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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 7 Issue 2

Volume 7, Issue 2—July-December 2015

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
December 31, 2015—No. 02 (202) 785-8430

 

AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.

The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.

 

Open or Closed Borders? Understanding Europe's Migration Challenge

AHI attended a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the migration challenge facing Europe, Oct. 7, 2015. Panelists included: Deputy Prime Minister of Liechtenstein Thomas Zwiefelhofer; Catherine Wiesner, deputy assistant secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s regional representative for the USA and the Caribbean. Heather Conley, director, CSIS Europe Program, moderated. 

Deputy PM Zwiefelhofer described the catastrophic effects migration has had on Europe in 2015. Millions of refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East are leaving their homes, undergoing life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean in their attempts to reach Europe. Italy and Greece are overrun and overburdened.  Because some countries have border controls in place and others are merely serving as a way of transit, the European Commission has started creating an action plan to address the issue. However, the ensuing debate has only weakened the European Union, he stated. In July, a relocation program led to the relocation of 20,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. The existing Dublin legislation is under scrutiny for member states that are struggling the most and it has since been determined that Europe must strengthen its assistance towards these members. Before closing, Zwiefelhofer briefly highlighted the strategy of Liechtenstein and its continued support of the EU and any future decisions on migration made by the European Commission.

Pitterman reminded attendees that 60 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of the ongoing turmoil in Syria and Iraq, where residents continue to face a mega humanitarian crisis. Many displaced persons and refugees are at high risk of starvation and it is not limited just to those in refugee camps. Lebanon, for example, has extraordinary numbers of refugees and very few resources to house them. Europe needs a unified response to this crisis, Pitterman stated. The more restrictions and limitations Europe imposes upon refugees, the higher the chance they could become marginalized and resort to more dangerous means of entering Europe, such as human traffickers or smugglers. 

Wiesner emphasized that when examining this crisis, distinctions should not be made between “deserving” or “less deserving” individuals; rather, priority should be given to saving human lives, regardless of where they are from or how intense the conflict may be at their country of origin. Transit and host countries need humanitarian aid and fundamental assistance.  Wiesner added the United States needs to cooperate with Europe and take on a much more active role. 

During the Q&A, moderator Conley asked the panel whether the world should be anticipating more mega-conflicts in the future (in other words, are displacements of this size the new norm?) and also asked for the panelists’ suggestions on how the screening process in the United States can be expedited. Thomas addressed the “new norm” by stating the solution to migration is solidarity and a step-by-step approach. Europe’s borders need to be managed in such a way that a system of legal and controlled immigration could be created and subsequently enforced. Shelly added her belief that a way to resolve this crisis is to bring together world leaders in order to create actual humanitarian solutions.

 

 

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The Role of Natural Gas in the European Energy Security

AHI attended a Brookings Institution presentation by Eurogas president, Gertjan Lenkhorst, on the role of natural gas in European energy security, Oct. 23, 2015.  Lenkhorst discussed the challenges presented by oil imports and exports, Russia’s role in the sector, environmental implications of Europe’s increased coal usage, security issues within the European Union, and the role of the United States. 

Lenkhorst provided an overview of the impact of natural gas usage on Europe in recent years. Low CO2 prices, low supplies of oil, warm winters, and slow-growing economies have decreased gas demand in Europe. There has been a 23% drop since 2010. Low demand has resulted in low investment yet investment is still needed to complete the internal European market and to safeguard gas supply security and complete the EU market transformation.

Lenkhorst pointed out the recent attempts of renewed energy-sector interest on the part of the political leadership from Russia. The recent doubling of the pipeline system from Russia to Germany will result in higher dependence on Russian gas, but fortunately, few European countries are completely dependent on Russia for their natural gas needs. Lenkhorst pointed to (an at the time) forthcoming January 2016 commission, whose purpose will serve to revise the intergovernmental heating and cooling strategy, as an effort to combat dependency on Russian gas.  The commission’s goal is to reduce gas demand and lower dependency on Russian imports. One suggestion could be to manufacture an additional, west-to-east pipeline connecting Russia to Europe. This will inevitably make the market more competitive, especially if the pipeline originates in Germany. 

In his comparisons between the United States and Europe, Lenkhorst cautioned that Europe will not copy the American gas revolution. Europe’s resources are different as is public opinion; gas in Europe is viewed more negatively and is often linked with opinions on coal and of Russia. These negative impressions will most likely continue for at least the next five years. New approaches should be identified in order to combat negative perceptions and attitudes. Lenkhorst predicted a convergence of goals between the United States and Europe on problems relating to natural gas production and usage but a divergence as to how these can be resolved.

During the Q&A, Lenkhorst was asked whether there was enough demand for investors in the European gas market. Lenkhorst said it required political interference and better European infrastructure in order to draw more investment, a goal which was not totally unattainable and could ultimately be attained by regulated parties. Europe has always been more dependent on imports for gas, especially from Russia. At the moment, the Netherlands is the only country (apart from Russia) that exports gas to European markets. If Europe’s infrastructure was more sophisticated, potential investors would feel more secure, Lenkhorst concluded.

 

 

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Turkey’s snap elections: Resuscitation or relapse?

AHI attended a panel discussion at Brookings Institution on the aftermath of Turkey’s elections, Nov. 2, 2015. Panelists included: Ömer Taşpınar, Brookings nonresident senior fellow; Gönül Tol, director, Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute; Kadir Üstün, SETA executive director; and Robert Wexler, president, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Taşpınar addressed the reasons why the large margin of victory occurred for President Erdogan and what he may do next as president. The biggest loser was MHP (the ultra-nationalist party). Supporters were disappointed with party leaders’ post-election performance in June and their adamant refusal to join any coalition in governance. The hope was that MHP supporters would have then gone for the CHP. The conservative ties between the MHP and the AKP remain strong as voters instead deflected to the AKP, which was exactly what Erdogan wanted. When Erdogan began the peace process with the Kurds in 2013-2014, he lost a lot of conservative support which led to his loss of the nationalists in the June elections. By trying to get back the nationalists, he lost the Kurds, leading to a situation of controlled chaos. Erdogan wanted early elections hoping people would reward the AKP with their votes, i.e. the only party anyone can trust for stability and prosperity is the AKP. Turks see political stability under the last 13 years of AKP rule and respectable levels of growth. The 1990s was a decade of coalitions, chronic inflation and intense instability. In juxtaposition with the days of Erdogan, he only looks more appealing, according to Taşpınar.

Taşpınar then asked, “Were these elections free and fair?” He found them to be free but not fair. In his opinion, citizens need access to unbiased information and they did not have this in many parts of the country. The media is overwhelmingly controlled by government. That being said, it is a very good thing that the HDP (the Kurdish party) passed the electoral threshold and made it into parliament. According to Taşpınar, Turks now again find themselves in an environment where Erdogan will try to create a presidential system, requiring the AKP to change the constitution (something not all party members may want). The electorate will have to go to a referendum in order to approve this new system, which means Erdogan is required to deliver on the economy, to resume Kurdish peace process negotiations and some democratic reforms. These factors being the price for a presidential system could ultimately make this a better outcome for Turkey than improved EU relations. Whether Turkey attains what it truly needs - decentralized power with checks and balances – remains to be seen, he said.

Ustun followed Taşpınar’s presentation by adding the electorate truly believed it voted for the party that could successfully and feasibly govern.  The electorate did not see an alternative option that could deliver for the country.  Therefore, 4.5 million voters switched sides in five months. Most parties campaigned on an anti-Erdogan platform, but the PKK’s actions and rhetoric ended up indirectly punishing the HDP.

Furthermore, Tol commented on the Kurdish reaction, highlighting one of the biggest election surprises which was Kurdish voters returning to the AKP during a time of civilian casualties and ultra-nationalist rhetoric. After Kobani, it was assumed the AKP lost the Kurds and that the Kurds would begin voting for the HDP more regularly.  The biggest victory from the election is the HDP making it into parliament, considering how much the government tried to marginalize it.  This resulted in large part because of the deteriorating security situation in the country and conservative Kurds’ disappointment in the post-electoral performance of the HDP. The AKP campaigned in Kurdish regions for economic stability and safety which made voters act in a way they perceived as “punishing” toward the Kurds. There are other factors now that are making the Turkish administration very nervous such as U.S. support for the PYD in Syria and Russia’s heightened involvement and support of Assad. 

Wexler said the United States will not continue to tolerate Turkey’s overt opposition to its strategy in Syria, adding it will be difficult for Turkey to continue to disagree with the American perspective (in Syria). He reminded attendees that he first started the Congressional Turkish Caucus with Congressman Whitfield because he believed there was a void in the promotion of the U.S.-Turkish relationship on Capitol Hill, despite being warned that the “Greek, Cypriot, and Armenian community are not going to be happy with you.” He maintained that if Erdogan behaves rationally moving forward, there will be an opportunity for him and President Obama to improve their now-struggling relationship. 

During the Q&A, Wexler stated Turkey should be treated as if it is already an EU member (with regard to ongoing trade and TTIP negotiations). He believes Turkey has the right to pressure the EU to speed up the accession process. Regarding the upcoming G20 summit, Wexler added that Obama should be sensitive to the interests of Turkey but that “he (Obama) is going to promote the interest of America, which in this day is…defeating ISIS. That’s what he's going to do in private. He should make every allowance possible to allow American policy to assist the Turkish policy, but in public it's about defeating ISIS, and that’s what Americans want to hear, and quite frankly that’s what our allies want to hear as well.”

 

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After Turkey's Elections: Implications for the Future

AHI attended a German Marshall Fund event on the recent Turkish elections, Nov. 4, 2015. Sir Michael Leigh, GMF senior fellow and Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director, GMF Ankara Office, were panelists.

Unluhisarcikli offered his takeaways following Turkey’s election, including Turkish society’s strong desire for long-term political stability, the “pull” of the leadership, and the Turkish tendency to rally around the leader in the face of danger. He observed that many who lost faith in the Turkey of today, or who no longer find it to be a democratic place, have been voluntarily excluding themselves from Turkish society. Unluhisarcikli expressed hope that Prime Minister Davutoglu would deliver when it came to ending polarization, corruption and the tensions in Turkish society, speculating that he may want to leave a legacy. Unluhisarcikli also asked attendees to consider what Turkish voters may truly want. Before the June elections, President Erdogan asked for mandate to change the constitution and voters took away his majority. However, in November he asked for a simple majority and the voters gave him much more, proving ultimately that they want him in power but do not feel comfortable with regime change.

Sir Michael Leigh opined that Turkish voters want a stable government and believed their “strongman,” President Erdogan, would protect them.  He added, the HDP discouraged many of its conservative Kurdish voters by being more openly liberal and even “Kurdish,” proving to be too much for this group of voters. 

Further, Leigh addressed whether the election was a free and fair one.  Although the OSCE found the election, as a whole, well-organized, it also found the election was not held in “far conditions.” The election may have been reasonably free but the atmosphere of violence and intimidation that reigned since June’s results created unfair circumstances. One cannot forget that nearly 80 percent of the media is controlled by groups that are controlled by government, Leigh said.

In addition, Leigh noted that Turkey was warned about increased security challenges and media restrictions when Prime Minister Davutoglu received congratulations from the EU.  Also, Turkey was asked to restart the peace process with Kurds. This brings to mind the dilemma the EU faces with regard to Turkey’s accession, Leigh stated.  For example, can the EU really continue to treat Turkey as a candidate with the assumption that Turkey shares fundamental values with the EU?  This dilemma was further demonstrated by the EU delay in publishing its highly critical EU Commission report (until after the elections) and Chancellor Merkel’s hasty visit to Istanbul shortly before elections to solicit support for controlling the refugee flow. Her potential offer to Turkey sent a lot of wrong messages that she cannot deliver on, such as faster visa travel to the EU, the quick opening of important EU accession chapters and three billion euros in aid. These actions also undermine the principle that EU negotiations proceed on a member’s own merit.

During the Q&A session, Leigh reiterated his belief that the EU is misguided in its hope that Turkey could be any sort of policeman of refugees and that this has created a bad strategy. The controls need to come from Europe, not Turkey. The idea Turkey could more effectively filter political versus economic refugees is an illusion. In response to questions about a lack of media freedom in Turkey, Leigh stated Turkey’s allies should do what they can to encourage Turkey to reform although Unluhisarcikli disagreed.   Regarding increases in Islamization within Turkish society, Leigh reminded attendees that even when specific international agencies are dedicated to monitoring religious freedom, little is done. These initiatives are often responses to domestic pressure or lobbying that do not lead to changes in policy.  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and its progress reports were cited as examples.

 

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Europe’s refugee crisis: Hospitality and its discontents 

AHI attended a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on Europe’s refugee crisis, Nov. 18, 2015.  The panelists were: Matteo Garavoglia, visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe; Kemal Kirişci, TÜSİAD senior fellow; Nathalie Tocci, deputy director, Istituto Affari Internationali and Leon Wieseltier, Isaiah Berlin senior fellow in Culture and Policy, Foreign Policy, and Governance Studies. 

Kirişci addressed the root causes of the refugee crisis. He first mentioned Syria, a conflict in which the regime and extremists groups have been displacing people many of whom have fled to neighboring countries, namely Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Without little international support, Kirişci cited the second root cause of the crisis in Europe – the decision by many refugees to resettle on their own and trust smugglers to enter Europe. 

Garavoglia continued the discussion by mentioning the bipolarity found in Europe on this topic. He divided the reactions into three dichotomies. The first was a geographical dichotomy between European countries with an open policy and countries whose borders are closed off to refugees and asylum seekers. The second can be found amongst the institutional structure of the EU. Finally, he shed light on the discord between proposed answers (such as closing borders or working towards an integrated European common asylum and refugee policy). Garavoglia stated his belief that there would most likely be a compromise between these two solutions.

Within the same European framework, Tocci continued by addressing the problem, the response and what should be done. The problems in the refugee crisis are humanitarian, political, societal, and security-related. The response so far consists of counteracting the crisis at its source: dealing with the issue of smugglers at European borders.

Wieseltier, the final panelist, focused his commentary on the cultural and political response to the refugee crisis in the United States. There are two distinct sides to this debate: xenophobia versus acting in “bad faith” neither responding appropriately in addressing this crisis. Wieselter referenced recent comments by Republican candidates as being wholly un-American and rejecting fundamental American values. He found America to be a “gift” to this world because of its’ multicultural and multiethnic roots, something that seems to be forgotten when such comments are made. Even as the Obama administration rejects any of the aforementioned responses, Wieseltier argued that although they may understand the issue at a moral level, they are too cowardly to act accordingly. All parties too frequently mistake the refugee crisis as being only one with security repercussions. Refugees and immigrants cannot be confused, the same way that any solution to the Syrian conflict cannot be confused as a solution the refugee crisis.

 

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The Role of the IMF in Greece 

AHI attended a discussion on the IMF’s involvement in Greece at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Nov. 30, 2015. Cinnamon Dornsife, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute and Senior Advisor of the International Development Program at SAIS, moderated.  Remarks were made by Elena Panaritis, a Greek economist and former member of Greek Parliament, and Jaime Marquez, a senior adjunct professor of International Economics at SAIS. 

Panaritis answered four questions that provided an overview of the economic crisis in Greece and the involvement of the IMF.  First, she addressed what went wrong in Greece. The state of the economy in 2009 consisted of high-risk sovereign bonds, high unemployment, growing debt, a deficit and close to zero GDP growth. The role of the European Union (EU) was complicated and the banking industry of Greece faced high risk if Greece were to default on its loans. The EU decided on the necessity of a bailout for Greece to contain the crisis and ultimately repay the loans held by EU banks. The inexperience of the European Commission as well as the European Central Bank in providing such bailouts led Panaritis to explain how the IMF got involved. The IMF, with its experience bailing out countries, was brought in to partake in this process. Panaritis made it very clear that despite the IMF’s expertise, it did not have experience bailing out banks. As such, the IMF did not have the necessary understanding to take into account the structural deficiencies in Greece. A vicious cycle of interest and limited to zero growth prevented the sustainable servicing of loans. The crisis was addressed as a liquidity issue despite being one of solvency. Additionally, the volatile tax laws in recent years discouraged investment in Greece. The results, after six years, showed a country addicted to loans and a lack of income generating productivity. With regard to a “Grexit,” Panaritis stated Greece would have no resources without the Euro; it does not have the luxury to wait for oil and gas reserves (which will not materialize for at least another 40-45 years). Greece needs to work toward developing a more productive economy and harnessing the power of innovation. 

JMarquez continued the conversation by pointing out the similarities between the Great Depression in the United States and the current state of the Greek economy. He went on to criticize the IMF program for being based on an underestimated fiscal multiplier (he elaborated on this point by explaining that the fiscal multiplier is the ratio of change in national income to the change in government spending). Underestimating the fiscal multiplier meant that any government policy, such as a tax hike, had a greater effect on GDP than was previously assumed by the IMF program. Marquez also pointed out why the IMF matters to the United States – a misuse of IMF resources could, in turn, require a bailout of the organization by the United States. 

During Q&A, the speakers were asked what a plan to create growth in Greece might entail. Panaritis responded that it would involve structural reform that would improve the investment climate, allow the formal sector to grow, and encourage entrepreneurship and productivity. The limitation of bureaucracy and an increase in transparency in order to better address corruption would also prove essential. Another question addressed the credibility of the IMF following the failure of its program in Greece. The speakers collectively noted that the organization’s credibility has been preserved through the acknowledgment of its mistakes and could be further strengthened if more of its decisions were based on economic principles rather than politics. Ultimately, the future of Greece and the European Union is uncertain and the current crisis cannot be resolved without significant structural reforms, Panaritis concluded.

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Is it time for the United States to Pivot back to Europe?

AHI attended a debate hosted by the McCain Institute on the United States’ relationship with Europe, Dec. 3, 2015.  Those for a “pivot” to Europe were Ian Brzezinski, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Constanze Stelzenmuller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Debating against a pivot to Europe were Patrick Cronin from the Center for a New American Security and Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation. 

Brzezinski began by explaining that today’s world is becoming increasingly more dangerous and complex. As such, the US needs allies that possess a combination of economic resources, military capability and political legitimacy. He argued that all of this can be found in Europe’s $18 trillion economy and NATO’s unmatched military capability. The transatlantic community has a proven record of unity through collective action and like-minded democracies and is once again the stage for confrontation between the West and Russia. Brzezinski acknowledged that Europe has its faults but emphasized that they provide a better set of allies with which to collectively promote freedom and security. He stated that the United States must invest in this relationship by leading the transatlantic community from the helm.

Stelzenmuller also defended a pivot back to Europe. She disagreed with the idea that the United States pivoted away in the first place, pointing out the constructive level of cooperation between the White House, State Department, Department of Defense and their counterparts in Europe. Disagreements between partners are often on technical issues. This codependency should never be marked by resentment on either side. 

Cronin commenced the argument opposing a pivot to Europe by sharing that the rebalance to Asia has not detracted from the longstanding transatlantic alliance and relationship.  He added it was a strategic and separate policy decision and should not be confused with a long-term reorientation. He stressed that strengthening alliances applies in Asia as it does in Europe. 

Gardiner continued with this perspective by first taking issue with the term “pivot,” claiming it is used by administrations to disguise a lack of strategy and policy in certain areas of the world. The United States should not pivot back to Europe but instead rebuild key partnerships with important individual allies across the Atlantic such as Great Britain, Poland and key eastern and central European countries needed for there to be a more assertive counterforce towards Russia. Gardiner stated that the EU should not be elevated and believed the project to be undemocratic and a disaster. The United States should strengthen its leadership and lead from the front as well as ending the State Department’s obsession with advancing any idea of a European super state.

All participants agreed the United States must remain engaged in Europe but differed on level of involvement. In conclusion, policy recommendations from the pro-pivot side included a more engaged United States, especially at the military level. The other side of the debate asserted the United States must focus on all regions to exhibit its global strength and cease engagement with the European Union as an entity, instead supporting self-determination, national sovereignty and freedom in Europe.

 

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Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist

AHI attended a presentation by Niall Ferguson on his new book, Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist, Dec. 9, 2015. Ferguson’s first book of an anticipated two volume official biography of Henry Kissinger evaluated his subject’s early years just prior to his appointment as National Security Advisor to President Nixon. 

Ferguson spent the majority of his presentation explaining five points he learned from his subject and his research. He first emphasized that this publication was about the “idealist” Kissinger of the early years and not about his time as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during which many consider him a practitioner of realpolitik. 

The first point Ferguson highlighted is an analogy made by Kissinger: history is to the state what character is to an individual. The second point was, as Ferguson described it, the problem of conjecture.  He explained that because preemptive action is often not recognized, policy makers are therefore faced with a choice to wait for catastrophe or rely on data to make decisions. Data can have flaws and does not provide the desired clarity most policy makers expect; most policy is based on ideals and values that policy makers have chosen to uphold. Ferguson argued that Kissinger understood this very well in his early years. 

Ferguson’s third point was that foreign policy is inherently about a choice between two evils. He underscored this extensively, stating that any decision would be an evil decision because there is essentially no other option. He went on to remind attendees that historians who are quick to say that Kissinger’s actions or choices were evil are simply pointing out the obvious. The fourth point Ferguson addressed was the common comparison between Kissinger and Bismarck. Ferguson argues that the idealism Kissinger subscribed to in his early years did not provide the necessary solutions to the challenges he faced during his time in as a federal employee. At times, it would have been necessary for Kissinger to draw upon Bismarckian diplomacy to address challenges such as Vietnam. 

Finally, Ferguson’s fifth point was what he called the greatest “puzzle” – the mystery of how the American public reacts to foreign policy. American foreign policy is just a series of moves that leads to results which are not necessarily expected but are ultimately accepted. Ferguson’s underlying conclusion was the importance of applied history in foreign policy decision making which, he argued, Kissinger knew very well. In the forthcoming second volume on the former Secretary, Ferguson hopes to focus on how theories that Kissinger studied were put into practice in the situation room. 

During Q&A, Ferguson offered his thoughts about the effect of Kissinger’s personal history, mentioning that Kissinger’s most formative years were when he returned to Germany in World War II as well as his experiences at Harvard and fascination with Emmanuel Kant. Another question addressed how Kissinger managed to obtain such a high level position in the United States government. Ferguson shared that he had tried to work with Walter Isaacson’s description of a ruthless, calculating and ambitious Kissinger, but that this ultimately could be contradicted.  Kissinger’s doctoral thesis on the Congress of Vienna and his association with Nelson Rockefeller serve as contradictions to Isaacson’s theory.  His rise to positions of power, Ferguson argued, was merely the product of a series of coincidences and not careful manipulation.

 

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Turkey-Russia Conflict: What’s Next?

AHI attended a panel discussion on the future of the Turkey-Russia conflict sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Dec. 15, 2015. Panelists included: Michael Cecire, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Kemal Kirişci, Brookings Institution, and Maria Snegovaya, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. 

Kirişci opened his remarks with two questions; what Turkey’s motivations in Syria might be and where the Turkish-Russian relationship is headed. He believes there are “two Turkeys.” The first depends on trade to determine foreign policy decisions and the second, after the events of the Arab spring, views itself as a central power that has the ability to shape its neighborhood via its foreign policy. The only thing that stands true for Turkey is its two enemies who will always take precedence over the threat of ISIS: Syrian President Assad and the Kurds. 

With regards to the recent escalation with Russia as a result of Turkey’s “stab in the back,” to borrow Putin’s words describing the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey, Kirişci saw this as a bad sign for their future relationship. He pointed out there are still high levels of economic interdependency between the two ranging from the fields of energy to tourism. He also questioned whether or not Putin may purposefully push Turkey back to the West.

Snegovaya continued the conversation by analyzing Russian responses and whether or not the downing of the plane was expected by Moscow. Snegovaya shared that Russia constantly violates airspace around the region and in the Balkans and have never been shot down; this incident with Turkey was therefore unexpected. The emotional response to the downing of the plane from the Russian side further emphasized this point. Russia has a lot to lose from a real conflict with Turkey especially with regards to the strategic importance of the Bosphorus and the potential damage for Russia from sanctions against Turkey.  Snegovaya also addressed Russia’s involvement in Syria, which Turkey opposes immensely. Syria had the potential to be the stage upon which Russia could repair relations with the west but this remains now. Ultimately, this incident was neither tragic nor dramatic; rather, it served as a reminder to keep an eye on the proxy war in Syria between the two powers (among others).

Finally, Cecire discussed the implications on the Caucasus region, one which is equally divided between Russia and Turkey. Armenia could be described as a Russian client state and the recent increase of Russian troops on the Armenia-Turkish border could be a potential pressure point. Georgia is an aspiring NATO member and a state with close ties to Turkey in energy, trading and security. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is close to Turkey yet has been moving toward Russia. Azerbaijan considers Russia a strategic partner and Turkey a cultural partner with whom they have a mutual defense treaty. Turkey and Russia may be searching for a new theater to compete in and Nagorno-Karabakh may provide that opportunity. In the North Caucasus, Cecire pointed out Abkhazia as another potential pressure point. Ultimately, Cecire argued there are a few pressure points that may ignite a full armed conflict.   

The Q&A focused on domestic public opinion in Turkey and Russia (after the downing of the plane), Russian and Turkish interests in Syria, and the roles of their economies. Reference was also made to the potential revival of the Minsk Protocol. Snegovaya said public opinion in Russia is constantly centered on working toward attaining a status of greatness for Russia. Kirişci indicated that in Turkey, concern over the economy has outweighed interest in maintaining involvement in Syria. The economies of both countries have become so intertwined that it will prove to be quite complex and messy if both powers continue attacking each other economically. Turkey’s re-pivot to the West may push them to play a more active role in global affairs; however, it is Turkey’s economy that will drive most decision-making. In conclusion, all panelists agreed there could be a future conflict slowly brewing between the two powers but other factors may play a role in pacifying the tension.

 

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected] For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org or follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.


 

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