Scheduled meeting with US President
Turkey’s foreign policy is at a standstill following the Muslim Bayram, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan focuses entirely now on the municipal election in Istanbul on 23 June.
Elections are being repeated following the objections raised by the ruling party, as the 31 March election resulted in the win of the opposition-backed Ekren Imamoglu. The Electoral Council canceled the election result without substantiating fraud, on “typical” and trivial grounds, i.e. in some polling stations in Istanbul the members of the electoral committees were not all civil servants as defined by the law.
The Turkish President will be in Istanbul in coming days to address rallies in 39 different suburbs in the city.
After it becomes clear who the winner in Istanbul is – an important city that is the financial and cultural center of the entire country – president Erdogan is expected to turn his focus on foreign policy and the economy.
Upcoming Erdogan – Trump meeting
Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to meet 29 June on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Tokyo. Meanwhile, sources suggest Trump could visit Ankara in July. Of course this will happen only in the two leaders find a solution over the issue of the acquisition of s-400 by Turkey and its incompatibility with the country’s participation in F-35 Fifth Generation Fighter Jet Program.
The Turkish president insists that Ankara won’t back down and it will take delivery of the Russian long-range anti-aircraft system, but it is clear that next November, the deadline for sanctions expires based on CAATSA. If Turkey and the US have not arrived at an understanding by then – at the latest – Congress will push for sanctions.
Experienced political analysts believe that Erdogan and Trump, despite the divergence of their views and interests, share similar governance styles and are therefore able to find a formula that pleases both sides. Trump needs Turkey – which neighbors Iran – as relations with Tehran are worsening. On the other hand, Ankara is seen as an important factor in the possible “deal of the century” prepared by the US President’s Office on the Palestinian front.
Erdogan wants US financial support and naturally wants to rule out any possibility of sanctions from Washington as all Turkey’s arsenal is compatible with NATO systems. The possibility of Turkey being excluded will cause multiple problems to the Turkish armed forces, mainly in the Turkish air force that has been planning to receive 100 such fighters since 2010, when it took part in the F-35 coproduction program. Failure to receive them will change all their planning! Although Turkish officials have talked about buying a Russian fighter, they know that multi-year adaptation is required for this to materialize.
This delicate balance is considered to be important in terms of striking a compromise between the two sides.
However, Vladimir Putin is a key player in the attempts made by the two sides to converge, especially on the S-400 issue. Russia is Turkey’s largest natural gas supplier while it is also building the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, and Moscow is the one that maintains real control in the Syrian region and especially at Idlib with the possibility of a new refugee wave arriving at the Turkish border.
Ankara drilling rigs await
Despite the open issues, Ankara is pushing ahead with plans to drill in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Fatih drill remains situated west off Paphos, within the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone, and Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez announced that Turkey will send Yavuz, another drill, to the plots “granted to us by the Turkish Republic Northern Cyprus”.
In Athens, different scenarios of reaction are being examined, in case Turkey ultimately proceeds with seismic research within the Greek continental shelf in the area between Rhodes and Kastelorizo. However, the Turkish side does not exclude the possibility that the continental shelf issue in this area could be brought by Ankara itself before the International Court.
In this climate, Erdogan said a few days ago that Turkey remains committed to joining the EU. He welcomed Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos with whom he held talks for 2.5 hours on issues including refugees, security in the region and Greek-Turkish relations.
An important role in the Turkish president’s next moves will be played by the state of the Turkish economy which is deteriorating by the month. In the first quarter of 2019, the Turkish economy shrunk at a rate of 2.6%. Since 2018, the Turkish pound has been depreciated against the dollar by 40%. Inflation has surpassed 24%, triggering the reactions of Turkish citizens and even Erdogan supporters who have seen a sharp decline in purchasing power. From 2002 to 2018, Turks had seen their per capita income triple.
Elections in Istanbul
“Whoever wins in Istanbul, wins in Turkey” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said before the 1994 elections when he won in the municipality. Since then, through his associates he has been controlling the particular municipality, and the defeat of March 31 by 13,000 votes in a city of 18 million residents was a blow to the AKP.
Istanbul produces 31% of the country’s GDP, 29% of industrial production and accounts for 20% of the industrial workforce.
If the city is ultimately lost, his reputation will not only suffer, but he will also lose his clientele relations with tens of thousands of municipal employees and thousands of contractors and suppliers of the metropolitan municipality. Municipalities in major cities are responsible for water management, keeping the city clean, gas distribution, and even urban planning, and are considered “small states”. This is why Erdogan’s candidate, Binali Yildirim, is vying for the mayoralty despite being a former PM and president of the Turkish parliament.
The latest polls showed a small lead for Imamoglu; however, nobody can safely predict the 23 June result.
However, many AKP officials accuse Imamoglu of hailing from Trabzon and being of “Pontian descent”, in their attempt to rally nationalists against him. AKP MP Veysi Eroglu argued that “Greece supports the opposition candidate.” Imamoglu clarified that he is a Turk and wished that “God gives logic” to his accusers. /ibna