Analysis: Turkish Referendum May Spur Cooperation with RussiaBy: Peter Korzun
Turkish President Erdogan has won the referendum giving him wide-ranging powers to rule the country. The event will change many things. Some of them can be predicted.
It will negatively affect Turkey’s relations with Europe. Some international bodies said the vote was not a fair game. The April 16 constitutional referendum in Turkey was contested on an “unlevel playing field”, and the two sides in the campaign did not have equal opportunities, international observers concluded in a statement.
The relations with the EU are likely to deteriorate further. The Turkish president was warned that if he fulfilled his threat to reintroduce the death penalty he would immediately end all prospect of rapprochement with the EU. The revival of the death penalty will make EU accession impossible. Mr. Erdogan’s actions have unnerved Western leaders.
Meanwhile, the event will boost development of bilateral relations with Russia. Moscow wants a stable government in Ankara, which would stick to the policy of protecting Turkey’s national interests. The referendum was a vote for more freedom in taking foreign policy decisions, among other things.
The internal problems and divisions will not go away. But they are unlikely to undermine the country. The changes could facilitate economic progress. The markets reacted positively to the results of the referendum, expecting more short-term stability. With the new powers, President Erdogan has a good chance to consolidate the people. One of the ways to do it is to achieve foreign policy successes.
There are two core directions: the EU and Syria. As the relations with Europe continue to worsen and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, Syria is the only chance for a foreign policy breakthrough. The Kurds should not threaten Turkey’s integrity and a regime in Damascus should not be hostile. The easiest way to achieve it is to cooperate with Russia and Iran. It’s noteworthy that the Assad regime has never threatened Turkey and never incited the Kurds against it. Pushing further the Astana process, Russia, Turkey and Iran have a good chance to finish the job. They are united by a common interest.
Turkey will become more independent and immune to outside influence. Visiting Russia on March 10, President Erdogan declared that alliances like NATO or allies that ignore Turkey’s interests did not have the right to question what Turkey does to protect itself. According to him, no one has the right to criticize Turkey’s policy on Syria or current negotiations with Russia on the purchase of the advanced S-400 anti-missile defense system. The Turkish president indicated that the March 10 Russia-Turkey summit created an environment for facilitating further security, defense and economic cooperation with Moscow.
From now on, Ankara will pay even more attention to the Middle East, Eurasia and Central Asia. The foreign policy will be aimed at gaining the status of a world-level power and an informal leader of the Turkic-speaking world, as participants in an expert discussion organized by the prestigious Moscow-based Valdai Club noted on Monday.
Turkey mulls joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Turkey’s SCO accession would be a milestone development bringing together the organization and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) – an international organization of Turkic countries.
Ankara is also showing increasing interest in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was invited to join the organization in 2014. This will open new opportunities for Turkey to trade with these countries and draw the economic benefits of it. Furthermore, many of the present and potential members of the EAEU are countries with whom Turkey already has close relations in many fields. Further progress on the way of Ankara’s integration with the SCO and the EAEU will facilitate the multi-dimensional foreign policy strengthening Ankara’s standing in the world.
Turkey has a sad experience of being dragged into plots organized by outside actors and games played by those who pursue the interests of their own. Ankara has spent dozens of years trying to enter the EU though it knew from the start the mission was impossible. Now Turkey can start the relationship with the bloc from a new page, especially with the Turkish Stream project in place. It was ready to go to any length to become the leader of the Arab Spring having failed to realize that it was an attempt by the West to destabilize the region. Now, its foreign policy priorities will be changed.
President Erdogan should not succumb to the temptation of trying to use existing Russia-US contradictions to his advantage or trying to play the military superpowers one against the other as he did in 2015 when a Russian warplane was shot down. The Turkish leader must know he is on solid ground. The powers won at the referendum and good working relations with Russia are the things to make him feel confident.
Sooner or later, the Islamic State and other extremist groups will be driven out of Syria. Russia and Turkey will face the question about what to do next. Along with Iran, these two nations will lead the peace management process. It could be the start of forming a broader alliance. Let’s not forget that Russia, not the US or any other NATO or EU member, was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed coup. Russian President Putin was the first foreign leader to call President Erdogan after the tragic event.
If the coordination of efforts in Syria is successful, the lucrative prospect in bilateral trade, mutual investment, tourism and Turkish Steam will provide a powerful impetus to the development of relationship. Both countries have made the choice not to succumb to the influence of the West and protect the real national interests. Developing the bilateral relationship meets the goal.