Tensions have risen all around Turkey’s already volatile neighborhood over the past week. With NATO confirming what the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been warning for some days now, Russia seems to be intent on grabbing more territory from Ukraine. Although denied by the Russian government spokesman, there are various sources witnessing troops and military equipment crossing the border into Ukraine. The risk of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict reaching a new and dangerous phase is very real.
Turkey has adopted a sensible policy towards the conflict so far, supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and extending help to the Crimean Tatars but as the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has emphasized during the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu’s visit this week, the Ukrainians are hoping to see Turkey take a firmer stand against Russia by more forcefully condemning Russia’s violation of the international law.
If the latest escalation in Ukraine turns out to be more than mere posturing by Putin, it is inevitable that as a member of NATO, Turkey will find itself drawn into this dangerous stand-off.
On the day alarm bells were ringing in NATO corridors, another two neighbours of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia were moving towards a new flare-up in their longstanding conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh.
Barely three months after 14 Azerbaijani soldiers died along the frontier with the occupied Karabakh, the Azerbaijani air force shot down an Armenian helicopter, killing three crew members.
According to the OSCE Co-Chairs, this is the first such incident of its kind since the ceasefire agreement was reached between the two countries and it is a deeply worrying development reminding the volatility of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey may not be able to influence these events on its northern neighborhood but it is in its hands to prevent tension rising in the eastern Mediterranean. The war of words between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey over oil and gas reserves off the shores of Cyprus has already reached a worrying stage.
Strongly opposed to Greek Cypriots exploring oil and gas resources around Cyprus, Turkey has been increasing its naval presence around the island. The Justice and Development Party government has recently authorized the Navy with amended rules of engagement in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting criticism from the EU and Greece. The EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to show restraint and avoid any statements or actions that could fuel tension in the area.
Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangeloz Venizelos told the Parliament in Athens on November 12 that his country may take legal action against Turkey for violating the international sea law.
Part of the problem for Turkey seems to be the increasing cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel.
On November 8, Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a declaration in Cairo, agreeing to cooperate in exploration of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean region. A similar tripartite meeting is expected to happen in Israel in January.
With Turkey’s relationship with the region’s two important countries Egypt and Israel being increasingly unfriendly, it would be naïve to expect the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu government to adopt a less belligerent line anytime soon.
However, apart from the undesirability of contributing to human misery already aplenty, with its southern and eastern frontiers on fire, its northern neighbors about to edge into conflict, can Turkey really afford to open another front?
This post is also available in: Turkish