Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a strategist. A man who can say everything and the opposite of everything. First he threatens Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani and then tries to find an agreement with them to resolve the Syrian conflict. But the Sultan is first and foremost an able politician who knows how to strike the right note with his country, getting the best and the worst out of the Turkish population. Thanks to these skills he has been able to transform situations that on paper are negative into positive ones. Let’s take the migrant question as an example.
Between 2014 and 2015 the war in Syria become increasingly intense and brutal. The Islamic State was born, bringing death and destruction in its wake. The battles between the regime and the rebels became more cruel and the population did the obvious thing: they fled. Millions of them crossed into neighbouring Turkey in order to get to Europe by land or by crossing the Aegean. A veritable human wave overwhelmed the borders as the migrants tried to escape the violence. Angela Merkel’s Germany threw open its doors whilst Viktor Orban’s Hungary built walls. What did Erdogan do? The Sultan welcomed the migrants and, along the lines of what Morocco’s Mohammed VI had been doing for some time, he used them as a fully-fledged political weapon to use against Europe.
This happened because the same states that just a few months earlier had opened their doors to the migrants now found themselves overwhelmed. They were no longer able to manage the crisis and the continuing deaths. And then Erdogan played the threat card. He said that he would like to stop them but he did not have the forces to do so. So he needed more money. And Europe went along with him immediately. It was November 2015 when the EU announced it would pay the Sultan Euro 6 billion. Three immediately and another three at a subsequent point in time. But this was only the beginning. Just a few weeks ago Erdogan was back on the attack, saying: “We will be forced to open the gates (to Europe, editor’s note). We cannot be forced to manage this burden by ourselves”. He went on to say that Ankara “did not receive the necessary support from around the world and above all from the EU”. Erdogan, in so doing, threatened Europe again and demanded the remaining 400 million of the agreement and asked for a safe zone in Syria in order to relocate the migrants.
The Sultan’s decision to raise the ante is above all driven by the need to win back support. The last mayoral election in Istanbul was won by Ekrem Imamoglu (opposition) against Binali Yildirim (AKP). One of the reasons why the opposition managed to win was the immigration emergency in what is the country’s second most important city after the capital Ankara. Who wins Istanbul wins Turkey, according to an old political adage. Erdogan knows this. And he cannot afford to make any more mistakes. That is why he is ready for a new operation in Syria: the North of the country is needed to move at least two of the 3.6 million migrants.
Before the operation the Reis got the green light from the White House which cannot afford to lose the Incirlik military base and, above all, cannot sever its relations with an ally that is increasingly attracted to Moscow (see the S-400 question). And the Russian also seem to understand Erdogan motives. The Kurds are stuck in the middle. Dumped after shedding blood for an ideal – that of autonomy – which proved to be inapplicable.