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The major question that concerns many analysts, governments, and elites around the world is the direction Turkey will take after this year’s elections. The ruling coalition between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won a significant majority in the Turkish Parliament in the first round and ultimately emerged victorious in the presidential elections in the second round. Undoubtedly, Turkey will continue its current neo-Ottomanist, Eurasian, and most importantly, independent course in foreign policy, with a delay of at least five years in its return to the orbit of the United States and NATO.

During the first ten years of the AKP and Erdogan’s rule, there was a debate about whether Turkey was turning more towards the East or would remain connected and bound to the West. However, within the second decade of Erdogan’s power, it became clear that Turkey is actually turning towards itself, or more precisely towards its imperial past and the desire to restore its status as a great power. On the one hand, this puts Turkey in opposition to Russia due to the opposing and mutually exclusive strategic interests that the two countries have in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. On the other hand, Erdogan’s great power, sometimes described as neo-imperial, course opposes both the United States and, as a whole, NATO and the EU.

Undoubtedly, Turkey’s strategic value is enormous considering its geographical location, territory, population, growing military power, economy, cultural influence, and position in international relations, making it a highly desirable ally for major geopolitical blocs. For this reason, the alliances and organizations in which Turkey is a member strive to retain it as a partner, while those in which it is not yet a member try to attract it in one form or another – legally, as a full member, or factually, i.e., as a de facto ally based on tactical or strategic interests. According to analyst Boyan Chukov, between the two rounds of the presidential elections in Turkey, another battle was fought between the West (NATO and the EU) and Russia, respectively, for the preservation and reintegration of Turkey into the Euro-Atlantic camp or for pulling it deeper into the Eurasian bloc created by Russia and China in the form of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and even the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Turkey’s position in international relations and the course of Turkish foreign policy are determined and altered within the triangle of the USA-Russia-Turkey, which is increasingly transforming into the quadrangle of the USA-Russia-Turkey-China and is on the verge of becoming the informal configuration governing Eurasia. Under the influence, and sometimes under the pressure, of one, several, or all remaining elements of this configuration, Turkey is forced to either retreat and wait or is allowed to advance more actively in the implementation of its Strategic Depth doctrine and the foreign policy strategy based on it. According to Erdogan and the ruling coalition between the AKP and the MHP, the West, led by the USA, not only fails to respect and acknowledge Turkey’s interests and positions in the regions that are a priority for it but also, in many cases, acts against Turkey’s considerations and concerns for its security and territorial integrity regarding the conflicts in most of those regions. Some of these conflicts are of a conventional military nature, while others are diplomatic, economic, geopolitical, geo-cultural, or mixed in nature.


With a diverse political, ethnic, and religious landscape consisting of national states with different, and often opposing interests, the region is rich in almost all types of conflicts, disputes, and contradictions. These include the ethnoreligious confrontation between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the relations and issues between Serbia and Kosovo, the historical and linguistic dispute between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, the escalating dispute with distinct characteristics of conflict between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean Sea, as well as the division of Cyprus and the dispute with the island state over the right to extract gas in the waters surrounding its territory.

Under the rule of the AKP, Turkey systematically supports Muslim communities in the Balkans, particularly the Turkish and Bulgarian-Muslim populations in Bulgaria and their counterparts in Bosnia, known as Bosnian Muslims (also known as Bosniaks), some of whom also inhabit the Sandžak region in southwestern Serbia, as well as the Albanian population in the countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania. For Ankara, these communities represent a legacy from the era of the Ottoman Empire, carefully utilized to exert cultural, economic, and geopolitical influence in the countries of the region, many of which experience ethnic, religious, and political conflicts or contradictions that often provoke Turkish intervention. The protection of this entire population ensures a stable presence in the Balkans, strengthens Turkish political, economic, and cultural influence, and, crucially, turns the Balkans into a secure strategic hinterland as much as possible.

Regarding the confrontation between Serbia and Kosovo, Turkey logically stands on the side of the Kosovo Albanians, although it maintains increasingly better relations with Serbia itself. Through its support for Bosniaks in Sandžak and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as for Albanians in Southeastern Serbia (Preshevo) and the Republic of North Macedonia, Turkey realizes and strengthens the well-known Islamic and neo-Ottoman arc passing through the Balkans. This arc starts from Bosnia, includes the Sandžak region, Kosovo, Albania, and North Macedonia, passes through Bulgaria, reaches Eastern Thrace through Edirne, and connects with Istanbul, the Straits, and the capital, Ankara. Against the backdrop of the much riskier and unstable regions of the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans provide an economic, military-strategic, geopolitical, and geostrategic hinterland from the northwest, safeguarding the highly valuable in every aspect zone of the Straits and the Anatolian Peninsula.

Aegean and Black Sea

The disputes with Greece over the islands and maritime boundaries in the eastern half of the Aegean Sea, as well as the boundaries of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of both countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, fit into the theme of the security of the Straits and Anatolia. These disputes are expected to continue intensifying the tensions between Turkey and Greece, which have been growing continuously since the mid-1950s. Turkey feels squeezed into the Aegean coast of Anatolia without being able to effectively penetrate the airspace and maritime space of the Aegean Sea. This explains its refusal to sign and ratify the Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea because doing so would require recognizing the maritime border with Greece, as well as the delineation of the EEZs of its western neighbor. Turkey’s refusal underlies the frequent intrusions into Greek airspace and territorial waters, sometimes accompanied by overt threats of war from the Turkish side.

Within the disputes that involve the territorial, economic, and energy interests of Ankara and Athens in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus issue is also intertwined, not only for historical and ethnocultural reasons. The gas deposits discovered in the waters around the island are contested by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is solely recognized by Turkey, as well as by Turkey itself. The main reason for this is that the gas deposits around Cyprus could potentially supply a significant portion of Turkey’s energy needs. Turkey pursues a policy of independently and autonomously securing energy resources, also by extracting its own resources.

As for the question of the official resolution of the Cyprus conflict and the reunification of the island, Turkey has been pursuing a policy of permanently dividing the island into two separate independent and sovereign states, a variant that is categorically rejected by the Republic of Cyprus and Greece. In this case, Turkey fears that a well-militarized island, dominated by Greek Cypriots and potentially under the influence of Athens, would pose a threat to Turkey’s security and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which actually led to the invasion of the Turkish army into Northern Cyprus in 1974.

Here, we can consider the following hypothetical example: if missiles with a short range, i.e., up to 500 km, are deployed, they would be able to strike targets deep within Turkey, considering that the northern coast of the island is about 65 km away from the southern Turkish coast. An even greater concern for Turkey would be a situation where missiles with a medium range, from 500 to 5500 km, are deployed in Cyprus, particularly because it would be easy to conduct a sudden landing on the Turkish coast from the territory of Cyprus. An even greater fear arises from the possibility of the re-emergence, in one form or another, of the Balkan League of 1912, which fought against the Ottoman Empire for the liberation of the peninsula. According to the author of the book Strategic Depth, prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, such a scenario must be avoided at all costs, as he believes it decided the fate of the empire in the early 20th century.

Davutoglu outlines a direction for Turkish foreign policy in the Balkans that aims to prevent the realliance of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece against Turkey. According to him, it is expedient to keep these states distant from each other and oppose them through bilateral or multilateral approaches. A Turkey that is completely isolated from the Balkans and exposed to the direct impact of conflicts and unpredictability in the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, and North Africa would face an extremely serious threat to its security and territorial integrity, with a near-inevitable scenario of territorial loss or even disintegration.

The war in Ukraine, whose impact on the security of the Balkans, the Black Sea, and Turkey is growing daily, must also be taken into account. It is important to emphasize that Turkey considers the Balkan-Black Sea region, along with the other regions mentioned, as its own sphere of influence, belonging to it by historical right and exerting a key influence on the country’s security and economic prosperity. In the context of the war in Ukraine, Turkey has taken a particularly intermediate position – on the one hand, as a NATO member (the second in military power and significance within the Alliance) and a candidate for EU membership, and on the other hand, as an increasingly important and key de facto ally of Russia, considering that the official war is between Russia and Ukraine, while unofficially it is between Russia on one side and NATO and the EU on the other.

The war in Ukraine has actually brought to the forefront the continuously strengthening cooperation and interaction between Turkey and Russia since 2016, while simultaneously worsening relations between Turkey and the United States. Seven years ago, Turkey accused the US of planning and carrying out the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and identified the refusal of Washington to extradite the leader of the Gülen movement, Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara considers the main organizer, as a permanent problem in their bilateral relations. Among other reasons for the current state of Turkish-American relations are the US support for Syrian Kurds, American sanctions on the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, and the overall American foreign policy pressure on Ankara.

In recent years, there has also been a process of transferring American military assets from other European countries to Greece, where new American military bases are being constructed alongside existing ones, including the base in Alexandroupolis. Located very close to the Turkish border, this base could exercise effective control over the movement through the Dardanelles and, if the appropriate decision is made, even close them off from the Aegean Sea, de facto blocking both straits together with the Bosphorus.

In this context, it is worth taking a brief look at the militarization of Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean Sea, which Turkey and Greece dispute territorially. If the base and port in Alexandroupolis were to be strategically connected to the islands of Samothrace, Lemnos, Lesbos, and Chios, extending to the island of Rhodes, a blockade of the entire Aegean coast of Turkey could be established. It is interesting to understand the real position of the US on this issue, given the growing strategic rapprochement between Athens and Washington and the increasingly strained relations between the US and Turkey. Recently, Greece even requested a doubling of the number of American bases on its territory.

Due to all of the aforementioned reasons, the increasing cooperation with Russia stems from Turkey’s desire to completely free itself from US influence on its foreign policy. Although Russo-Turkish relations were developing prior to these developments, the events of July 15, 2016, marked an entirely new beginning in the relationship between Ankara and Moscow, with manifestations visible in a wide range of cooperation spheres, successful deals, and completed projects. Among them are the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, the completion of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant by the Russian company Rosatom in 2023, the construction of the TurkStream gas pipeline, and more. The list of areas of cooperation also includes coordination between Moscow and Ankara regarding Syria, despite significant differences in their positions on this issue. Turkey and Russia also participated together in the peaceful settlement of the outcome of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War as guarantors of the ceasefire agreement. When Ankara and Moscow deem it necessary, they resort to coordination with each other regarding Libya as well.

Despite the high level of military, economic, and energy cooperation, Turkey and Russia remain on different, and in some cases opposing, positions on certain military-strategic and geopolitical issues, including the war in Ukraine. Turkey does not recognize Crimea as Russian territory, actively supports the Crimean Tatars (both before and after the start of the war), and officially supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its restoration, while simultaneously exporting weapons to Kyiv, including the renowned Bayraktar drones. At the same time, the US and NATO continue to have dozens of military bases and facilities in Turkey, one of which is the strategic airbase at Incirlik. Turkey is also one of the five European NATO member states where US tactical nuclear weapons are stored, against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between the US and Turkey regarding American military support for the Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

While during the Cold War, Turkey held the position of a subordinate junior ally within NATO, in the 1990s, the Turkish elite began to realize and accumulate an understanding that there was an opportunity to create and implement its own doctrine in foreign policy, leading logically to the emergence and application of the Strategic Depth. Almost a decade before the publication of the Strategic Depth, in the last two years of his presidency, former Turkish President Turgut Özal already directed Ankara’s strategic gaze towards Central Asia, which naturally passes through the Caucasus.

The Caucasus Region

Similar to the Balkans and the Middle East, the Caucasus region is filled with unresolved conflicts and contentious issues, including the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, with alternating phases of hostilities and frozen tensions. Nagorno-Karabakh is a crucial area for Turkey as it holds vital significance for Azerbaijan, towards which Turkey openly pursues a policy of “one nation, two states.” Consequently, the South Caucasus region, encompassing Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, is of paramount strategic importance for Turkey’s security, just as the Balkans and the Middle East are defined as such. This means that any conflict in these regions is and will be of direct and primary importance to Turkish ambitions.

It is precisely for this reason that Turkey intervened in the long-standing frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status and control of the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh, assisting Baku in winning the Second Karabakh War (September-November 2020). As a result of Azerbaijan’s victory, it regained control over nearly all territories that Armenia had occupied in the surrounding vicinity of Karabakh, creating a territorial security belt around the separatist region. As part of the ceasefire that ended the war, the Lachin Corridor was established through the southern part of Armenian territory, providing a connection between Armenia and Karabakh, and Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the area.

In addition to further strengthening Turkish influence, Baku’s victory served another crucial goal for Turkey – the creation of a geopolitical, cultural, and transportation-communication link between Turkey, Nakhchivan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, with the aim of establishing a strategically important bridge to the Turkic states of Central Asia. For Turkey, Azerbaijan is the first step towards the formation of the Turkic world, extending according to both the ethnic map of Central Asia and Turkish plans and ambitions, to the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. Through the integration and unification of Turkic peoples and states under one form or another, the projects for the Turkic world and the Great Turan have a significant goal of Turkey’s deep geopolitical and geo-cultural penetration into Central and Northeast Asia. However, joining Georgia and Armenia to Turkey’s sphere of influence is necessary to establish a connection to Central Asia through the South Caucasus.

Central Asia

Central Asia represents the next key region towards which not only the United States, Russia, and China, but also Iran and Turkey, demonstrate their interests. Central Asia is a region known for its vast territory, strategic geographical location, and natural resources, particularly fossil fuel deposits. It serves as a valuable source of oil and gas for the Turkish economy, a crucial market for Turkish exports, and a geopolitical terrain where Turkey’s influence could elevate it to a level closer to that of the United States, Russia, and China.

Turkey’s interest in the region has been steadily growing since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, with former Turkish Prime Minister and President Turgut Özal taking the initial steps towards economic openness with the former Soviet republics situated in the region. As early as 1992, during the penultimate year of Özal’s leadership and life, Ankara hosted the first summit of Turkic-speaking states, which subsequently became known as the Turkic Council. This policy was continued in the cultural and political spheres by one of his predecessors and successors, multiple-time Turkish Prime Minister and President Süleyman Demirel, who proposed within this policy the replacement of the Cyrillic script with the Turkish version of the Latin alphabet in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

One of the culminating moments of this policy was the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, aimed at increasing cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, and religious spheres, as well as implementing various scientific, economic, transportation, and communication projects. One of the key characteristics of Turkey’s Central Asian policy is that it focuses more on seeking and establishing political, religious, and cultural influence to gain greater prestige as a major power, rather than seeking security guarantees. However, this is not the case for Russia and China, who, due to pure geographical and geostrategic reasons, consider Central Asia as a region of critical and immediate importance for their security. Consequently, they are not inclined to allow Turkey or any other opposing or competitive power to establish a presence and influence in the region.

The Middle East and North Africa

The next region deserving attention is the Middle East with its uncertain situation in Syria, instability in Iraq, the Kurdish issue that affects Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and last but not least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Yemen. For most of the past 110 years, the Middle East has represented the highest level of security risk for the states within and around it. Alongside the ethnoreligious conflicts, the Kurdish issue has emerged as a central concern, particularly in the wars in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Turkey fears the establishment of a Kurdish state encompassing southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and Syria, which is why Ankara has conducted four military operations in Northern Syria over the past 12 years, establishing a security zone with Turkish forces deployed about 35 km south of the Syrian border. Regular artillery shelling and airstrikes against the positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kandil Mountains in Northern Iraq have become common practice. Interestingly, strikes against targets in Northern Iraq date back to a time before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in the fall of 2002. Between the two World Wars, the Republican People’s Party (RPP), created by Kemal Atatürk, denied the very existence of the Kurdish ethnicity and banned the language and all possible forms of its usage.

The suppression of Kurdish uprisings, and after 1984, the campaigns against the organized armed Kurdish resistance in Turkey, were enforced as a consistent policy and practice by the Turkish state and its political elite until the end of 2002. The AKP government, particularly during its second term from 2007 to 2011, pursued a policy of liberalization regarding the Kurds and their rights, especially regarding the use of the Kurdish language in education and media—a concept that was unthinkable during the entire republican period until the end of the 20th century. However, since 2011, with the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the subsequent unrest and wars in North Africa and the Middle East, especially the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Turkish government has been revising and revoking much of its previous policy of granting rights to the Kurdish population in Turkey.

To win the nationalist vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections this year and to accommodate nationalist parties within the People’s Alliance, the dominant opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had to adopt a tougher stance against the Kurds in the country. Considering that Turkish society and the political spectrum prioritize the security, prosperity, and territorial integrity of Turkey, it is unlikely that any concessions will be made to the Kurds and their political representatives in the Turkish Parliament, despite the fact that the Kurdish vote often plays a decisive role in the outcome of various elections. The Kurdish issue thus continues to play a key role in shaping both domestic political dynamics and foreign policy, particularly in the realm of security. The risk to the security and territorial integrity of Turkey is real, and both opposition and governing circles are aware that it should never be underestimated under any circumstances.

The wars and chaos in Libya and Sudan have shown that the North Africa region remains highly risky for the entire Mediterranean, as well as for Europe and Asia as a whole. As is known, North Africa is rich in oil and gas, and the countries in the region are among the largest exporters in the world. Based on its neo-Ottoman doctrine, Turkey aims to return as a dominant player in this region by intervening in the war in Libya and supporting Islamists in Egypt until the coup in 2013, led by then-Colonel of the Egyptian Air Force Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Relations between Turkey and Egypt were severed for a decade, and only this year have discussions begun between Ankara and Cairo to restore ties. Although Turkey is geographically separated from the African continent by the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa is still of vital importance to its security. The region also provides a crucial link to the interior of Africa, where an increasing number of key international players compete for resources, markets, and economic, geopolitical, and cultural influence. Thus far, Turkey’s success in the region remains relatively limited, but Ankara, known for its persistence, consistency, strategic vision, and flexibility, does not give up easily.

Turkey Between the East and the West

With Erdogan’s victory in the presidential runoff on May 28, it can be expected that Turkey will continue its current independent foreign policy course. Although always relevant, the topic of Turkey and Turkish foreign policy becomes of crucial importance in the context of the war in Ukraine and the new Cold War between NATO and Russia, due to Turkey’s unique position as both a NATO member and a country with close ties to Russia. Turkey’s relations with both the US and Russia are complex and do not tolerate superficial assessments.

It is evident that Washington has increasingly less trust in Turkey while it’s being governed by the AKP and Recep Tayyip Erdogan and openly supports the opposition, particularly the main opposition force, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). This also provokes an extremely negative reaction from the Turkish side, which views this policy as interference in its internal affairs. The expectation of many analysts and observers was that if the CHP and the coalition of parties led by them had won the elections, it would have led to a fundamental change in Turkey’s foreign policy course.

However, it should be noted that at least according to official pre-election statements made by the CHP and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, they would not completely break the established relations with Russia that were developed during the AKP and Erdogan’s time in power. Similarly, Erdogan sent conciliatory messages and softened his tone towards the West after winning the parliamentary and presidential elections in the second round. In this regard, there remains concern among the international analyst community that if Turkey does not change its foreign policy course, it will eventually be forced to leave NATO. NATO, and consequently the US, categorically do not intend to compel Turkey to leave the Alliance, and Turkey itself does not plan to take such a radical step. Nonetheless, the tension between Ankara and Washington continues to grow, despite the efforts of both sides to mitigate it or at least leave channels and opportunities for resolving issues and contentious matters.

Despite Turkey’s claim for an independent foreign policy, the country needs NATO for a number of geopolitical and military-strategic reasons, just as the US needs Turkey as a member of the military alliance to the same extent and for the same set of reasons. It is more than clear that if Turkey were indeed removed from NATO or decided to leave on its own, it would most likely align itself formally with Russia and perhaps even with China, which is a scenario that the US and the Alliance as a whole cannot afford. At least not for now.

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