I have previously been a little critical of Turkey’s approach towards foreign affairs. Before now it seems as though they have done nothing but make mistakes: whether it be backing groups that proceeded to fail dismally, possibly funding ISIS or alienating almost every major player in the region it seemed as if Turkey was never going to make any good choices. Now however that seems to be changing.
The relationship between Russia and Turkey has historically been frosty. In fact, the two powers have never quite seen eye to eye. This is a problem for Russia, as the Bosporus is the only way for Russian ships to enter the Mediterranean. It also poses a major problem for Turkey, as they stand between one of the world’s superpowers and their crucial strategic interests. The relationship between the two states made the headlines last year, when Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane over Syria. At the time, Erdogan refused to apologise and there was a very real threat of war. War did not erupt however, and the situation –though it continued to cause tension- seemed to have deescalated.
Yesterday however this situation changed. Turkey issued an apology to Russia, stating that they regretted the act. Turkey seems to have realised that their strategy of pissing everyone off wasn’t going to work in the long run. By mending their relationship with Russia (though they’re still far from best buds), Turkey shows their new outlook; they are now prepared to act pragmatically instead of committing to doomed policies. This is further exemplified by the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel after six years.
What does this tell us about Erdogan’s attitude? Perhaps we are seeing the once absolutist ruler taking more tips from his advisors. Last month, Turkey received a new Prime Minister: Binali Yildirim. Within days of taking office, Yildirim was talking about how Turkey needed to: ‘Increase it’s friends and decrease it’s enemies’. Yildirim has recognized that his predecessor’s decisions were not the best and Erdogan seems to agree. If Erdogan does intend to become a dictator –as some, more cynical commentators suggest- then he is not taking the usual path, choosing instead to delegate foreign policy to other politicians.
We could be seeing the start of Turkish reengagement in the region. They had previously allowed their foreign policy to slip but they seem now to be attempting to address that that lapse in attention has caused. Turkey’s new policy may even lead to more stability in the region. Where once their ideologically driven policies caused tension between powers, their new Realpolitik approach seeks to address the regions issues in a way that avoids unnecessary conflict.
This event is an important shift in Turkish policy, and one that will perhaps even bring movement to a region that had been caught in geopolitical deadlock for too long.