Crisis in the eastern Mediterranean: Erdogan an impulsive ‘sultan’ or a shrewd game player

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Valeriy Osipov

 

For two weeks now, analysts have been dealing with the rising tension between Cyprus and Turkey over gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

The scenarios put forth differ in quality and, in some cases, veer into the realm of screenplay.
In order to avoid any misunderstandings, it doesn’t mean that the more adventurous analyses are not founded on reality. But it neither is a given that the starting points of geopolitical analyses are always based on balanced judgement and objective information.

With a few exceptions, these analysts, found on the back pages of newspapers, by and large, usually react enmass with a specific agenda in mind.

The opinion that gained the most consensus among analysts-barring a few exceptions – was that the unpredictable factor in the eastern Mediterranean crisis is the ‘Sultan‘ Erdogan [Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan] whose next move cannot be predicted given his illusions of grandeur.  

Having thus discovered the ‘fairy tale dragon’ and given the dominant narrative over the past few days,  analysts were preaching caution as it has been ‘historically proven’ that the greatest disasters to befall  Hellenism occurred ‘when Greece was in crisis and divided’.

It is so general an assumption that one could agree this holds true not just for Greece but for other countries as well.

Another question is whether analyst concerns are predicated upon national interests or domestic politics.

Daring a moderate deconstruction of this narrative, two basic questions arise. Is Erdogan a version of the impulsive eastern leader? In other words, was his choice to create tension in the eastern Mediterranean the result of an impulsive urge deriving from a repressed neo-Ottoman desire to exercise influence in the eastern Mediterranean or the result of a coordinated regression from a strategic quagmire he faces in the Middle East?

Here it is worth evaluating the information -that has, strangely enough, not been publicised -that Antonis Samaras, within the framework of Nato – was informed in late September that Turkey had, essentially, accepted the creation of an independent  Kurdish entity on its southern border. Reportedly the ramifications of such an outcome have already been discusses between Turkey and its allies. Alexis Tsipras has, reportedly, also been aware of this information.

This information – that has been verified – also coincides with the outbreak of tension around Cyprus’ Economic Exclusive Zone -EEZ  and the limited compromise between Erdogan and the ‘alliance of the willing’ over developments in northern Syria.

Instead of playing the role of a crazy nut, Turkey has gone for a compromise it might be able to control eventually.

In other words, instead of sending Turkish soldiers to fight and save Kobani from falling, and when it has become obvious it would not fall, it allowed the Kurdish Peshmerga to reach the city and help in its defense.

Erdogan not only avoided sending Turkish troops to liberate a, possible, future part of an independent Kurdistan, but also helped to import a powerful Iraqi Kurd element into a region which, until now, was under the control and influence of the PYD and the PKK – both of which  are hostile to him.

A more rational approach, rather than an impulsive one, on behalf of the ‘sultan’.

Turkish provocations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean should be interpreted within the same ‘planning’ framework and not as knee-jerk reactions of despair. How dangerous these moves are or not remain to be seen.

Paradoxically, mosts media reports overemphasize news that intimate a rise in tension. For example, the confusing reports that flooded the internet that Greece was upgrading its military presence in the region as announced  by Venizelos [deputy prime minister]. But Greece’s presence in the region is a given as part of Nato and UN operations in the eastern Mediterranean -therefore the escalation appears more like a publicity stunt.

At the same time, less attention and emphasis is given to other news which could indicate that the game is being played on a political level rather than one of military escalation.

For example, the announcement by Cypriot Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulidis that the construction of  a gas liquefying terminal on Cyprus is not feasible and that the country is examining the  prospect of cooperation with other countries (link in Greek) to this effect. This could be se seen as a message to Turkey whose main priority is to secure the management of energy sources from the east. The telephone conversation (link in Greek) between Samaras and his Turkish counterpart about this issue has been confirmed but was hardly noticed by the media.
(Which has meanwhile been followed by the announcement of a visit of PM Davutoğlu to Athens next month)

Judging from all this, one could think that the certainty emanating from the opinions of analysts, which sound like they are coming straight from within the mind of Erdogan, would have more credibility if it finally evolves to a self-fulfilling prophecy. A ‘hot’ incident of a small duration in Eastern Aegean would be enough for this as well as one of the last cards Samaras might be left with for his political survival.

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