Author`s name Lyuba Lulko

Russia needs to learn serious lessons from Turkey-France conflict

The relations between two NATO members - Turkey and France - have never been worse. What does their crisis mean for Russia?

Paris and Ankara spar over the spheres of influence in Africa, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean. The fight is based on historical claims: France does not want to lose influence in its formerly controlled territories, while Turkey believes that the French colonial empire was founded mainly in the former Ottoman territories.

The most recent conflict is related to the dispute over natural gas fields on the shelf of the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Greece, which France supported having sent two Rafale fighters and two Navy ships to the conflict zone.

On July 21, Ankara and Athens were on the brink of an open armed conflict.

It all began in mid-August with the dispatch of Turkish reconnaissance vessels under military escort to the territorial waters of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus - two member states of the European Union. The Greek Navy and Air Force were alerted in response. It was only after Angela Merkel's interference when the Turkish ships left the disputed water area.

The disputed chain of islands under Greek sovereignty is located a few kilometers off the Turkish coast. The outermost island is Kastelorizo Island, located 2 km from the Turkish city of Kas and more than 550 km from mainland Greece. Turkey believes that this is its maritime economic zone. Ankara signed a maritime agreement with the Libyan government, which ignores the territorial waters around Cyprus and Greek islands.

No less acute problems exist in Libya, where the parties support various forces that challenge the right to govern the country. Paris supports Khalifa Haftar, while Ankara gives preference to Fayez Sarraj.

Ankara bears "historical and criminal responsibility" for its actions in Libya - these are the words that Emmanuel Macron used in late  June when describing the situation.

Macron is referring to Turkey's move to send weapons to Sarraj's Government of National Accord. A Turkish warship virtually attacked a French patrol ship that was on a UN mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya. The two countries exchanged harsh statements.

In Lebanon, after the powerful explosion that shocked the whole world on August 4, Macron tried to manipulate the situation by promising help in exchange for Hezbollah's departure and the resignation of the government. However, after his visit, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived in Beirut. They announced that Ankara was ready to restore the port of Beirut. More importantly, they did not set out any political requirements.

In Syria, France supports the Kurdish forces, and Erdogan will never forgive Macron for that. The list can go on forever, as they say. 


There is no European solidarity, nor is there Paris-Berlin axis

In an interview with Paris Match, the French president asked for European solidarity against Erdogan's "expansionist policies," which, as he described, make a mixture of nationalism and Islamism, which is incompatible with European interests and serves as a destabilizing factor."

However, Paris did not see understanding in Berlin. The latter announced on August 14 that it "took note" of the the French military build up in the Eastern Mediterranean and called to "avoid further escalation." Such speeches, in fact, accuse Paris of increasing pressure on Turkey. At an emergency meeting of foreign ministers held the same day, the EU rejected the idea of imposing sanctions on Turkey over the positions of Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Malta.

This casts doubt on the existence of the Franco-German tandem, which is capable of showing resistance to Turkey, Russia, the United States and China. It also speaks of the absence of common European solidarity.

Why did France find no support in the EU?

It is no secret that Erdogan has a real army in Europe, which he can use to indirectly destabilize the countries that are hostile to his foreign policies. It goes about the so-called "Gray Wolves". Not that long ago, pro-Erdogan Turkish activists stated in an interview with a French media outlet:

"If we get an order from Ankara to go and kill someone in France, we will go and do it."

Erdogan communicates with the 3-million-strong German community in Turkey. He refers to them as the Turkes and does not even want to hear that they are the Germans who want to integrate.

The countries that sympathize with Turkey do not want to tempt Erdogan with their claims for another reason. They will be the first to suffer from uncontrolled immigration if Erdogan opens the borders to refugees from Syria and Iraq.

The EU looks increasingly incapable of continuing to act as a united front in the long term. Europe does not understand that a refusal to defend Greece's rights to develop Mediterranean hydrocarbons is a renunciation of its role as a geopolitical player in the Mediterranean region.

Moscow should learn from Ankara

For Moscow, all this comes as a serious signal for policy adjustments. From this example, Russia finally needs to learn how to defend its national interests.

If a country has a national idea (in this case - neo-Ottomanism), then countries and even blocs that can offer nothing but tolerance will lose to such a country by definition. One needs to think about one's own national idea, for example, about the Russian people in post-Soviet space, who deserve to live as a united nation.

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