The West’s rhetorical backing of Greece further encourages Erdogan to turn his gaze East, and for this reason a trilateral formation with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is pivotal, along with membership in the SCO. Writes Ahmed Adel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he, with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, determined a roadmap for the supply of Turkmen gas to Turkey. This comes as the rise in fuel prices, due to the conflict in Ukraine, has caused commercial ruptures and accelerated Ankara’s turn towards Central Asia, a region abundant in gas and where Turkey has linguistic and mythological roots.
“This issue has been on our agenda for a long time. We have repeatedly discussed this issue with the respected [Russian President] Mr. [Vladimir] Putin,” said the Turkish president during an event held in Mardin.
Erdogan confirmed that he discussed during his recent visit to Turkmenistan the possible supply of Turkmen gas to Turkey.
“Relevant instructions have now been given to the Turkish Ministry of Energy, which will carry out the preparatory work with its counterparts in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. After this preliminary work, we will meet again and determine the roadmap and make a decision. The supply of gas from Turkmenistan to our country through Azerbaijan will facilitate our work,” added Erdogan.
Azerbaijan and Turkey are dialogue partners of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an economic and trade bloc that serves as an alternative to the hegemony of Washington and its allies. This organization brings together a quarter of the world’s GDP and covers about 44% of the entire planet. Collectively, its territory covers 60% of Eurasia.
With the SCO comprising of eight member states; China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, they are expected to have pipelines linking and facilitating the gas supply system. In light of the anti-Russian sanctions, economic cooperation between SCO member states is of even greater importance.
It is for this reason that Erdogan is seeking membership into the SCO. He expressed his country’s intention to become a member of the SCO when speaking in September after the SCO summit in Uzbekistan. The Turkish president also said that the SCO’s 2023 meeting in India will be a venue to discuss his country’s potential membership even further.
“Our ties with these countries will be moved to a much different position,” Erdogan told reporters at the time, adding, when asked if Turkey would seek to become a member of the SCO: “Of course, that’s the target.”
The SCO is effectively a bloc encompassing Central and South Asia with an emphasis on cooperation, making it more akin to the European Union rather than NATO. And it is able to attract arch-rivals like India and Pakistan, and that is why Turkey has the ambition of joining.
Although membership into the SCO is not directly related to the trilateral forum of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, it does point to the Turkish president’s broader interest and focus on Central Asia. Effectively, it is another demonstration of Erdogan turning Turkey away from the West and towards the East.
It is also why Erdogan bought the Russian-made S-400 defence systems, which prompted US sanctions and Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program. In addition, Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the two countries signed an economic cooperation deal in August despite Western opposition.
In fact, Ankara has tried to mediate as a peace broker between Russia and Ukraine since the conflict began. Turkey also convinced Moscow and Kiev to sign an agreement in July so Ukrainian grain could start sailing to international markets.
None-the-less, it cannot be overlooked that whenever Erdogan perceives Turkey to be treated unfairly by the West, especially as historic rival Greece is pivoting strongly towards Atlanticism and is receiving favors, the idea of alternative partners and blocs are once again being raised. Ankara, as it has historically always done, follows a policy of balancing the West and Russia.
Despite this, the West wants Turkey to sever all ties with Russia wherever possible. This demand comes as Turkey is escalating tensions in the Mediterranean Sea with NATO ally Greece, prompting the EU, the US and even regional countries like Egypt to condemn Erdogan’s actions and rhetoric, such as overflights and questioning the status of the Aegean islands. NATO wants to portray the illusion of alliance unity.
The West’s rhetorical backing of Greece further encourages Erdogan to turn his gaze East, and for this reason a trilateral formation with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is pivotal, along with membership in the SCO. It appears for now that it will be difficult for Turkey to achieve SCO membership, especially as the country is still an official EU member candidate. None-the-less, it is not easy for Turkey to balance the West and East, and it now seemingly appears that Erdogan will pivot fully towards the East.