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Nicosia,
21 April, 2019
 
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Erdogan’s dilemmas

Turkey is plunging into a deep crisis

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

Turkey is plunging into a deep crisis. It’s impossible to predict what shape the country will be in a few months from now. There’s simply no overarching plan.

If there is one, it remains locked inside the brain of a single man whose sole objective is to keep himself (and, after he’s out, his family) in power – ad infinitum.

The best analysts in Europe and the United States agree that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be faced with two major crises by autumn. The first will be an economic crisis.

The country’s private sector is estimated to have up to 300 billion dollars in debt. Most of this debt is in foreign currencies and about half of it must be paid off by the end of the summer.

Most Turkey analysts deem that Ankara will either have to resort to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of 150 billion dollars or so, or follow the path of Venezuela.

Sure, Erdogan could always change his policy to pre-empt the worst-case scenario, but this does not appear to be a political possibility.

Turkey needs a lot of money, and support from Russia and Qatar will simply not be enough. And we are talking here about a country that still needs to import onions and flour.

The Turkish strongman obviously does not want to turn to the IMF, as this would mark the end of his narrative: It would make him look like a leader who turns to the West to ask for money when he has been styling himself as the leader of a mid-range superpower that can snub the European Union and the United States.

As the economic crisis escalates, Erdogan will have to face yet another dilemma: should he turn to Russia and purchase the S-400 missile defense systems or proceed with the supply of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets and preserve ties with the US and NATO? Washington had until now failed to send a clear signal on this.

But this is starting to change as recent comments by US Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials indicate.

Congress has started to play a very important role in foreign policymaking and takes the issue very seriously.

Even at the Pentagon, an increasing number of officials are starting to believe that Turkey’s current relationship status with NATO is unsustainable.

In their view, US policymakers until recently made the mistake of not sending clear signals to Ankara and because they relied more on the carrot than the stick. “President Erdogan barks a lot, but when someone shows his teeth, he usually stops,” an American analyst with deep knowledge of Turkey said recently. US-Turkey ties will be seriously tested in the coming months.

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