Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has a lot to worry about. He’s running out of money, his Arab neighbors are boycotting his exports, he’s provoked Russia and China, and the European Union wants to sanction him. Worst of all, the frontrunner in America’s presidential race, Joe Biden, says he wants to depose him.
But don’t count Erdogan out just yet. Turkey’s leader knows that he can make it expensive for his enemies to go after him. That probably explains Turkey’s backing for Azerbaijan’s attack on the Armenian-controlled enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which escalated into a full-scale offensive in late September.
Turkey has reportedly recruited 1,000 Syrian mercenaries for the Nagorno-Karabakh front, a reminder that Erdogan has the means to stir up trouble elsewhere in the region, including in Russia’s Muslim-majority Caucasus.
It also may explain why Erdogan’s Justice and Freedom Party last week suddenly rediscovered the cause of China’s Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority subject to a comprehensive crackdown by Chinese authorities, eliciting a sharp protest from China’s embassy in Ankara.
Don Corleone kept his friends close and his enemies closer; China and Russia do the same thing, except that they don’t have friends. Russian soldiers and contractors are fighting Turkish-backed militias in Libya and Syria, but Russia needs Turkish acquiescence for its naval buildup in the Black Sea and its access to the Mediterranean through the Turkish Straits.