Addressing a rare news conference for foreign media in Istanbul on June 21, President Recep Tayyip sounded sure of himself when he said Washington would not slap sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 affair.
“I do not see any possibility of these sanctions happening,” he said, not failing to point out, however, that if they did Turkey would respond in kind. “The US has to think about this very carefully. We will have sanctions of our own” Erdogan warned.
He went on to stress once more that Turkey’s purchase of the Russian made S-400 anti-missile defense system was a “done deal.”
Erdogan also referred to his “very good relations” with President Donald Trump,” clearly implying that he relied on the US president to halt sanctions against Turkey if it deploys the S-400s.
There are quite a few “ifs” and “buts” in all this. One thing is certain, though, and that is that Erdogan’s overconfident belief that Turkey will not face US sanctions is debatable.
The course seems pretty set and all the indicators are that a collision is on the way. Like Ankara, Washington has made its position amply clear and, like Ankara, it has left itself no room to step back.
Whatever Erdogan may believe, the stars tell us that Turkey should prepare for US sanctions, and other punitive measures, that will increase international mistrust in the Turkish economy.
Adding to the dire situation with Washington is Ankara’s growing standoff with the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The EU’s Mediterranean states are backing Cyprus fully in its dispute with Turkey over offshore drilling rights.
The US, Israel, and Egypt are also supporting Cyprus, while Moscow, which has good ties with Cyprus, is unlikely to come out and openly support Ankara.
This provides a stark picture of how isolated Turkey is in this dispute.
In response Ankara is flexing its military muscle, which, in turn, is making the chorus in the EU calling for sanctions against Turkey louder.
If these sanctions come about because the sides can’t find mutually satisfactory solutions to the problem, then trust in Turkey’s economy can be expected to erode even more.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s ties with the Arab world are heading for rock-bottom too. Its ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, barring Qatar, are tense and getting tenser.
Erdogan’s vitriolic barbs aimed at Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, following the death in custody of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, will hardly help.
This will undoubtedly have added to the antipathy already felt for him by the Saudi regime and its Gulf allies as well as Egypt.
Given that Turkey does billions of dollars worth of business in the Middle East, there could be potential economic consequences if its relations with the region continue to deteriorate.
All attention in Turkey is presently focused on Sunday’s municipal elections in Istanbul, which Erdogan has turned into an issue of existential importance for himself and his party.
Come Monday, though, he will face crises on all fronts, regardless of the outcome of the elections. The most important of these will involve Turkey’s international relations.
This will leave Turkey with the need to make hard choices in its dealing with the US, EU, and Arab world if increased domestic turbulence as a result of the worsening economic situation is to be avoided.
It is also evident that Ankara has not gained much ground with regard to its legitimate concerns in the international sphere with its highly abrasive approach to diplomacy.
Instead it has been constantly loosing influence and deepening its isolation on all sides.
Erdogan continues believe in hard talk in his dealings with the world, even though many at this stage see this as no more than saber rattling. This has not and clearly will not lead Turkey out of the morass it finds itself in internationally and on to level ground.
Ankara needs to usher in a period of intense and proactive diplomacy in order to come up with reasonable solutions to the problems it faces in the world at large.
Diplomacy is the art of resolving international problems in a way that serves the national interest in line with the realities that govern the day.
Animosity, bellicosity, and rowing against the tide may have their time and place, but a country cannot base its diplomatic outlook solely on these alone.
An important and politically seasoned American once said that in international relations one should talk soft but carry a big stick. A wiser man and less cynical man, however, said that in human interaction it is compromise that lubricates everyday life.
It is not much different for states.