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The EU, Turkey and Russia: An Unlikely Troika
Examining the triangular ties between three great power brokers in Eurasia
Michael Werbowski (minou)     Print Article 
Published 2008-09-06 04:57 (KST)   
Russia's strategic comeback, or the Georgian crisis in the Caucasus, might be a blessing in disguise for Turkey, as a realignment of power in Russia's favor could hasten accession negotiations between Ankara and Brussels. Why? Because the European Union, for obvious trade and energy reasons (aside from defense ones), needs Turkey as a solid strategic partner now more than ever.

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NATO's Demise and the EU's Rise

The multilateral Ordungsmacht, or stabilizing power, that was NATO in the 20th century's bipolar world, today looks crippled by transatlantic divisions, partly stemming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additional fractures over Georgia's and Ukraine's status (with the United Kingdom and the United States pushing for further NATO expansion into former Soviet space, while France, Germany and Italy remain very frosty to the idea) have split the cohesiveness of the erstwhile defensive military organization. Overall, NATO looks overstretched, overcommitted, and underequipped. It has so far skillfully concealed these divisions and shortcomings.

Furthermore, NATO is always on the offensive against its perceived enemies (oil-rich Russia, and radical Islam -- also in oil-rich regions). In the 21stcentruy, NATO clearly seeks to play the role of the global cop, with station headquarters in Washington. This is unacceptable to the Russians.

In Munich in 2007, the West seemed deaf to Moscow's warnings about putting a missile defense system in their backyard and about NATO's eastward push. In the summer of 2008, taking advantage of the waning months of a weak and directionless Bush presidency, Russia has made itself heard by using military force in Georgia.

Moscow has always had legitimate security concerns in the area that stretches from the Black to the Caspian seas. However, if the EU one day begins to carry more diplomatic and military weight in the region, it will do so only with Turkey's approbation and cooperation. A greater EU role in Europe's underbelly to the southeast might be more palatable to the tetchy Russian bear.

A Semipermanent Seat for Turkey at the EU Conference Table

Russia's Georgian blitzkrieg triggered the collapse of the post-Cold War order that began in 1989. In this new regional configuration, whereby Russia calls the shots in its "near abroad," the EU must act as a counterweight in Eurasia to the remerging hegemon. It is for this reason that Turkey can no longer remain on the sidelines of European integration. It must be given a seat at the table of European foreign policy consultations.

I am not suggesting full EU membership for Turkey by the end of this decade or in the distant future, for that matter. But within the context of an EFDP (European foreign and defense policy), Turkey may one day become an indispensable player. Brussels must face up to this new reality.

The EU's ties with Russia often overshadow its ties with Turkey. But this is a flawed policy in the long term. As Mesut Tastekin, a doctoral candidate at Gazi University, points out, areas of great geopolitical concern to the EU are also "risk areas" that include Turkey and are part of Ankara's purview of interest. Thus, the EU and Turkey have overlapping strategic concerns when it comes to the overall stability of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and even the Caspian Sea regions.

As Tastekin asserts, "Turkey stands at the crossroads of the regions which are regarded in the document [the European security strategy document elaborated by Brussels in 2003] as important regions for European security such as the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the near east and the Caucasus."

Turkey as the Great Mediator Between East and West

Turkey has been taken for granted for far too long, despite its growing and obvious geopolitical importance in Brussels. For instance, EU leaders gathered last week to discuss the brief war between Russia and Georgia. Next, a similar emergency EU meeting will tackle the same issue. Yet Turkey, as an "associative member" of the EU, is absent from these crucial consultations.

This is no mere omission or oversight; it is a great diplomatic error.

Ankara has proven its diplomatic skills playing the part of the "honest broker" between Syria and Israel. Furthermore, the country has made several good will gestures (most likely with helpful prompting from Brussels) to normalize relations with Nicosia over the issue of a divided Cyprus. And most remarkable of all, by sending the Turkish head of state to Yerevan, the country has made a grandiloquent move to heal the century-old wound between the Turks and the Armenians.

These are truly impressive and daring diplomatic maneuvers. They will likely bear fruit for Turkey and for its neighbors and serve to strengthen European stability as well. For this reason the EU must consider Turkey a serious strategic partner in its future relations with Russia. In the aftermath of the Georgian-Russian conflict, ignoring Turkey at EU foreign policy making forums is no longer viable.
Michael Werbowski is a Prague-based journalist who pursued post-Communist studies at the University of Leeds, U.K. He would like to thank Beykent University and the staff of its journal of strategic studies for their kind support and cooperation for making this article possible.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Werbowski

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