Turkey continues to generate considerable scrutiny across world today. There is no sign that the nation’s afflictions will ease anytime soon. The currency crisis continues on with the lira having lost almost 40 percent of its value against the US dollar so far this year. Turkey’s relationship with the United States is spiraling downward nearly as fast as the lira, spurring geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fallout at home and abroad. Ankara’s push to end the lira’s downfall has brought no tangible results yet, and there is considerable doubt forming about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to navigate the Turkish economy through this difficult time.
Europe is watching events in Turkey closely, especially Berlin. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance has identified Turkey’s ongoing economic difficulties as a risk to the German economy. On the heels of this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated she sees no need to offer Turkey financial aid in the midst of this currency crisis. Merkel and Erdogan are expected to meet in September when the Turkish leader makes a state visit to Germany. Much like the United States, Germany has seen its relations with Turkey grow strained since the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016.
Events of the last twenty-four hours reinforce the belief that there is no end to Turkey’s woes in sight. Earlier today, the US embassy in Ankara came under gunfire for a brief period. The identity of the attackers remains unknown, though the Turkish government was quick to condemn the incident. Pre-recorded remarks by Erdogan were also released today to mark the beginning of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday. The Turkish president promised his people they would not be brought “to their knees” by the currency crisis. He also described the crisis as an attack on the Turkish economy and likened it to an attack on the national flag, and call to prayer. Language such as this will do nothing to alleviate Turkey’s troubles, and in the long run will only serve to deteriorate things even more.
On Friday the Turkish lira fell to its lowest level on protracted concern about geopolitical and economic factors that have been steering Turkish policy decisions of late. The lira dropped 17% against the US dollar, prolonging a slide that has attracted the attention of global markets. Throughout the day, a growing number of media outlets placed blame for the lira freefall on President Trump’s announcement of increased metal tariffs on Turkey, and the deteriorating relationship between Ankara, and Washington. This on-the-fly analysis fails to take into consideration the role Turkish President Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies have played. After the president won re-election in June, he assured the Turkish populace that his newly acquired near-absolute executive power would enable him to repair Turkey’s faltering economy. Unfortunately for Erdogan, he failed to make good on his promise, and the economy continues to backslide.
Turkey’s geopolitical situation brings additional uneasiness. The continuing rift with the United States is only exacerbating Erdogan’s economic problems, and highlighting the economic vulnerabilities that have built up during his time in power. Trump was entirely correct when he said US-Turkish relations are ‘Not good at this time.’ In fact, this is something of an understatement. The US-Turkish relationship has been souring for a long period of time, and the current tensions show no sign of easing.
Also on Friday, Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak unveiled the nation’s new economic policy to the world. He said Turkey will be undertaking major cost-cutting steps in the public sector, and the government is moving to secure 35 billion lira (roughly $5 Billion at the moment) through increased revenue and savings. He also said Turkey will be shifting to a more efficient model for funding mega-projects, however, he did not elaborate further.
Unfortunately, Albayrak’s presentation appears to have done little to allay fears in Europe. The ECB (European Central Bank) is examining the exposure of European banks to Turkey. Bank shares fell when word of this became public. Talk of a possible Turkish bail out at some point in the future was also heard today, though the likelihood of Turkey becoming the next Greece is remote for now. Still, a Turkish bailout scenario is frightening to say the least, and could very well lead to the permanent breakup of the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in Turkey’s presidential election. The Anadolu Agency reports that 95.5% of votes have been counted, and Erdogan has a 52.72% share of the national vote. If accurate, this means Erdogan will avoid a one-on-one runoff election with opposition candidate Muharrem Ince. Erdogan’s victory expands the grip on power he currently has on Turkey, however, this was by no means an easy victory. Political opposition in Turkey has been revitalized to a degree, and this is something Erdogan will have to contend with in the coming months and years. Fortunately for him, the People’s Alliance, a coalition made up of Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP) party, and the more conservative MHP party appears to have secured majority in parliament, giving him plenty of allies for any future political battles.
This election was unique in that it marked the first time Turkish voters have cast ballots for president, and parliament in a snap election. Erdogan had called for early elections in an attempt to neutralize opposition presidential candidates in the first round of the election, and obtain a parliamentary majority. At the moment it would appear that he has achieved both objectives, as well as ensuring that he will reap the benefits of enhanced presidential powers that the 2017 referendum are to give the winner of Turkey’s next presidential election. Erdogan had supported the referendum, and invested a large amount of political capital to ensure it passed.
So, what happens next? Erdogan has grandiose plans for Turkey, some of which make his neighbors uncomfortable. After the election results are officially certified, we will examine just what Erdogan’s victory means for Turkey, its neighbors, NATO, and the world.
If the Middle East were a forest, Syria would be a propane tank burning beside it. Despite the efforts of firemen, the blaze continues. It’s only a matter of time before the tank explodes and sets the trees afire. The Syrian Conflict has been raging for seven years and shows no signs of receding. The war has transformed from a civil war to an amalgamation of loosely connected blood feuds, civil, tribal, and proxy wars that have the potential to spark a major regional conflict or worse. To make matters more complex, the Syrian Conflict is now on the verge of escalating to a point where two allies are threatening war on each other.
Syrian Government forces, with the invaluable support of Russian, and Iranian forces, are rolling up rebel forces, and expanding the amount of territory it controls. ISIS is reeling as US, and British forces are moving in for the kill. Iranian actions have brought about Israeli air strikes and the threat of further Israeli involvement in the conflict. Meanwhile, in the north Turkish forces continue their offensive against Kurdish militias, and forces, some of which are supported by the US and other Western governments. France is now taking a stand against Turkish operations against the Kurds. Relations between Ankara and Paris are deteriorating amid reports the French are considering sending additional troops to Syria to aid the Kurds if Turkish forces extend their offensive east of Afrin. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated Turkey would regard such a move as an invasion. Turkey and France, both members of NATO, are sounding more like opponents instead of allies these days. The repercussions of a military clash between the two countries would be felt around the world.
The latest layer added to the conflict is President Trump hinting that the US will be scaling down or ending entirely its military presence in Syria. With ISIS close to defeat on the battlefield, the primary mission for US forces is ending and Trump sees no reason to keep them in country. A final decision has not been made, however, and some senior US officials have warned that a US pullout now could strengthen Russia and Iran’s influence across the entire region.
Later this week I’ll continue this subject by discussing the ongoing geopolitical chess match in the Middle East between the US on one side and Russia, Iran, and Turkey on the other.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed today to expand the offensive against Kurdish militia positions in northern Syria until ‘the last terrorist’ is killed. Operation Olive Branch, a Turkish offensive aimed at expelling the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from northern Syria, commenced on Saturday. Syrian opposition forces are also taking part in the offensive. Erdogan said the offensive has been successful thus far and will continue despite growing international concern.
A NATO ally appears to be expressing the sharpest concerns. Germany, which has seen its relationship with Turkey sour in recent years, is reconsidering a deal that would see Turkey’s Leopard 2 main battle tanks upgraded by Rheinmetall. Photographs and video taken by the media in northern Syria have shown that Turkish Leopard 2s are taking part in the offensive. Berlin is facing many calls from politicians on the left and right to cancel the deal.
The United States is another ally that has seen a decline in its relationship with Turkey in recent years. The offensive underway in northwest Syria threatens to disrupt the fight against ISIS at a time when the organization is clearly on the ropes. US forces in Syria enjoy a solid working relationship with a number of Kurdish militia groups. YPG is the US military’s main partner for operations against ISIS in Syria. It has trained and equipped a large number of YPGs combatants. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the White House and Pentagon are both concerned about the Olive Branch offensive disrupting the relationship and potentially placing Turkey and the US on a collision course. President Trump is expected to speak with Erdogan this afternoon. There is some hope that a de-escalation of the situation in northwest Syria can be reached. If that does not come about, President Trump will have to decide whether the fight against ISIS, or supporting a NATO ally takes precedence for the United States.