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After dropping objections to Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO last week, the Turkish president immediately raised new doubts – suggesting that the Turkish parliament will not ratify the deal if Sweden does not extradite 73 people Turkey accuses of terrorism, writes Financial Times, quoted by Rador.
Thus, handing over anyone at the mercy of Erdoğan’s judiciary is a difficult task for any democracy. Selahattin Demirtas, a leading Kurdish opposition politician, has been in prison since 2016 – despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating that he must be released and that his detention is “nothing more than cover for a hidden political motive ”.
And his case is not an isolated example. Osman Kavala, a businessman and philanthropist, was jailed in April for life without the possibility of parole, as he allegedly planned a coup.
The evidence against him is so weak that it has led to protests from Western governments, human rights organizations and the ECHR.
Seven of Kavala’s co-defendants, including Hakan Altinay, a renowned academic, have been jailed for 18 years on highly questionable evidence.
Erdoğan’s behavior raises uncomfortable questions for NATO. The alliance says it is based on defending democracy and human rights. Or the imprisonment of political opponents on the basis of fabricated accusations is the kind of work that Vladimir Putin does. In fact, the two leaders, Russian and Turkish, have a close relationship.
Currently, Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO would be a major blow to Putin. It would mean that NATO now includes all the countries around the Baltic Sea, except Russia.
Turkey’s obstructionist tactic denotes a cynical indifference towards the Baltic countries – NATO members facing an existential threat.
However, Erdoğan’s willingness to blackmail NATO over Finland and Sweden also casts doubt on Turkey’s behavior in future crises. Article 5 – the guarantee of collective defense which is the heart of the alliance and which would have been triggered by a Russian attack – depends on the unanimous vote.
In the geo-political context, wouldn’t NATO do better without Turkey? Not at all. The expulsion of Turkey, even if legally possible, would be a strategic disaster. The Black Sea is the crucial route to the Mediterranean and to the whole world for both Ukraine and Russia.
If Ukrainian grain ever leaves the country’s ports for world markets, it will pass through the Black Sea – and Turkey controls entry into this sea. This key role was highlighted by the seizure in Turkey of a Russian ship accused of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain.
If Turkey were expelled from NATO and became a de facto ally of Russia, Ukraine would effectively become a landlocked country, and Russia would be at the gates of the Mediterranean.
The balance of power in the Middle East would also be severely complicated. Turkey has a large military presence in Syria.
Although she is in dispute with the United States over the role of the Kurds, she opposes the alliance between Russia and the Assad regime. The Turks are also providing shelter for some 3.7 million Syrian refugees – a humanitarian move that has eased pressure on the EU considerably.
There is no doubt that Erdoğan has severely damaged Turkey’s democratic reputation. But unlike Russia, Turkey does not pose any security threat to the rest of NATO – perhaps with the exception of Greece, alarmed by the way Erdoğan flaunts his muscles in the Aegean Sea.
Given the overwhelming importance of countering Russia to NATO, it is vital, more than ever, that Turkey be kept in the alliance.
Erdoğan now knows this. He uses the levers of influence offered by the war in Ukraine. The situation is likely to drive you crazy, but it can still be managed. Erdoğan is perfectly capable of changing his position, depending on how it suits him. And other NATO members also have levers they can use on Turkey.
Erdoğan’s flexibility is demonstrated by his changing attitude towards Saudi Arabia. Turks and Saudis have been at loggerheads for many years – hostile to their contradictory aspirations for regional domination and opposing attitudes towards the Muslim Brotherhood. At one point the Saudis boycotted Turkish goods.
In the politico-economic context, the Turkish economy is currently in a deplorable state, Erdoğan can no longer afford to maintain this kind of antagonism. Thus, he patched his relations with the Saudis, recently receiving in Ankara the de facto leader of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
This vulnerability of the Turkish economy gives other NATO members some leverage to respect Erdoğan.
Specifically, inflation in Turkey has now reached almost 80% – largely due to Erdoğan’s poor economic decisions. The Turkish lira has fallen by more than 60% in the last two years.
The country suffers from a huge current account deficit and there is strong talk that it will need a bailout loan from the IMF. Which would mean humiliation for Erdoğan – with the presidential election lurking around the corner in 2023.
Turkey is likely to need foreign aid to avoid an economic disaster. Here, too, NATO allies could help. And in exchange for economic aid, Turkey may be forced to take a more reasonable stance on Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO.
And if that brings bargaining in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul – so be it, writes Financial Times.