Turkey’s strategic significance on the global stage has become increasingly apparent amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, as evidenced by the swift congratulations extended to Recep Tayyip Erdogan following his recent election victory. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Erdogan, highlighting the Turkish leader’s “independent foreign policy” as a factor in his win. This policy includes Turkey’s refusal to ostracise Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, even as NATO allies imposed sanctions and reduced their energy dependence on Moscow.
Trade between Turkey and Russia has notably increased since the start of the Ukrainian conflict. However, Erdogan also received congratulations from US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, despite their concerns about Turkey’s relationship with Russia and Erdogan’s domestic policies. Turkey remains a vital, albeit challenging and unpredictable, ally of the West, as a key NATO member participating in all its missions.
While Erdogan maintains close ties with Russia, he also provides military aid to Ukraine and has brokered deals benefiting both countries. In recent years, Erdogan has shifted his focus from advocating for Turkey’s EU membership to pursuing a more independent foreign policy. This approach has led to transactional relationships with various allies, including the US and EU.
Turkey’s current economic struggles may create an opportunity for the West to push for further NATO expansion, such as Sweden’s accession into the alliance. However, migration remains a pressing concern for EU leaders, particularly as Turkey’s role in managing the flow of refugees and asylum seekers has become increasingly contentious. The EU is also wary of Turkey’s disputes with Greece and Cyprus, both EU member states.
Previously considered a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey’s strategic importance has evolved in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Erdogan enters his third decade in power, Ankara’s strategic allies will be closely monitoring Turkey’s actions on the global stage.
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