For Vladimir Putin, recent events in Turkey should inspire a lot of confidence. But for everyone else, the alarm bells have been ringing for quite some time.
The cracks emerging between Turkey and nearly all of its western allies have created an opening for Russia to drive another wedge between the members of traditionally stable European institutions. As Turkey devolves into autocracy, European leaders struggle to balance their condemnation of the Turkish domestic political environment with the need to maintain diplomatic relations in light of Turkey’s strategic value as a partner.
Following the failed coup last July, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s continued purge of political opponents throughout the government has diplomatic relations between the European Union and Turkey at an all time low. The purges have fueled tensions inside NATO after a number of Turkish military officers were imprisoned, abruptly depriving NATO headquarters of a stable and continuous military liaison to Ankara. There’s also the rapidly diverging Western and Turkish strategies for containing the war in Syria.
The United States has long supported and fought alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, and recently announced the expansion of a program to provide military equipment and weapons to newly partnered Kurdish YPG fighters working to oust ISIS from its strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul. This runs directly counter to Turkey’s position on the YPG, an arm of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered by Turkey to be a terrorist organization responsible for decades-long hostilities.
Then there is the escalating rhetoric between Turkey and Germany. While vacationing in Spain, a Turkish-born German national was arrested earlier this month by Spanish law enforcement stemming from an Interpol warrant in his name. Although the basis for the warrant, which was issued by Turkey nearly four years ago, has not been revealed, the man was a vocal critic of the Erdogan government, and his requested extradition to Turkey was later denied by Spanish authorities. The arrest and subsequent extradition demands have sparked fears within the western community that Turkey may be using the international law enforcement agency to hunt down political opponents far outside Turkey’s borders.
The degrading political environment inside Turkey, and the increasingly aggressive actions toward its allies have put NATO and EU leaders in a bind. As an institution predicated on the cohesion of its members against an external threat, what do you do when someone inside the alliance goes rogue?