February 05, 2022
Turkey and the Gulf states once again find themselves sharing similar concerns as Europe deals with one of its worst security crises of recent times, which could have repercussions far beyond its eastern borders.
It is a given that the escalating tensions in Eastern Europe not only affect the countries directly involved, but might also have consequences for nations in other regions.
The current political and security concerns pose both opportunities and challenges for Turkey and the Gulf countries as they attempt to tread a fine line between the major powers and their rivalries.
The new geopolitical environment dominated by the tensions between the West and Russia pushes both Turkey and the Gulf states to delicately and diplomatically balance their relationships with both sides and calibrate their policies accordingly.
To protect their stakes, and even their spheres of influence, both Turkey and the Gulf nations must carefully use diplomacy and dialogue as a means to deescalate the tensions between the major powers, at a time when the Middle East has seen a period of relative calm thanks to the recent climate of reconciliation.
Turkey and the Gulf states have carefully considered the changing signals from Washington and the transformation of the international context, and are thus revisiting their policies toward each other and compartmentalizing their relationships amid the geopolitical tensions.
When Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Bahrain this week he emphasized the areas of cooperation between Turkey and Gulf nations. In a further sign of a new era in Turkish-Gulf relations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that he will visit the UAE in mid-February and that he intends to visit Saudi Arabia as well.
The current geopolitical context resembles the post-2003 regional landscape, in which Turkey and the Gulf states utilized diverse tools and policies to counter the common threats they faced due to the shifts in the balance of power in the region between both major and regional powers.
Converging interests and mutual concerns are now the driving force that is motivating Turkish-Gulf reconciliation amid escalating tensions around their neighborhood. The crisis in Eastern Europe has raised concerns that it might further aggravate the ongoing instability around the world, particularly in the Middle East.
Turkey and the Gulf states have carefully considered the changing signals from Washington and the transformation of the international context, and are thus revisiting their policies toward each other.
This crisis, which is causing divisions within the international community, comes at a time when there is an urgent need for international cooperation to tackle global problems.
The tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine has dominated the global foreign policy agenda for weeks. Experts are trying to understand how this crisis might affect other regions, and how countries in those regions might respond or play a role in the crisis.
Given the importance of Ukraine and the clash of interests it represents, the latest crisis there will undoubtedly have fallout in the Middle East, including in Syria, which is common ground for Turkish-Gulf cooperation. The nature and scope of this fallout will be determined in part by the direction the crisis takes.
It would not be wrong to also consider the nuclear negotiations with Iran, an arena in which both Russia and the US are deeply involved, as another area for which the current crisis might have implications. The energy sector is another area in which the concerns of Turkey and the Gulf states converge.
David Pollock of the Washington Institute has suggested that the direct connections between the Middle East and the crisis in Eastern Europe are, upon closer examination, relatively few and far between, paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling’s words by saying: “Europe’s East and the Middle East: Never the twain shall meet.”
Turkey and the Gulf states have built close relationships with both the US and Russia in many areas and so they try to avoid becoming involved in any tensions between these major powers. They have long balanced their interests between West and East and settled on pragmatism as an influential way to continue the cooperation.
It therefore goes without saying that Turkey and the Gulf states are dismayed by the escalating tensions between Russia and the West, and have issued statements calling for diplomatic solutions to the Ukrainian crisis.
Turkey and the Gulf states have almost always been surrounded by conflicts in their immediate neighborhood. In recent times these have included the Gulf War in the early 1990s and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Palestine. They still face conflicts that are yet to be resolved in their immediate vicinity, not least the one in the Eastern Europe.
As the relationships between the world’s great powers and energy consumers change according to their contradictory interests, the challenge for Turkey and the Gulf states of deciding how to navigate geopolitics becomes highly important.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view