By Panagiotis A. Karampelas*
The EU, and what is widely perceived as “the West”, simply refuses to learn from its mistakes. The conclusions of the EU Summit only bring war between Greece and Turkey one big step closer. And here is why.
The EU Summit that was concluded on Friday morning was a diplomatic defeat for Greece and Cyprus and, of course, the EU. The EU once again postponed any action against the Turkish aggression for the future. In fact, the EU leaders didn’t have the guts to write down even the word “sanctions” and they vaguely wrote “all the instruments and the options at its disposal”.
Greece and Cyprus had no choice but to declare they are “satisfied” with the conclusions of the EU Summit, but they did so mainly for internal political reasons in an attempt to present the diplomatic defeat into a triumph as they try to save some face against Turkey. Their objective, especially Cyprus’, initially was for the EU to impose sanctions on Ankara and now they are happy that the EU is just mentioning the obvious, that it is unacceptable for Turkey to be doing such “bad” things…
Athens was a bit cornered by the fact that Turkey pretended to be in favour of dialogue as the, destined to a dead-end, Greek-Turkish preliminary talks are about to begin, so vetoing the sanctions on Belarus as a means to push for a harder position on behalf of the EU against Ankara, was not an option at this point in time.
Nicosia, on the other hand, is left high and dry once again as the violations of its EEZ are ongoing while the EU is simply calling Turkey to…behave. Cyprus succumbed to the enormous pressure its European “family” (sic) exerted on it.
But the EU proved, yet again, why it will never be taken seriously by the international community on non-economic issues and why the whole “dream” of some political circles about the political “integration” and the so-called “United States of Europe” is absolutely nowhere in the horizon. Europe actually refused to do anything to practically, albeit diplomatically, defend a member state whose rights -hence the EU rights as well- are being clearly violated.
Even worse, it placed the issue of a non-member state, that of Belarus, higher in the agenda and its priorities, regardless of the fact that the whole issue there is strictly an internal affair of that country and does not pose any, at least, direct and serious threat to the European interests, not at least any bigger threat than that posed e.g. five years ago.
Nobody says that Alexander Lukashenko is not a problem. However, the argument that Europe must strictly and actively oppose leaders who mistreat their own people and rule their country in undemocratic ways, is weak as the EU apparently does not seem to really care that much at all about the undemocratic authoritarian regime Erdogan has established in Turkey.
Why a Greek-Turkish conflict is now closer than before
Turkey is asking from Greece and Cyprus things that it knows that no Greek politician will ever dare to think about giving. Turkish ministers, not some low-life extremists nobody cares about, speak about islands that Greece “illegally occupies” and in the same sentence they call for their de-militarization. It is like a burglar who wants to sneak into your house, complaining to you about your Pitbull and the alarm system you have installed, because they make his job harder…
The Turkish claims are not a negotiating tactic, like asking for 10 if you want to take 7. They want everything they claim. Besides, they have burned the bridges behind them, as the way they have presented these claims to the Turkish people leave them no room to diplomatically retreat to anything less than what they have promised.
And that becomes especially important now that the internal pressure due to the country’s tremendous economic problems is mounting making Erdogan desperate for a victory that will turn the psychological and social tensions around to his favour. He has nothing to lose anymore, so for him it is “double or nothing”.
We must understand that Turkey’s claims and provocations have an objective. Ankara does not want to just keep claiming things indefinitely. They want to actually close the deal at some point and take what they desire.
Especially now that the fossil fuels will gradually begin to subside as the world turns to “greener” energy solutions, Turkey is desperate to gain as much as possible from the oil and natural gas discovered in the depths of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea while there is still demand.
But it is not just the economic part of the issue that is important to Erdogan. The whole idea of the re-establishment of the new Ottoman Empire may seem crazy to the rest of the world but the neo-Ottoman aspirations of Erdogan’s Islamic-oriented Turkey are very real and well documented. They have declared, after all, that by 2023 (the 100-year anniversary since the foundation of the new Turkish state) they will have the borders they had at the end of the Ottoman rule in 1923.
And make no mistake: Turkey is not bluffing. Historically, Turkey always does -or at least tries to do- what it says it will do.
One must also not forget the personal reasons why Erdogan would want to go ahead with his plans at any cost. He knows that he won’t be around forever and he would like to see what he straggled for taking shape, even partially, with him still on power. It’s a characteristic of his personality that is quite clear for anyone who takes notes of what the Turkish President says or does.
Given the fact the US President Donald Trump has been protecting Turkey from the Congress and the State Department for quite some time now and he won’t leave at least until January 1st 2021, if he fails to be re-elected, as well as the fact that Germany is at the presidency of the EU until the very same day, it becomes clear that the window of opportunity for Turkey will not be open forever.
But it is still open now…
But there are some incidents that support the argument that Turkey will go for it and opt for the military “solution” to close most if not all the open issues with Greece and -most probably- Cyprus as well.
– Azerbaijan, Turkey’s close ally, attacked Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh five days before the EU Summit. In the days that followed it was proven that new Turkish-made weapon systems were being used and tested, such as armed UAVs, something invaluable for the development and improvement of the systems themselves and their relevant tactics and operational procedures.
– Evros is the river right at the Greek-Turkish borders and it is an area where big forest fires are extremely rare unlike other parts of the country. There have been five in the last decade; all five in the last two months… All the fires broke out in areas of special military importance for the Greek Armed Forces near the borders. The latest one was burning as the EU Summit was underway…
– Turkey, although, reluctant to test fire the S-400 air defence missile system it bought from Russia, an action that would mean that the system has reached a Full Operational Capability (FOC) status, scheduled to move forward with the test fire drills between October 5th and 16th.
Based on all of the above facts, and with the now proven re-confirmation of the European unwillingness to put any significant pressure to Ankara, Turkey has the “thumbs up” to go ahead with its initial plan: To take by force what it wants by dragging Greece to the negotiating table after a military confrontation.
The EU, as the West in general has been doing for quite many decades now, transmitted again the wrong message to Ankara, that nothing Turkey has done until now is bad enough for it to face any meaningful consequences.
And Ankara received the message loud and clear.
* Panagiotis A. Karampelas is a strategic analyst & crisis management specialist.