“Turkey has arrived,” said a senior Turkish official, speaking anonymously. “They don’t like the fact that Turkey is taking control. ”
Ask a question to a Turkish official about the explosions in France and you will always cause laughter. They describe the anger of the French over Ankara’s movements in the Mediterranean and Libya as something comparable to a child who has lost his toy – or in this case, his influence.
Although little discussed now, France’s discontent began not about Libya but Syria, when last year Ankara launched an offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia supported by the United States and led by the Kurdish YPG, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.
“France has become the facilitator of Russia, and it is also a threat against NATO. It could break the alliance in the future ”
– Turkish official
Paris, a former colonial power in Syria, strongly protested this decision alongside other Western allies, French President Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor having previously welcomed the leadership of the SDF and hailed them as heroes in the fight against the group Islamic State (IS).
Finally, Turkey concluded agreements with the United States and Russia, mainly interrupting the short-lived offensive. “However, France has been left out,” said the Turkish official. “And that was the start of their frustration. ”
Charles Thepaut, a French diplomat, guest researcher at the Washington Institute think tank, confirmed in a Twitter thread that Paris had been agitated by Turkish movements in Syria.
“Paris thinks that silent diplomacy did not work 2017-2020,” he wrote, adding that Ankara rejected French attempts to convince it to change course on its conflict with the YPG, the purchase of S missiles. -400 from Russia and drilling plans off Cyprus.
France is also angry, he said, at Ankara’s insistence on blocking a Baltic NATO defense plan, unless the alliance also designates the YPG as a terrorist group.
« [Turkey] taken military measures, unilateral measures and built its tandem with [Russia]”Wrote Thepaut.
Turkish officials, however, are dismayed by this position. They say that as far as the YPG is concerned, France has no say in Turkey’s national security concerns, which are perceived as “existential” by its public.
They also accuse France of using NATO to settle its own accounts with Turkey.
“The discussions on the defense plans are fully classified, which means: it’s secret,” said the official. “So they flee secret exchanges with the media and speak as if they have morale. ”
He added that Turkey had withdrawn its opposition to the Baltic defense plan last month after reaching a political compromise, which the official said will not be revealed.
Regarding Turkey’s relations with Russia, which have grown closer in recent years, Turkish officials said that France had allowed and even encouraged Russian participation in Libya thanks to their mutual support for eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
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“France has allowed Russia to enter the Mediterranean. It is really worrying. France has become the facilitator of Russia, and it is also a threat against NATO. This could break the alliance in the future, “a second Turkish official told MEE.
Regarding Libya, French officials argue that Turkey had violated an arms embargo to support the UN-recognized National Accord Government (GNA) based in Tripoli.
Paris has repeatedly accused Turkey of playing a dangerous game with its intervention in the country, which earlier this year relieved Tripoli of a 14-month assault and put Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) on the back foot.
France cannot however say that it has no military implication in the conflict itself.
Last year, the French Defense Ministry admitted that four of its anti-tank missiles were found in a base used by Haftar’s forces. And the United Arab Emirates, which alongside Egypt militarily support Haftar, is currently using French-made planes to bomb the territory held by the GNA.
Meanwhile, Macron is silent on the presence of Russian mercenaries in the country and on Moscow’s growing support for the ANL.
“I don’t think France is violating the arms embargo, but the French allies [the UAE and Egypt] do it, with the political support of France, ”Jean-Dominique Merchet, French journalist specializing in defense affairs, explains to MEE.
For Turkish officials, the question is simpler. “They were running the show in North Africa,” said a third official. ” No more. ”
Officials note that Paris was once one of the region’s main mediators, inviting the warring parties in Libya to talks and excluding just about everyone.
“Now they feel left out. And they don’t like it. Said the official.
Turkish officials do not believe the problem concerns Macron. “It is the reaction of the French government as a whole. He’s not just talking about his mind, ”said the third official.
But Macron nonetheless appropriated French opinions and politics that criticize Turkey, and they go far beyond foreign policy.
In January, in a speech to the Armenian community, Macron spoke of “Turkish interference” in French society and promised that he “would put an end to all educational practices that do not respect rules, laws and programs of the school of the republic ”.
“For the French government, the problem with Turkey is more important than Libya,” says Merchet. He says the ties between the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Muslim Brotherhood are troubling for Paris, as they are enemies of the French allies in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and from Saudi Arabia.
“France was directing the show in North Africa. No more’
– Turkish official
“And even the poor suburbs of France [are a problem]. The French president now describes the Islamists as “separatists”, he said.
Turkey’s ties with its diaspora in France and across Europe are strong. However, his practice of sending Turkish teachers and imams to educate French children of Turkish origin particularly disturbs the French authorities.
Meanwhile, the French Interior Ministry rejected a Turkish resident’s citizenship application in January because of his “pro-Erdogan” opinions, local media reported.
Observers in Turkey have noted that Macron’s increasingly hostile speech on Ankara and the Turkish community comes as he woos the French right.
His centrist party Republic on the Move won no major victory in local polls last month, and in a cabinet reshuffle this week, the president appointed ministers from right-wing parties to better position himself for the next election. presidential.
Despite the tensions between the two allies, Turkish officials say they still think their disagreements can be resolved, if Paris views the issue with a realistic approach.
“They should stop supporting the Libyan warlord and try to protect their interests more reasonably. We are a lasting ally, ”said the third official.