It’s time for Turkey to choose

Vassilis Nedos

Picking a side is rarely an easy task. It means disappointing one side and committing to a particular course. It means putting aside tactics such as maintaining a policy of equal distances or prevarication. And if it is tough when we’re talking about private, professional and social interactions, it is thoroughly unpleasant when it comes to international relations.

The reason is that states – and especially those which are regarded as a small or medium-sized power – inevitably comes under pressure from the bigger players to adopt one position or another every time a situation starts to heat up.

Sometimes that happens in a contained setting, as was the case in Greece during the early years of austerity. At other times, though, it happens during serious external upheaval, as is the case in Europe right now, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s interview with state broadcaster ERT and Kathimerini contained several tactfully worded barbs against Turkey. In one comment, the Ukrainian president accused Ankara of double standards, something the Turkish propaganda machine is sure to interpret as an attempt by Zelenskyy to pander to Greek public opinion.

Nevertheless, his comment draws attention to the fact that Turkey is coming under increasing pressure to pick a side. Given that it is headed to a general election in about a year from now, that choice becomes tougher and even more so due to the fact that the Turkish leadership regards the country’s position as a central rather than a regional player.

In practical terms, this means that a clear-cut choice between Russia or Ukraine would be at odds with Ankara’s perception of Turkey’s position in the world. Moreover, the deep state in Turkey lives in terror of a choice that would trigger “Sevres” phobia.

The United States and European leaders appear to have accepted a certain degree of freedom of movement for Ankara, but whether the West and Turkey agree on how much wiggle room this entails exactly is very debatable.

What this means is that the longer Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fails to strike a balance between the so-called “Eurasian” agenda’s “decline of the West” and the core of the West, which is NATO and the Euro-Atlantic relationship, the jumpier everyone becomes. And this means that Athens needs to tread very carefully over the next few months, saying as little as possible and acting responsibly.