The latest crisis in relations between Athens and Ankara is different from previous ones. It is broader in scope, it has a hegemonic dimension, and it is permeated by an imperial rather than – as in the past – nationalist attitude.
The fullest expression of this new dogma is probably encapsulated in a recent statement by Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. “People say that geography is destiny. In our case, the destiny of the region depends on Turkey. I believe that the US should realize this and prioritize Turkey as its primary regional ally,” he said.
The starting point of Akar’s statement is that the situation in the region is chaotic. And, as a result, there is need for a hegemonic power to restore an order that has been upset by the failed military interventions carried out by the West in Arab countries and the gradual withdrawal of America from the region.
Two powers are currently active in the area: Russia and Turkey. Akar is basically saying that it is in Washington’s interest to support Ankara. In any other case, Moscow will prevail or the West – the US in other words – will have to directly engage.
Apart from the wider geopolitics, Turkey’s policy also has a European dimension to it. That is based on two axes: first, the importance of Turkey’s geography in stemming refugee flows and, second, the importance of Turkey’s economic ties with the European Union, particularly Germany.
The issue is being managed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the framework of shaping a new agreement regarding EU-Turkey ties. In that respect, Merkel must overcome French objections and secure the consent of Greece and Cyprus. Berlin has undertaken a mediator role.
Its mediation does not seem to have paid off so far. Athens and Nicosia are not willing to open a dialogue with Ankara before Turkey radically changes its behavior, which is highly unlikely.
EU-Turkey relations will most probably not collapse. The German steam roller will find a solution. Or this is what Athens and Nicosia hope for. They’d rather kick the can down the road as the cost of reaching a settlement with Ankara would be politically damaging. The question is whether this will be enough for Turkey or whether its new-found ambitions will lead to extremely unpleasant and dangerous developments.