Within the last week the Turkish Ministry has undergone a flurry of changes with many new Ambassadors being assigned across the world. As what Soner Cagapatay, a Turkey expert affiliated with the Washington Center for Near East Policy, has deemed “a mini-revolution”, signaling a broader foreign policy shift, as Turkey increasingly has become isolated on the international level, with the E.U and the U.S threatening sanctions. The passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in the U.S House of Representatives through a veto proof bipartisan majority, has authorized the imposition of sanctions against Turkey in retaliation for the purchase of Russian made S-400s.
In light of recent developments, with the President of Turkey, Reccep Tayip Erdogan finding himself backed into a corner, the new announcements reveal a broader strategic shift, and an attempt to manage increasingly tense relations with France, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the U.S. The appointment of new diplomatic heads in all these places signals to many a willingness on the behalf of Erdogan to reset relations. Yet, to what degree that remains possible is in question, as the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Libya back Khalifa Haftar’s Benghazi based rival government. This is in contrast to Turkish support for the internationally recognized UN backed government in Tripoli. Rhetorically though there seems to be a change, as there are reports of ongoing high-level discussion between the Saudi’s and the Turks.
Furthermore, the appointment of a new envoy to France, Ali Onaner, a former classmate of Macron’s is widely regarded as an attempt to cool down tensions. Especially, considering that the EU has recently announced new sanctions against individuals involved with drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the harsh public exchanges between both Erdogan and Macron.
More importantly, the change in personnel in Washington D.C, with appointment of Murat Mercan as ambassador, who was previously the ambassador to Japan, holds a doctorate from the University of Florida, and is not a career diplomat but a political appointment. Erdogan seeks a direct line of communication with the incoming Biden-Harris administration, which has increasingly signaled a tougher stance against Erdogan’s behavior in the region and for its purchase of the S-400s.
All in all, the shuffle comes at a time where the Turkish economy is teetering, facing high inflation, a 28% drop in value of the Lira, and a widening current account deficit due to a weak tourism season. Thus, Erdogan needs friends and not enemies. If sanctions come into effect, confidence in the Turkish economy could take a further hit, something which Erdogan cannot afford.
As the past year has seen drastic geopolitical shifts due to COVID-19, and many traditional regional players like the U.S and France have been distracted by domestic challenges, Erdogan has seized upon them to expand Turkey’s regional power, saving Tripoli from Khalifa Haftar’s siege, ensuring Azerbaijani victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, and defeating the Kurds in Syria. The tide though has seemingly turned, with fresh sanctions coming and a weak economic outlook, Erdogan’s foreign policy shift needs to pay off.