel in 2016. This has translated into a relative weakening of the producing countries (like Russia) while consumers have seen their power increase. Turkey has become less vulnerable than it was, even if its energy consumption rate was similar and even grew. Pipeline construction projects became, all of the sudden, less urgent as its position relative to producers in Russia and the Arab world grew stronger. This is the environment building on the momentum and the aftermath of the coup tentative on July 15.
The stronger Turkey becomes, the more it is building up its regional posture. One of the power veins for Turkey is its energy hub status. Ankara is aware of its ascending potential as it is aware of its vital role for Europe’s energy security (among other areas related to European security). It is also aware that an unintended effect of its growth will be the diminishing importance of projects launched by neighboring stagnant markets such as Greece and Bulgaria. The only exception to this rule is Romania – an energy producer with whom Turkey could eventually partner. But this evolution will depend on the way Turkish relations outside of its immediate region will emerge – Tukish relations with the US, the EU and Russia.
Romania currently seeks to develop the new pipeline project called BRUA – linking Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian and Austrian markets and it is continuing supporting exploration activities in the Black Sea. Both Romania and Turkey have been discussing various energy projects, including the development of sub-sea interconnectors in the electricity sector. Both Ankara and Bucharest have an interest in maintaining a peaceful environment in the Black Sea. Romania and Turkey both have developed strategic relations with the U.S. In the aftermath of July 15 coup, tensions are returning in the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Turkey – and while such tension ensures for a more independent Turkish foreign policy, they will not lead to dramatic outcomes. Considering its current position, Romania could play a role in reducing the tension while also becoming a reliable energy source for Turkey outside the structure of Turkey’s strategic competitors.
Ankara currently seeks to enforce Turkey’s regional power status. The recent events are showing that the Turkish government matrix on making decision is no longer relating to other powers’ agenda – the US or the EU, but only Turkish agenda. As the first imperative for any country is controlling its territory so that it may secure it against external forces, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan recent actions relate to the subject of authority. We learn from “The Prince” of Machiavelli that effective leadership is either supported by love and respect for the leader or fear of him. While the latter is largely contested – when turned to policy, it may work even in medium to long term governing sessions.
The Turkish social landscape divisions have however been deepened by current events, something that the government needs to make sure doesn’t have dramatic repercussions for the country’s stability. The high degree of polarization within the Turkish society has created the situation where the Kurdish separatism could not be tackled or eliminated. The Kurdish problem has been core to the reason for which Turkey cannot simply follow the U.S. lead in international war against the Islamic State (IS), with Ankara building, for the first time, significant resistance to the American strategy in the region. The Turks are opposed to the American reliance on the Syrian Kurds as strategic partners on the ground in Syria because while the IS a serious threat, Kurdish separatism at home is a higher threat for Turkey – and intimately linked with the country’s energy security.
This matter also shapes the way Turkey and Iran interact regionally. Turkey is not willing to fully follow the U.S. policy towards Iran because Turkey must deal with it in a complex way. Turkey’s position is closer to the EU on the matter, considering that Turkey doesn’t only see Iran as a competitor in the region, but it also needs to reach an understanding with Iran considering its influence in both Syria and Iraq.
Considering the immediate threats Turkey faces on its Southern flank, but also its dependence on Russian gas, it is likely that Turkey will continue to avoid getting entangled in the U.S. and European conflict with Russia. Russia influences the Turkish Northern flank, but it also understands that a weak Russia doesn’t pose a similar threat for Turkey as for the Eastern Europeans. Turkey sees an opportunity in the weakening of the Russian economy – one that is first and foremost relating to Turkish energy security and its regional energy hub status, which ultimately fuels Turkish power.
Read more about Turkish energy hub posture here.
Read more about Turkish geopolitical imperatives currently shaping up here.Antonia Colibasanu