Turkey moves to 2020 with a heavy agenda
Turkey witnessed some major developments and challenges over the course of this year. The most important foreign policy issues were the Syrian civil war, which has dominated for years, an ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, ups and downs in Turkish-American relations and Ankara’s latest moves in Libya and Tunisia.
Let’s begin with the latest development of this year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the sole decision-maker when it comes to the country’s foreign and security policies, paid an unannounced and unexpected visit to Tunisia where he met with his counterpart Kais Saied.
The visit was said to focus on ways to resolve the ongoing conflict in Libya. It was the first official Turkish visit to Tunisia since Saied was elected as the new president in October. The meeting came after the two memoranda of understanding Turkey signed with Libya on Nov. 27, which have changed balances on both the eastern Mediterranean and the Libyan civil war theaters.
Following the military cooperation deal, Erdogan said Ankara might consider sending troops to Libya if Tripoli made such a request. He repeated this in a televised press conference jointly held with Saied, saying “If there is an invitation, we would of course evaluate it.”
We are waiting to see if these words will turn into action. Erdogan also noted that Turkey and Libya will continue to cooperate, and that Greece has no right to comment on the matter.
While the tensions are high in regards to the Libya issue, the Berlin conference, a significant upcoming meeting, is expected to be held in January. Erdogan said Tunisia and Algeria should also be included as these countries should have a say in the resolution of the Libyan conflict since the conflict is at their doorsteps. While these countries are the most affected by the conflict, they are also knowledgeable on the sociopolitical structure of the war-torn country. Since September, several high-level meetings — known as the Berlin peace process — were held in the German capital to put an end to the conflict.
On Jan. 8, in one of the most important meetings of the year, Putin is set to visit Turkey.
On the Syrian front, Turkey has been busy dealing with the civil war, efforts for the return of Syrians, deportations of Daesh fighters to their countries of origin and the Kurdish threat emanating from the northern part of the country. Turkey launched its long-threatened operation, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, in northern Syria on Oct. 9 after US President Donald Trump said Washington would pull troops from the region.
The EU called for sanctions on Turkey in response to its actions in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin requested a meeting with Erdogan in Sochi to discuss the operation and Trump’s scandalous letter to Erdogan came to surface. Finally, the Russian S-400 defense systems that Ankara purchased and Turkey’s nervous relations with NATO were among the few of the dossiers of the passing year, and are both likely to remain key topics in the near future.
So, what is awaiting Turkey in 2020? The Syrian civil war, an ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the possible deployment of Turkish troops to Libya and the tense relations with the West are all set to continue.
On Jan. 8, in one of the most important meetings of the year, Putin is set to visit Turkey. The Russian leader, who will be hosted by his Turkish counterpart, will attend the inauguration of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project in Istanbul, a Russia-Turkey pipeline crossing the Black Sea, along with other leaders from neighboring countries. The project is considered a strategic investment for Turkey and Russia. The two countries have intensified their cooperation in recent years -- politically, militarily and economically.
Another important visit is going to be paid by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in what is set to be a busy January. While both Turkish-German relations and Ankara’s diplomacy with the EU have seen ups and downs in recent years, Merkel’s visit will provide an opportunity for both sides to discuss several issues. First and foremost is the refugee matter and the repatriation of European citizens who joined Daesh.
In terms of the relations between Ankara and Washington, the coming year seems set to bring some change, while the latter will have a presidential election, and the former will continue to pursue its own foreign policy agenda. No doubt, foreign and security policies will continue to dominate Ankara’s agenda in the next year. It will be interesting to see how Turkey’s diplomatic and military gains from 2019 will play out in the year to come.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz