Turkey is fixated on the electoral cycle that starts with municipal elections on March 30. We are following rallies and listening to leaders’ speeches. Or rather we are listening to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while making special efforts to hear the opposition, whose rallies the media censors.
The ruling party and the opposition have confined their election strategies to the power struggle between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen community and the notion of a “confidence vote for Erdogan.”
Erdogan keeps talking, and the opposition and Gulen’s movement keep talking about Erdogan. We Turks are watching this row with anxiety. The rest of the world, however, has fixed anxious eyes on the Ukraine-Crimea turmoil. A serious crisis is unfolding to our north.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops to Ukraine has raised the specter of Russia occupying Ukraine and Crimea, marking the onset of a crisis on a regional and global scale with potentially serious repercussions for Turkey.
The Ukraine-Crimea crisis could start a “second cold war” between Russia and the West, and the Black Sea region could become the war’s maneuvering ground.
We all know that, in the context of strategic interests and security, Ukraine-Crimea’s importance for regional and global balances is far more critical than that of Syria.
Russia’s 2008 intervention in Georgia over South Ossetia had raised the specter of rekindling the Cold War. Today, the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea has, no doubt, raised the specter of starting a "second cold war."
All actors, including the heavyweights, are seriously worried. Unlike the Syrian crisis, the Ukraine-Crimea crisis prompted the UN Security Council and NATO to call emergency meetings. The United States and the European Union are trying to force Russia to step back, with US President Barack Obama making personal efforts with Putin.
Everyone is aware that a failure to overcome the Ukraine-Crimea crisis will lead to its quick spillover to Georgia and then as far as to Belarus.
Put aside Egypt, Turkey is already faced with the Iraqi turmoil and the grave Syrian crisis on its southern flank. The breakout of the Ukraine-Crimea crisis to its north is an omen of greater hardships down the road for Turkey.
We now have a Ukraine-Crimea problem on our plate, along with power struggles, looming drought and water shortages. Turkey could hardly bear a Ukraine-Crimea crisis atop the Iraqi and Syrian crises, especially while it grapples with internal power wars and remains fixated on elections.
I spent a week in Kiev last year as part of a six-member international democracy and election monitoring and evaluation group. We had lengthy meetings with the country’s president, prime minister and senior representatives of opposition parties, public institutions, the media, civic society and trade unions. The risk of a Ukraine-Crimea crisis, partition and a Russian intervention was already tangible at the time. We were all deeply shaken. Back home, I remember telling friends, “We complain about the state of our democracy and polarization, but the situation in Ukraine is much, much worse.”
Though of key importance in the energy realm and geopolitics, Ukraine-Crimea is an authoritarian and polarized country. It is a ground for influence wars between the big players, a tool of power games.
The Iraq-Syria-Ukraine-Crimea context may restore Turkey’s role as a “key constructive player” in the region. But that’s a distant possibility for a Turkey in the grips of corruption allegations and power struggles. Only a stable, democratizing Turkey can play that constructive role.
The Ukraine-Crimea crisis is likely to have an adverse impact on Turkey. Moreover, this threat is likely to worsen Turkey’s problems of drought and water shortage amid the country’s dependence on foreign natural gas and energy supplies.
Given those risks, the internal power struggle that is badly scathing Turkey should come to an end — if we see politics as a means of governing and not domineering the country.
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